Is Memorization the Name of the Game? Undergraduates' Perceptions of Physiology Songs

Presented by
Jason Wessels (Eastlake High School, Sammamish WA), Jennifer Breckler (San Francisco State U.), Lawrence Lesser (University of Texas at El Paso), Gregory Crowther (Everett Community College)

The possible benefits of using music to enhance learning of STEM content are numerous, diverse, and largely unproven. We sought to determine which of these possible benefits are most likely to be experienced by undergraduate students, and perhaps most worthy of further investigation. 440 students in eight physiology courses at two mid-sized American universities were asked to rate the usefulness of five short instructor-penned physiology songs, and to explain why these songs would or would not be useful study aids. The students collectively perceived the usefulness of each song to depend on both academic factors (e.g., the relevance of the song to the course, whether musical mnemonics are helpful) and aesthetic values (e.g., the appeal of the rhythm, the quality of the singing). Most strikingly, nearly half of students‚ free responses (909 of 1933, or 47%) referred to the issue of memorability, suggesting that many students see educational music primarily as a memorization aid. A secondary theme of students‚ comments concerned the conciseness and information density of the songs (37-47 seconds in length); most indicated that the songs were appropriately short or contained too much information. This first-of-its-kind dataset on student perceptions can be used to inform the creation of additional songs and educational research on their pedagogical value.