California State University Sacramento serves a total of 31,000 students, with 250 undergraduate and graduate students in the school of music. We interviewed Dr. Scott Perkins, Head of Music Theory and Composition, on why Sacramento State chose uTheory.
Finding an effective tool for music theory practice is a challenge.
Students learn best when provided with immediate and specific feedback. But with limited class time and, in some cases, large class sizes, it’s not always possible for teachers to assess and provide that guidance, tailored to every student, in a reasonable amount of time. "That was a bit of a challenge," said Perkins, "that students didn't get immediate feedback. And of course, once they turned in an assignment, it would be another class period yet until they received the feedback." Couple this challenge with the complexity of teaching aural concepts, and we often find ourselves in a less-than-ideal pattern of assigning pencil and paper homework as arbitrary practice.
Perkins noticed that his students struggled with the practicing piece more than actually learning theory concepts. “Having a teacher explain things and demonstrate things and workshop things in class a little bit was a good starting point, but when it came to actually practicing the skills involved – in the past we’d just been using texts and workbooks, paper workbooks, and so they’d have to wait for feedback until the instructor had a chance to evaluate the homework.”
Why did Cal State choose uTheory?
“I think it’s very strong pedagogy. I like the way Greg [Ristow, uTheory founder] explains things and I like the methods he uses for drilling students. It’s the way I would want a teacher to work with a student in a real-life situation.” uTheory is a mastery-based online learning platform for music theory. Lessons in uTheory are based on decades of experience teaching as well as up-to-date knowledge of music theory pedagogy.
Students hear music for every question they answer, helping them quickly connect theoretical concepts to sound. Students learn best when they're engaged, and uTheory has hundreds of interactive exercises and immediate feedback to give them that experience. Perkins pointed out, “That’s one of the things uTheory is great for – it provides instantaneous feedback. So students, when they’re practicing, know on the spot how well they’re doing and how to improve.”
“The biggest benefit of uTheory is the adaptive learning aspect, so that each student will have a customized experience in using the platform, tailored to their own strengths and weaknesses. It really targets where their weaknesses are, and I think through that it allows them to grow the most.” uTheory uses technology to adapt and customize practice to meet the needs of each student, based on their performance on exercises.
uTheory is also a powerful assessment tool, with comprehensive data on student progress. This is another benefit for Perkins: “The way it can be integrated into classroom teaching or any sort of teaching situation, where you have full access as a teacher to the progress of your students. In a very detailed way, too.”
Perkins tried other websites, but he didn’t find anything that compares to how robust uTheory’s platform is. “At this price point, for the benefits of the site, I really can’t think of anything comparable in terms of price. It’s such a good deal for what you get.”
The results: better prepared students and valuable time saved.
Perkins believes his students have more effective practice, and therefore a better understanding of theory concepts, with uTheory's adaptive practice and immediate feedback. uTheory also offers placement exams that provide feedback and direct access to practice so students can develop their skills before taking or retaking a placement exam. “One thing that’s really helped me is the placement exam component of uTheory, which we use as a starting point for all of our incoming students...We find that students who take advantage of that have much more success on their placement exam and are much better prepared to start the semester in theory, regardless of where they place.”
And – perhaps equally important – uTheory does the planning and grading for you. “It saves teachers so much time...you don’t have to evaluate all of those assignments you previously collected to determine whether a student can spell a C major chord. Instead, uTheory does it all for you, and so it saves an immense amount of time in both creating materials, creating assessments, and also assessing students and providing feedback. That’s a major benefit to using uTheory, the amount of time it saves professors.”