Dissertation Index

Author: Ripley, Angela N.

Title: Surviving Set Theory: A Pedagogical Game and Cooperative Learning Approach to Undergraduate Post-Tonal Music Theory

Institution: The Ohio State University

Begun: June 2014

Completed: July 2015


Undergraduate music students sometimes find the abstractions and mathematical orientation of pitch-class set theory foreign or even frightening (Kleppinger 2010). Pedagogical games can help mitigate student trepidation and resistance by framing challenging course content with creative elements drawn from television, sports, or other facets of popular culture. Although a number of pedagogical games have previously been implemented in the music theory classroom, these tend either to focus on topics outside the purview of set-theoretical analysis or to occur within a single class, thus leaving underdeveloped the potential for longer-term connections among students.

In my dissertation, I adapt the television show Survivor to frame a four-week unit on pitch-class set theory. As on the show, students work together in “tribes” to complete worksheets called “challenges”; however, in an important modification to the structure of the show, no students are voted out of their tribes. The tribe that earns the highest cumulative average score on the challenges receives a non-academic prize in the form of a modest gift card. While students’ grades are based solely on their own work, the game element promotes peer mentoring through cooperative learning (Johnson and Johnson 1999; Slavin 2012) and inspires constructive peer pressure that motivates all students to do their best.

I present empirical results of implementing Set Theory Survivor in the classroom. The self-reported ability of students to perform specific set-theoretical operations increased to a statistically significant extent during the unit, and the majority of students enjoyed the game-like format. By combining the peer support of cooperative learning with the motivational force of constructive competition and the fun of a pedagogical game, Set Theory Survivor presents a novel approach to a subject that often sparks student resistance and provides a creative tool with which to enhance the pedagogy of pitch-class set theory.

Keywords: Music theory pedagogy, pitch-class set theory, post-tonal music, Set Theory Survivor, cooperative learning, constructive competition, pedagogical game, Survivor, Second Viennese School.


Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Cooperation and Competition in the Classroom
Chapter 3: Using Pedagogical Games to Facilitate Active Learning
Chapter 4: Methodology for Set Theory Survivor
Chapter 5: Results of Set Theory Survivor
Chapter 6: Conclusion


Angela Ripley

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