Podcasts – an adjunct to the teaching of dentistry

Podcast is a portmanteau word derived from iPod and Broadcast.1 A Podcast is similar to a sound track recorded from a radio transmission. The difference is that the material can be distributed automatically: subscribers to a Podcasting website will receive notifications of new Podcasts as soon as they are published and are able to listen to the material at their leisure.

Downloading music for private listening at any time or location has caught the imagination of the younger population and the progression to Podcasts containing learning materials is appealing to many of them. There is currently great interest in the ways that computer-based social networking technologies, such as Podcasting, might impact on education. Many providers of medical and dental education have enthusiastically embraced the use of new technologies for delivering learning materials. In medicine, Podcasts have already become a favourite with students and there are reports of their use in various specialities.2, 3, 4 Dentistry has also introduced the use of Podcasts successfully in both lecture format5, 6 and video format.7 It is acknowledged that a Podcast should be used as an adjunct to traditional teaching methods rather than a replacement.8

Since early 2006, the School of Dentistry in Birmingham has been developing a library of Podcasts for a number of teaching areas, including a series which covers the various clinical and technical aspects of prosthetic dentistry. The latter were created by members of the Prosthetics Department. The intention was to capture students’ enthusiasm for this specialty by devising a novel way of helping them to revise key topics while on the move. Our students download the Prosthetics Podcasts to their iPods, mp3 players, mobile phones or listen to them on a computer. Students who have subscribed to iTunes automatically received new prosthetic Podcasts when they become available.

The aim of this work is to evaluate the technologies used by students to download the Podcasts and their acceptability to students as a medium for learning and teaching at the School of Dentistry, The University of Birmingham.

Materials and methods

Our approach was to specifically relate the Podcasts to educational objectives of the prosthetic dentistry undergraduate course. They were designed to be no more than ten minutes long. Each Podcast topic was developed into a script and discussed within the teaching unit. Following agreement on the script and its content, the recording was then made. The Podcast was presented as an enthusiastic discussion between teachers rather than a monologue, to maintain the interest of the listener. From start to finish a ten minute Podcast took around two hours to script, record and make available on iTunes.9

A questionnaire based on previous work10 was piloted with first and second year students who had not encountered the use of Podcasts for their speciality teaching in removable prosthodontics.

The questionnaire was distributed to 149 students who were participating in the removable prosthodontics speciality teaching course, which runs during years 3 and 4. Ninety-six questionnaires were returned giving a response rate of 67%. Anonymity of the respondents was maintained by not asking the students to record their names on the questionnaire.

Results

The students were asked about their use of popular social networking sites and the results show that Facebook and YouTube scored highly with the students. Those sites which contain large repositories of pictures and music such as Flickr and Last FM did not score as highly. The students who replied to the questionnaire used a variety of technologies to listen to the School’s Podcasts. The most popular location for listening was at home although public places such as on public transport and in the gym were also mentioned. The main technology used for listening to the Podcasts was their home computer. Perhaps surprisingly, other formats such as the iPod were less popular. This pattern of use reflected their choices when listening to music, again with the computer being more popular than portable devices. Although there are a number of Podcasts available the most popular one on ‘impressions’ had been listened to by 39% of the students. The quality rating of the subject matter of all the Podcasts was scored highly at the ‘very good’ to ‘good’ rating level (Fig. 4) with few responses at the average rating level and none below this. The reasons for using the Podcasts were for ‘reading around’ the subject areas especially during examination time (Table 2). They particularly liked the Podcast as it provided a different medium for learning.

Discussion

The use of Podcasting in education is relatively new and follows on from the youth-driven mp3 revolution whereby people are able to access sound recordings in an easily accessible and portable medium.4 The prosthetics Podcasts were mainly accessed in the comfort of our students’ own homes away from the dental school, on their home computers. Whilst the students’ awareness and knowledge of Podcasting is high, it is recognised that there is a lack of knowledge among some on how to use the technology and set up the computer for downloading a Podcast.8, 11 For instance Apple iTunes normally downloads only the most recent Podcast in a series. A setting must be changed to download all relevant Podcasts. The School of Dentistry’s Podcasts are openly available on the Apple iTunes store but there is a trend in the United States to prevent public access by using a separate part of the Apple site called iTunesU. This site is specifically made available to an individual student’s university only5. All our Podcasts are made available on the school elearning environment (ecourse) and are not password protected. This availability to the international community has been well received with over 6,000 downloads to date.

Conclusion

Short Podcasts are a useful vehicle for delivering learning materials to students. They offer flexibility and are in tune with students’ love of downloading materials to use when they wish.