Editor’s Note: Learning occurs through all senses. Instructional technology offers a broad spectrum of learning opportunities using text, audio, visual, motion, interactive multi-media, and networks. These tools maximize the learning opportunities of students with special needs.
Does Availability of Audio Podcasts Enhance the
Classroom Experience for First Year Dental Students?
Data on use and perceived benefits.
Elizabeth R. Whitney and Monica A. Pessina
Lectures in Anatomical Sciences-I, a didactic course covering topics in histology and neuro-anatomy, were audio recorded and made available to students in the fall of 2006 at Boston University’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine. To assess audio recording usage and contributions to the learning process, a questionnaire was developed in collaboration the Office of Educational Research, also at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine. The questionnaire was administered to students with the standard course evaluation at the completion of the course. There was a 78% response rate to the survey (90/115). Of the students responding, 56% reported using the lecture recordings. Data revealed that 56.8% of the students who used the recordings listened to the lectures within one week and that the majority of students listened to lectures in their entirety. When asked to the respond to the statement “my learning was enhanced by the use of the lecture recordings,” 93% of users chose either “agree” or “strongly agree.” Additionally, students indicated that the lecture recordings offered the opportunity to actively engage and participate during class. This technology-based resource may increase active learning for all student users and provide an important supplement for dedicated students committed to learning course content.
Key words: podcast, audio recordings, anatomy, education, instruction technology, medical education, dental education.
The curriculum for first year dental students is intensive, with over 20 hours of weekly lecture-based instruction and additional extended laboratory sessions. In class, students typically focus their attention on lecture content while taking notes and synthesizing the presented material. The volume of material can be overwhelming and students may leave lecture with concerns regarding the accuracy of their note taking and understanding of key concepts. This was the case during the fall of 2006 when class officers representing the first year dental students (DMD-1), at Boston University’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine, requested that all lectures in Anatomical Sciences-I be audio recorded. Anatomical Sciences- I is a didactic course that covers the topics of histology and neuroanatomy.
At the time of the request, the students felt strongly that the opportunity to review an audio recording of lectures would enhance their proficiency with course content. The Office of Information Technology (IT) at Boston University’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine supported the students’ request; members of this Department provided the technical resources for this pilot project. Prior to the formal implementation of this pilot program, several students, with the permission of faculty, were recording lectures for use as a personal accessory learning tool. The introduction of the audio recordings on the password protected, school managed website allowed students without this technology to access lecture recordings. Given the potential educational benefits of this program, the Course Directors felt that a formal assessment of audio recording usage and contributions to the learning process was indicated.
Materials and Methods
At the Goldman School of Dental Medicine, laptop computers are distributed to all DMD-1 students during orientation and students are oriented to the Blackboard CourseInfo™ website, which is used to distribute teaching materials. Students can easily navigate the password protected Blackboard CourseInfo™ website and are generally comfortable downloading course materials. PowerPoint® files of Anatomical Sciences lectures are routinely made available in CourseInfo™ folders. At student request, audio recordings of corresponding lectures were added to the Blackboard CourseInfo™ website in separate folders. Only registered students were granted access. The addition of audio recordings posed no technical issues or concerns. The audio recordings were obtained using Audacity® software and were posted as downloadable MP3 files.
To assess the use of lecture recordings, a questionnaire was developed in collaboration the Office of Educational Research at Boston University’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine. The questionnaire was administered to DMD-1 students with the standard Anatomical Sciences-I course evaluation at the completion of the course. The questionnaire included both open-ended questions that allowed students to describe their experiences with the audio recordings as well as closed-ended questions in which students selected from a dichotomous scale (yes/no) or ordinal scale (1-5).
There was a 78% response rate to the survey (90/115). Of the students responding, 56% reported using the lecture recordings. Although the audio recordings can be easily downloaded onto a portable device, a computer was the primary tool used to listen to the lecture recordings (laptop: 84 %; PC 12%). Few students (4%) reported using a mobile device, such as an iPOD.
The data revealed that 58% of students using the recordings listened to the lecture within one week, with 14% listening 1-2 days after the lecture, 26% listening 3-4 days after the lecture and 18% listening 5-7 days after the lecture (Fig. 1). Thirty-four percent of students listened just prior to the examination (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: When did students use the lecture recordings?
Most students listened to lectures in their entirety; 30% listened to all lectures in their entirety and 46% listened to selected lectures in their entirety (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: How did students use the lecture recordings?
When asked if the availability of the audio recordings changed in-class note taking strategies, many students indicated that this resource provided the opportunity to focus on “listening to” and “understanding” course content rather than “worrying about writing down details.” In addition, most students responded that they “strongly agree” that their learning in the course was enhanced by the use of lecture recordings (Fig. 3). Specifically, when asked to the respond to the statement “my learning was enhanced by the use of the lecture recordings,” 93% of users chose either “agree” or “strongly agree.” Several students expanded on this response, indicating that the lecture recordings offered and opportunity better understand the “big picture.”
Figure 3: Did lecture recordings enhance learning?
Finally, of the 42% of the students who reported that they did not use the recordings, the most common reason reported was “lack of time.”
Technology is moving into the educational setting.1, 2 Courses with a web-based component are part of the educational experience for many students.3, 4 In fact, the technology of podcasting lectures was pioneered at the University of Michigan Dental School in 2004.5 The term “podcasting” stems from the words iPod and broadcasting.5 Podcast technology allows the posting of downloadable audio files. This is in contrast to individuals making audiocassette recording for personal use or a University sponsored audiocassette recording that requires students to listen in a library or check out a cassette for a few days. Since the initial introduction of podcasting, its usage and effectiveness has not been extensively explored in the literature, but it poses an interesting array of questions regarding student learning or perception of learning.
At the Goldman School of Dental Medicine, both local and international students are represented in the DMD-I class; these students come with diverse cultural and academic backgrounds that may shape students’ learning needs. In addition, a variety of learning styles have been described and studied, with research demonstrating that the medium through which course content is disseminated may impact learning.6, 7, 8 The addition of new technologies, such as easy access to lecture audio recordings, provides students with an additional educational resource to supplement traditional didactic lectures.
In addition to providing a mechanism for review of lecture content outside the classroom, the availability of lecture recordings may also enhance the in-class experience. Of the students who listen to the audio recordings, 93% believe that their learning was enhanced by the use of this resource. Although the anonymous nature of the process did not allow us to compare exam scores between users and non-users, the users indicated that, irrespective of examination scores, they felt that they gained a greater appreciation and understanding of the “big picture.” As educators of adult learners, our role is to facilitate an active learning environment.9 By providing a resource for students to review lectures for specific details, their attention in-class can be focused on participation in the lecture and discussion. Cognitive researchers suggest that engagement in the active learning process enhances learning and improves recall.10
In summary, this technology-based resource may increase active learning for all student users and provide an important supplement for the struggling, yet dedicated student. In fact, the greatest benefit may be to students who have difficulty understanding course content within the confines of a time-limited lecture period. As educators, it is important to consider diverse student needs in the context of a demanding curriculum and provide alternative resources and a supportive academic environment to facilitate individual success.
The authors thank the Office of Information Technology for supporting this project and Dr. Deborah Fournier, Ph.D. in the Office of Educational Research and Evaluation for assisting with survey development and administration.
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About the Authors
Elizabeth Whitney, Ph.D.
Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
Boston University School of Medicine
Monica A. Pessina, Ph.D
Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
Boston University School of Medicine