Music and Attention

In 2012 New York Times educational blogger Annie Paul Murphy wrote about music and productivity in which she concluded:

“Classical or instrumental music enhances mental performance more than music with lyrics. Music can make rote or routine tasks (think folding laundry or filing papers) less boring and more enjoyable. Runners who listen to music go faster. But when you need to give learning and remembering your full attention, silence is golden.”

Based on this we set up a quiz for the Adams Center workshop on “gaining attention”:

We started expecting participants to choose “silence” or “classical music without lyrics”. Most agree that classical music without lyrics may help with drawing attention without adding to cognitive load.

However, Professor Janine Morgan and Professor Karen Hendrick both mentioned that sometimes “music with lyrics” may help with learners’ memory if the lyrics are actually about the content students are studying.

Interestingly, several weeks ago, Annie Paul Murphy wrote another article saying that music can help with memory which supports the same conclusion. Please read the comments section of this article for additional examples readers provide on how they use music to help with student memory. The following video in this article showed how it worked for doctors.

We have since found that there is an organization called “songs for teaching” which focused on using music to help with student memory.

If you know of any other creative ways to help students learn, we would love to hear about it.

Apps to Spice Up Your Quizzes

Written by the Instructional Design Team

While quizzes and tests are often used to generate grades, they do not always have to be. Some of you may use quizzes to help students learn and you do not care how many times students take them and how much they get with each attempt. In some cases, if students spend much time taking such quizzes till they “get it”, it might be a desirable process of learning. Such assessments are often labelled “formative assessments” as compared to “summative assessments”. If this describes what you want to do with some of your classes, you might want to try a couple of interesting applications that do exactly that.

Quizlet is an application (available on the web and as an app in the iTunes App Store) rather popular for formative assessment type of learning activities. You can generate a “set” of items that can be studied as flashcards, quizzes or even games in a variety of formats. Such activities can be easily shared in your course site, blog or Facebook page. Please check this set for an illustration.

You can sign in to Quizlet using your Google account. A set you create in Quizlet can be protected for personal use only, or you can share it with the general public. A third option, which is probably going to be very helpful for class use, is to share it with your class only with a password.


If you have graphics in every item of a quiz or test, you could also use a site called “Photopeach” to do that. Photopeach can be used to create photo slideshows. It is fairly easy to create. You will just need to upload a number of images or photos to create a photo-based slideshow, and then you can create short quizzes over particular photos. You can also have some stock music playing in the background as students view the show and take quizzes. The downside of this application is that you can only have three choices at a time with the quizzes. Check this set for an illustration.

Please contact the Adams Center for assistance if you need to set up such quizzes. If you use either of these two applications, we would love to hear how you use them and any advice you would give in using them.

We’d like to thank Jonathan Gray and Dr. James Langford for suggesting the use of such applications for quizzing!