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Sound Engineering: Teaching through parody songs

University of Wisconsin-Madison PhD student Erica Hagen spends most of her time studying how engineering students learn, helping to develop new learning models for undergraduate courses and create online course materials. She’s also taken some creative liberties to help undergrads learn the basics of soil mechanics. Through the use of parody songs such as “(I Can’t Get No) Soil Compaction” (to the tune of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”) and “Leakage” (to the tune of The Presidents Of The United States of America’s ‘90s single “Peaches”), she reinforces the concepts behind geological engineering, and tries to create an important connection with students.

Scott Gordon: Erica Hagen studies how engineering students learn. Hagen, a PhD student at the UW-Madison College of Engineering, draws on her background as a geological engineer to create online materials for undergraduates. She takes some license with her work by creating parody songs. By setting some basic engineering lessons to the tunes of popular songs, she hopes to help students learn, but also blow off steam after working hard to create materials like online lecture videos.

Erica Hagen: Mainly because, as you’re making these videos, you get to the end of your editing and recording and it’s three in the morning, it has to be posted in three days. Everything is down to the wire, as it is in academia. And at three in the morning, some ideas just sound really good.

Scott Gordon: Hagen’s inspiration for these a cappella, short tunes ranges from the Rolling Stones—

Erica Hagen: I can’t get no soil compaction/ I can’t get no hydraulic action / Cause I’m building a landfill and I don’t want my leakage spilled / I can’t get no…

Scott Gordon: To The Presidents Of The United States Of America.

Erica Hagen: Seepage comes from a drag / force the water particles made / When they flow through a soil void.

Scott Gordon: Hagen admits that her students have given her songs mixed reviews, but also says that these parodies serve a legitimate educational purpose.

Erica Hagen: One of the nice things about being a teacher is that you can share some of your personality and that that sharing can endear your students to you and help you connect with the class. That was something that I really enjoyed about being a teacher. I could be quirky, and as long as I was really authentic about it, it endeared me to my class.

Scott Gordon: To learn more about teaching innovations at UW-Madison, visit

Erica Hagen: Water flows, it flows through the pour space / And hydraulic connectivity / Describes how fast that flow takes/ How fast that flow takes.

Scott Gordon