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Evaluating Quality of Learning in Higher Music Education


NNMPF Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, April 23-25, 2014
Presentation of PhD in progress
Tuula Jääskeläinen, Doctoral Student in Music Education
MuTri-Doctoral School/Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki
Evaluating quality of learning in higher music education
This doctoral study concentrates on evaluation of experiences in music university learning for
developing quality in higher music education. Quality in higher education has been one of the most
fundamental aspects in establishing a European field of higher education. It was one of the crucial
goals in the Bologna process originated from the Bologna Declaration in 1998. It is also one of the
aims within the university reform, which came into force in 2010 in Finland. The universities are
expected to indicate high quality results, ability of reforming in action, as well as competitiveness
and effectiveness. It should be respected and strengthened as a starting point, that in Finnish
higher education institutions, students are central participants in producing and utilising evaluation
information as well as in developing the quality of operations. (Finnish Higher Education Evaluation
Council, 2010; 2013.)
University pedagogy research results indicate that the quality of university activity can be
reinforced by taking into account disciplinary characteristics in the teaching and learning
development (Nevgi & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2009). Research in university arts students’ learning has
grown in international recognition (Evaluation Report, 2009). Although the previous research has
focused mainly on the results of learning, i.e. creative performance, within the field of music
education there have been increasingly international studies on university students’ learning (e.g.
Bernard, 2009; Ferm Thorgesen, 2010; Ferm & Johansen, 2008; Reid, 2010). In Finland there are
also studies in higher music education on teaching, practicing styles, one-to-one-tuition, master
class and collaborative learning (e.g. Huhtinen-Hildén, 2012; Odendaal, 2013; Rikandi, 2012;
Rikandi, Karlsen & Westerlund, 2010; Westerlund & Karlsen, 2013).
Theoretical background
The theoretical background of this study is based on the research results regarding Biggs’ (2011)
concept “constructive alignment” and the classification of learning for the surface, deep and
strategic approaches according to Entwistle and Ramsden (1983) and Biggs (1987a). The
constructivist learning theory emphasises student’s active role in studying and interaction between
teacher and student, as well the importance of alignment teaching. The learning environment is a
changing entity, in which students, teachers, teaching methods and subjects all interact in the
learning. In the 1970’s there was found in higher education research two qualitatively different
kinds of ways of learning processes of text: processing at surface level and processing at deep
level. From this point of view there was created a concept called “approaches to learning”, which
means student’s way of learning, in other words how student interprets, understands and
experiences the learning of a task. The deep approach to learning means student’s efforts to
understand learning, critical and analytic studying and managing entities. The surface approach to
learning means emphasising the study by repeating things and memorising. (Entwistle, 1988;
Entwistle & Ramsden, 1983; Marton & Säljö, 1976a; 1976b; 1997.)
In higher music education there are studies regarding university students’ experiences of learning
(Reid, 2010) and university students’ conceptions of learning (Bernard, 2009; Reid, 2010). Ferm
Thorgesen (2010) has researched university students’ and Ferm & Johansen (2008) university
students’ and teachers’ conceptions of quality learning with theoretical categorising of approaches
to deep and surface learning. Sullivan & Cantwell (1999) investigated the planning strategies of
university music students’ learning a traditional and non-traditional notated score. They used a
modified and shortened version of Biggs’ (1987b) Study Process Questionnaire by making only
slight changes of wording with the questions. Researchers in arts pedagogy do stress, however,
that methods in researching learning in science universities most likely will neither translate into the
arts as they are, nor are they sufficient enough to research learning that consists predominantly of
experiential learning, physicality, as well as narrative (Rouhiainen, 2011; Räsänen, 2011). Before
developing a method for this study, the theoretical framework outlined below still needs to be
extended with a theoretical framework which takes into account the specific characteristics of
artistic learning. This needs to be clarified, what do constructive alignment and alignment teaching
mean in higher music education? Also, it is inevitable to define the contents in artistic learning with
the concepts of the surface, deep and strategic approaches to learning. The most crucial challenge
is to disclose and emphasise the essence of music learning.
Aim of the study and research questions
The aim of this study is to build a solid foundation for Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students’
learning study in higher music education for developing quality of learning and teaching within the
Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki.
The research question and the sub-questions are:
1. With which kind of questionnaire is it possible to evaluate quality of learning in higher music
2. What are Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students’ experiences of learning in different
study programmes in higher music education measured by the developed questionnaire?
2a. What kinds of approaches to learning and aspects of learning environment emerge
within Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students in different study programmes?
2b. How are Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students’ experiences of learning environment
related to their approaches to learning in different study programmes?
Method and analysis
A large part of the methodological work of this study is to develop an operational questionnaire for
evaluating quality of learning in higher music education. The methodological work is based on
adapting the Finnish university-developed LEARN questionnaire to the study of students’
experiences of learning. The LEARN questionnaire (Parpala, 2010) is a modified version of the
British standardised Experiences of Teaching and Learning Questionnaire ETLQ (Entwistle,
McCune & Hounsell, 2003). The two main parts of the LEARN questionnaire are derived from the
sections of the ETLQ, which measures students’ approaches to learning as well as their
experiences of the learning environment. Moreover, the LEARN questionnaire contains claims and
questions regarding a student’s course workload, progress of studies and their generic skills. The
LEARN questionnaire’s third dimension of study is systematic study, which emphasises a student’s
self-regulation skills and time management. The LEARN questionnaire has been extended to also
include a section regarding graduation and employment.
My first version of the developed questionnaire was tested in March 2014 by a pilot questionnaire
for the doctoral students of music education in the Sibelius Academy. The pilot questionnaire was
the original LEARN questionnaire from 2013 used in the University of Helsinki (including the
section of graduating and employment). I had changed, slightly, some of the questions by wording
them to make them fit better for higher music education. The bases for the changes of wording
were on my observations and interviews of teachers in the Sibelius Academy and on the version of
the LEARN questionnaire which was piloted in the Theatre Academy in 2013. As expected, the first
testing indicated that the science university developed questionnaire is not able to measure artistic
learning. The slight changes in wording of some questions are not enough to gain the essential
nature of learning music at the university where a large part of the studies consists of individual
tuition and performing instead of written tasks and exams. Only the section of the questionnaire
regarding course work load and some questions in the section on learning environment were
suitable as such. It is essential to develop the questionnaire to be more suitable for higher music
education by taking into account the artistic learning and the differences in study programmes.
Bachelor- and master-level studies at the Sibelius Academy are conducted by two faculties
comprising of 13 departments that offer programmes in classical instruments and voice (including
opera), composition and music theory, conducting, church music, music technology, jazz, folk
music, global music, music education and arts management
. Thus, there are big differences in the
contents of subjects, which cannot be measured with the same kind of questions.
I will continue to develop the questionnaire by asking for volunteer students in the different study
programmes for interviewing. It is inevitable to get students’ practical experiences to be able to
take into account the essence of music learning and also the differences in study programmes.
This requires elaborate preparations for building theoretical framework and choosing appropriate
templates and questions for interviewing. The gained data will be the base for adapting some parts
of the LEARN questionnaire and building it something more suitable for higher music education.
The versions of the developed questionnaire will be tested in small student groups.
The final questionnaire will be sent to all Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students in the Sibelius
Academy using the internet (webropol surveys). The research material will consist of the
questionnaire answers and it will be supplemented by data collected by the student interviews. The
analysis of the questionnaire material gathered on the Likert-scale will be based on statistical
analysis and the testing of the significance of the results. Content analysis will be performed on the
answers given in the open questions of the questionnaire and on the transcribed interviews.
The study will be carried out as a theory-bound study, where the analysis of findings is not directly
based on theory, but the connections to it are detectable. This is to ensure that using the frame of
reference for concepts and theories derived from science universities is also possible in the
analysis of special findings for university learning in the artistic field of music.
Discussion and implications
There are some challenges when developing a solid foundation for university learning study in
higher music education. One of the challenges is my own position. I am not a music educator,
though playing piano as a hobby. I am a master of education and worked as a planning officer and
a head in student services at the University of Helsinki and the last couple of years at the Sibelius
Academy. My experience and knowledge is in developing university education from the
administrative point of view, not music education as a substance. Though, this kind of background
might also be a strength when gaining a large and objective overview of the study programmes
instead of being a professional in them.
One challenge is the theoretical background of this study. I would be grateful to get advice and
ideas at the NNMPF-conference for extending the theoretical background to include aspects of
artistic learning.
The research results of this study, when succeeding to evaluate experiences in music university
learning, will gain analysed data for developing quality in higher music education. The disciplinary
characteristics results can be utilised in the teaching and learning development. This study might
also give a base for researching university learning in other artistic fields and thereby strengthening
university pedagogy research in the arts in Finland and internationally.
In addition to these Bachelor- and Master-level study programmes, Doctoral studies are conducted in both faculties in
Doctoral schools. This study does not include Doctoral studies.
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Editor's Note: This paper is presented in an English translation; however, statements by the subjects interviewed were originally in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finish and English by non-­native speakers. Their comments have not been edited or changed in any way. Abstract Musikdidaktik is a central subject in music teacher education, where the students are expected to learn about teaching and related learning of music, from practical, theoretical and philosophical perspectives. As part of a larger study of educational quality, six student groups were interviewed about teaching and learning quality in the subject of musikdidaktik. They answered questions on learning, identity, and choice of content. In this article the author concentrates on student perspectives of holistic quality learning, which include those activities or processes that lead to stable knowledge and useful competence. In order to grasp the phenomenon of holistic quality learning in musikdidaktik the focus group participated in 90-­minute interviews that were recorded and transcribed. Data were analyzed by applying phenomenological methods. Three questions provided the structure for the analysis. They were: Where does quality learning in musikdidaktik occur? When does quality learning in musikdidaktik occur? How does quality learning in musikdidaktik occur? Analysis revealed that holistic quality learning occurred in different educational rooms and were defined by music-­educational authenticity, communication, reflection and meaningfulness. The results are important at any institution responsible for quality developmental work in relation to music teacher education.
In this study, the author collected narratives from her students in a music teacher education programme. Using narrative analysis, students’ assumptions and thoughts about music teaching, music learning and music making were uncovered. Through the presentation of a case study of one student, the author demonstrates some of the ways that the insights that she gained through collecting and analysing her students’ narratives have influenced her teaching and advising. Working with narratives in this way has powerful implications for research and practice in music teacher education. Researchers can learn a great deal about the thinking and assumptions that pre-service music educators bring to their studies, and practitioners can develop strategies to more effectively support their students as they develop their professional identities as music educators.
This paper reports on variation in the ways that instrumental and vocal students at tertiary level experience, or understand, learning. Five related conceptions of learning are described ranging from quite limiting views to expansive views. Students who only experience learning music within a limiting conception will focus their attention on the technical aspects of playing or singing. Students who experience learning music within the expansive conception are able to focus on more meaningful aspects of music if the learning environment supports their view. Understanding the ways that instrumental and vocal students experience learning may have implications for the development of learning environments that will encourage students to adopt a more sophisticated learning framework resulting in higher quality learning outcomes.