This project aimed to embed active learning strategies in the course delivery and assessment to enhance second year students’ learning, engagement and development of transferable skills.

  • Course: MUSC2300 Music and Human Behaviour, 2nd year undergraduate psychology of music course (61 students)
  • School/Faculty: Music School, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Delivery: weekly, two-hour face-to-face lecture session
  • Active learning approach: online readings and quizzes, in-class discussions and activities, group project work in situ
  • Assessment tasks: weekly online quizzes, peer assessment of group project work, group presentations, project report, reflections of group work

Key issues and anticipated outcomes

This project aimed to address the issue of students not keeping up with course readings, thus preventing them from actively engaging in useful in-class discussions.

It also aimed to:

  • deepen the students' understanding of how music affects human behaviour through opportunities to experience and apply theoretical concepts in real world situations,
  • develop their academic skills such as distilling and synthesising information, developing arguments, and effectively communicating and collaborating with others,
  • enhance their research skills through practice.

Project innovation team


Active learning approach

Activities and aligned assessments

The approach aimed to constructively align learning activities, concepts, skills and assessment. 

  • Learning activity 1: Questions in the lecture session with group discussions
    • Aligned assessment: Pre-class online quizzes based on course pre-readings
  • Learning activity 2: In-class discussions and activities designed to facilitate student consolidation and enrichment of the weekly concepts
  • Learning activity 3: Mini tutorial series embedded in lectures to assist students with the process of collaborating on a group project, collecting observational data in the real world and developing academic literacies related to reporting on the project. The project linked student learning to the real world. Students groups took on the role of expert consultants in music and human behaviour, tasked to provide a proposal and argument for the effective use of in-store music in a shopping centre to the store owners, supported with real world observational data gathered.
    • Aligned assessment: Collaborative group project and in-class presentation involved self and peer assessment
    • Aligned assessment: Individual report on the group project in the style of a report to stakeholders

Technology and tools

  • Weekly Blackboard online content with quizzes and Semant – to motivate engagement with weekly readings
  • edX online team modules and Shazam resources – to assist with the collaborative group project work
  • PAFs (in Blackboard) and written reflections – to motivate personal reflection on group presentation and group project work, and to motivate equal effort by team members.




Students' perspective:

  • Quantitative and qualitative online questionnaire – gathering their feedback on the active learning approaches embedded in the course,
  • Reflections on learning via an assessment item,
  • Collective interviews,
  • Blackboard analytics.

Teacher's perspective:

  • Reflective writing during the Semester

Key findings

  • Effective learning via:
    • Online weekly quizzes (Student feedback: "The weekly quizzes were an awesome way to keep up with the work; it really helped me take in the information I was reading… I actually was straight away applying it.")
    • Project work (Student feedback: "Heading in store and collecting raw, observational data pushed me out of my comfort zone and enabled me to see the course content in action.")
  • Evidence of critical thinking developed via:
    • Relating readings to own experiences (Student feedback: "I know all this new information from the readings which I have thought about and have reflected. Like every time I go out to a shop now I go oh they're playing music and you kind of notice that more now.")
    • Project work in situ (Student feedback: "[the project work] gave me insight and prompted me to reflect upon my own shopping experiences, related to course content.")
  • Collaborative peer learning via:
    • In-class discussions (Student feedback: "I find they often say things that either solidify what you're thinking, or help you finish forming an idea when you’re not quite sure.")
  • Transferable academic and professional skills via:
    • Project work (Student feedback: "the project was a big task but also a lot of fun and I learnt many skills that I can apply to real world research [...] conducting the data collection on a small scale was great in learning how to research")
    • PAFs and reflections (Student feedback: "if you get the feedback back from the rest of your group then you know how maybe, we might need to change the thinking a little bit for the next time so that things run better.")

Project outcomes


  1. Online quizzes motivate reading and deepen student learning in the short term – they are well liked by students.
  2. Collaborative group project and presentation work developed students’ real-world research and critical thinking skills in relation to the course content, as well as transferrable teamwork and communication skills critical to employment in diverse fields.
  3. In-class discussion activities were highly engaging and facilitated students’ understanding of core concepts and application of these to real-world contexts and individual experiences.
  4. The Blackboard sites (Course Site, HASS Knowledge Making site), and the tools and resources embedded in Blackboard were the most effective technologies for assisting learning.

Challenges and other lessons

  • Challenges to the effectiveness of active learning approaches included: limitations of technology, infrastructure, and student non-participation
  • The mini-tutorial sessions and resources received mixed positive and negative feedback. Students appreciated the assistance with project planning, assigning and managing roles and responsibilities, and dealing with conflict. In future, it is advisable to rebrand simply as 'assessment help' and focus on the elements of group work and resources that students found most helpful to complete their project and assessment tasks.
  • The learning occurring through in-class discussion activities might not be immediately apparent to students. Perhaps longer-term reflection will give students a greater appreciation on their learning. For example, in two years' time, students might remember a video and the related in-class discussion better than a quiz they took on a particular topic.
  • Peer and self-assessment (PAFs – group work, and group presentations) promoted critical reflection, but a simplified mechanism is needed to encourage feedback on effort and contribution rather than work quality.

Tips for implementation

  • Online quizzes are relatively quick and easy to implement and are adaptable to different disciplines.
  • The collaborative group project and presentation framework can be applied to other areas with a change in task as relevant to the particular discipline.
  • In-class discussions can be facilitated by multiple choice questions and think-pair-share activities, and assisted by learning technologies such as Padlet. Videos help to ground concepts and provoke discussion.

Further work

The results and lessons from this case study have been used to:

  • Inform the design of active learning approaches and aligned assessment in Phase 2 participant course: MUSC1300 Introduction to Music Psychology
    • In this course, the focus is on assessing the success and effectiveness of active learning approaches with first years and ascertaining what extra supports or scaffolds might be needed for this cohort.
  • Refine active learning approaches and aligned assessment for another course (MUSC2310 Music and Health) and, more specifically, with regard to a group project and presentation. This involved: 
    • Group work assessment assistance in class focused on elements and resources for project planning, assigning and managing roles and responsibilities, and dealing with conflict,
    • Peer and self-assessment of group work (PAFs) which focuses on effort and contribution to group work processes rather than work quality,
    • Peer assessment of group presentations has been tweaked to in-class comments at the end of presentations regarding ‘something to praise’ and ‘something to improve’.

Feedback from students on these changes suggests that these strategies have worked quite well.