Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy, vol. 2

Table of Contents

Problem-Based Learning in Music: A Guide for Instructors

Philip Duker, University of Delaware; Kris Shaffer, University of Colorado–Boulder; Daniel Stevens, University of Delaware

Problem-based Learning (PBL) is an inquiry-driven pedagogical practice in which students learn course content by thinking through real-world problems. PBL turns on its head the “textbook” approach to knowledge acquisition, whereby students learn incrementally more difficult concepts and build finally to more challenging and open-ended applications. A significant downside to the incremental approach is that students only gradually perceive the significance of their learning and its relevance outside the classroom. By beginning with problems that are both within their cognitive grasp and yet evade easy, definitive answers, students are motivated by their natural sense of curiosity to discover the terminology, knowledge, concepts, and skills required to address the problems and to apply their learning through a process of critical thinking and creative problem solving. In short, PBL offers teachers and students a space in which learning can engage every level of Bloom’s cognitive domains from the start, such that the relevance, meaning, and applicability of course content is clear at every stage. (For more on Bloom’s taxonomy in music education, see essays by Kevin R. Burke and Enoch S. A. Jacobus in the first volume of Engaging Students.)

In the three essays that follow, Daniel Stevens, Philip Duker, and Kris Shaffer provide a rationale for adopting PBL, suggestions for its implementation, several example problems, and ideas for assessing PBL activities. PBL can be adopted to a wide variety of learning outcomes, teaching styles, and course schedules. While PBL complements flipped classrooms, offering instructors productive learning activities for in-class meetings, PBL can be adapted to fit a variety of learning environments, lesson schedules, and curricular goals. At the same time, PBL also challenges teachers to revise course learning outcomes to include both lower-order learning like mastering facts (“spell a D-major triad”) and analytical techniques (“apply a Roman numeral to this chord in G major”) and the higher-order skills (creative application, critical thinking, group-based problem solving) that empower students to use their learning in ways that are personally meaningful and that impact the community. Since new outcomes call for new approaches to assessment, this chapter will conclude with some ideas about how to assess and grade PBL work.

Part 1: Problem-Based Learning in the Music Classroom, A Rationale, Daniel Stevens
Part 2: Applying Problem-Based Learning, Philip Duker
Part 3: Assessing Problem-Based Learning, Kris Shaffer