The use of music in physiology classes to build learning communities and foster active learning: Proceedings of the Physiological Society

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It is well established that for learning to be effective, it must be a process in which the student participates actively. With such active learning, any knowledge gained is more likely to be retained by students who are better able to apply it to different contexts (Svinicki, 1998; Michael, 2006), an important characteristic of the Medicine, Science and Nursing students who populate basic Physiology classes. Cognitive theory posits that effective learning takes place when students present their own mental models for challenge, so that new information can be incorporated into the pre-existing network of associations that the learner already has (Svinicki, 1998). It is incumbent upon us to provide a safe space in which students will risk putting forward these mental models for challenge, without fear of being wrong or appearing foolish. Modell et al (2008) have proposed that we build learning communities within our classes and has detailed the use of music in the Medical Physiology classroom in fostering this sense of community and identity. Following the Modell et al (2008) model, I have used up-tempo (ska, rock, pop) music at the start of classes to energise students and raise attention levels, and baroque music during periods when they have been set class tasks. I have also used music to teach rhythmic concepts in Physiology (eg. illustrating systolic and diastolic murmurs using "on the beat" rock music and "off the beat" ska music). Student attitudes to such use of music were assessed by questionnaires distributed to 71 first year Biomedical Science students during a practical class. Questions focused on whether students felt afraid of questions in lectures, what they thought of the music played and the musical activities during lectures. A 5 point Likert scale was used to evaluate the student response to the questions with 5 indicating strong agreement with a statement and 1 strong disagreement. In addition, there were 3 open-ended questions focusing on the ways in which students might feel safer in answering questions, the use of music in achieving this and whether or not they would participate in a class singalong. For Likert scores, ratings are given as mean mark out of 5 ± S.E.M, n = 55. 55 of the 71 questionnaires were returned. 28 of the 55 students who responded, agreed or strongly agreed that they were afraid to look foolish answering questions in lectures, indicating a challenge that exists for us in creating the atmosphere for active learning. The pre lecture music was seen as energising for learning (Likert score of 4.3 ± 0.1) and creative of a friendly atmosphere (4.7 ± 0.1). Only 2 of the 55 respondants found the music annoying and disruptive. This preliminary study indicates that the use of music in class may prove useful in establishing the tone for collaborative, student led learning in the modern Physiology classroom.
Original languageEnglish
PagesProc Physiol Soc 27 C109 (2012)
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012
EventPhysiology 2012 - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Dec 201214 Dec 2012


ConferencePhysiology 2012
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Physiology
  • Education


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