July 17, 2014

Podcasts: Don’t You Forget about Me

by Kashelle Lockman, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Maryland Medical Center

I stumbled upon the joys of podcasts when I was trying to make the DC and Baltimore traffic more bearable. Now I say, “Traffic is backed up for 10 miles due to a car crash? Whatever - I will just sit here and enjoy my podcast.” Of course, I started with podcasts for fun, such as This American Life, Car Talk, Writer’s Almanac, and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. Then, as a fourth year student, I realized I could listen to medically oriented podcasts as a way to keep up with new studies and guidelines. This became especially useful as a PGY-1 resident. I recently found myself short on time to prepare for a topic discussion on JNC8 (the new hypertension guidelines). Well, there’s a podcast for that! After listening to it on my way home, I was able to more quickly review the guideline document and prepare my notes for the discussion. Since I love learning from podcasts so much, I suspect other learners might find them useful too.

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that STEM students who sat through traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail than students who were taught by professors that incorporated active learning techniques.1 However, incorporating active learning can be a challenge given the large volume of material educators must cover in a pharmacy curriculum. While perhaps not as flashy as video podcasts (aka vodcasts or vidcasts) with their dual audio and visual components, we shouldn’t forget that podcasts are a useful tool to free up time for active learning and flip the classroom. Podcasts are easier to create than vodcasts, take up less computer / device memory, and allow the listener to multitask, to a certain extent. Commuting, dishwashing, and laundry folding can be turned into productive, intellectually stimulating time with a great podcast on your mobile device! Don’t get too carried away with trying to multi-task though, lest you interfere with your ability to process and learn new information! (See The Multi-tasking Myth: Technology Use andInstruction Outcomes by Brent Reed, Pharm.D., BCPS for more information.)

When podcasts were first introduced as a teaching tool in higher education, they were largely viewed as an add-on learning tool to a traditional lecture.  Many studies demonstrated their utility when used by students to review material.2 In one recent study, dental students who received supplemental podcast instruction were shown to have statistically significant improvement in scores on a multiple-choice test with 91.3% of the students reporting the podcasts were useful.  However, 63% thought a podcast would be inferior to having audio and video.3 The effectiveness of podcasts versus vodcasts has not been evaluated but a study where lectures were offered through Mediasite (video) and as podcasts, more students accessed Mediasite recordings than listened to podcasts.  Thus, students appear to prefer video to audio only formats. But educational outcomes were not measured in this study.4

Some educators have evaluated the use of podcasts as a replacement for traditional lectures. In 2013, a small study (n=35) found that undergraduate nursing students who listened to a 51 minute pharmacology podcast broken into 3 separate segments scored higher on a multiple-choice and case-based assessment than did students who received the same material via a traditional face-to-face lecture or a continuous, non-segmented podcast. The difference in scores did not meet statistical significance (due to the small sample size) but there was a clear trend. It should be noted that the study did not include a student group taught using a series of short, segmented face-to-face lectures – but, lets face it, that’s probably not practical in terms of room scheduling.2

Podcasts are not just used for formal education in degree programs; many professional societies and journals deliver new research and guidelines through podcasts. The Society for Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) was the first to produce a podcast for a national medical society; its podcast iCritical Care features interviews with leaders in the field of critical care medicine. Both the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association offer weekly podcasts summarizing their latest issues. The American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy produces a podcast that features studies it publishes. Other pharmacy news sources with podcasts include Pharmacy Times and Pharmacy Practice News. Assigning students a podcast versus a reading would introduce them to this technology as a potential method for engaging in continuing professional development after graduation. These podcasts can be found in the iTunes store.

If you want to make your own podcast to supplement or replace a classroom activity, it’s both easy and affordable. Audacity is free software that allows the creation and editing of audio files. It’s available for numerous operating systems, including Mac, Windows, and Linux. If you have a Mac, you have built in audio creation and editing software — Garage Band comes on all Macs and can be used to create and export podcasts. If ambient noise interferes with your recording, you can use a USB headset with a microphone.

Podcasts can be delivered through a secure Learning Management System, such as Blackboard, or they can be made freely available on the web. The latter option allows use of Really Simple Syndication (RSS), so students can subscribe and receive updates as new podcasts are uploaded. Rosalind Franklin University College of Pharmacy shares its podcast, Helixtalk, using the latter option. In either case, it is important to review how to access and download podcasts with students as knowing how to use the technology can be a barrier for some students.5 It might also be helpful to highlight that podcasts can be downloaded to mobile devices. In a study of nursing students, 70% of students who listened to podcasts played them on a computer, even though 73% of the students had mobile devices capable of MP3 playback.6 This indicates students may not know or appreciate the advantage of mobility offered by a podcast.

While podcasts don’t provide visual information like vodcasts, they can be used to augment live classroom activities, video, and readings. Rosalind Franklin College of Pharmacy’s podcasts focus on information relating to the Top 200 drugs and provide students with an additional way to review material. Similarly, short podcasts could be used to highlight essential material from a course, clinical controversies, or provide clarification on those muddier points that baffled students during lecture. By introducing podcasts as an educational resource in the classroom, educators can expose students to a technology they can use to stay abreast of new knowledge for the rest of their careers. I look forward to including podcasts among my learning assignments as I embark on my career in pharmacy education.

  1. Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK, Okoroafor N, Jordt H, Wenderoth MP. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(23):8410-5
  2. Abate K. The effect of podcast lectures on nursing students' knowledge retention and application. Nurs Educ Perspect. 2013;34(3):182-5.
  3. Kalludi SN, Punja D, Pai KM, Dhar M. Efficacy and perceived utility of podcasts as a supplementary teaching aid among first-year dental students. Australas Med J. 2013;6(9):450-7.
  4. Pilarski PD, Johnstone DA, Pettepher CC, Osheroff N. From music to macromolecules: Using rich media/podcast lecture recordings to enhance the preclinical educational experience. Med Teach. 2008;30(6):630-2.
  5. Meade O, Bowskill D, Lymn JS. Pharmacology podcasts: A qualitative study of non-medical prescribing students' use, perceptions and impact on learning. BMC Med Educ. 2011;11:2.
  6. Mostyn A, Jenkinson CM, McCormick D, Meade O, Lymn JS. An exploration of student experiences of using biology podcasts in nursing training. BMC Med Educ. 2013;13:12.

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