Common Sense Family Doctor: Podcasting in medical education: a review and example


A recent scoping review in Academic Medicine examined the published literature on the use of podcasts in undergraduate (medical school) and graduate medical education (GME; residency). The researchers identified a total of 62 articles; 44 studies reported descriptive outcomes and 38 reported educational outcomes. The latter group assessed learner reaction and attitudes, knowledge retention, and behavior change; no studies reported on system change or patient outcomes. Medical podcasts appeared to communicate knowledge as well as traditional teaching methods; are valued by learners for their portability, efficiency, and entertainment value; and measurably improved skills in documentation and selected clinical practices.

If you are new to medical podcasts, you can check out some of my favorites or a family medicine-specific list compiled by residents and faculty at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix Family Medicine Residency Program, which produces the American Family Physician podcast.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, I created two episodes of a podcast for a first-year medical course in health policy as my project for an interdisciplinary Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) Colloquium for Georgetown faculty. Below is an excerpt from my final report describing the project.

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I created an audio podcast to provide an overview of the U.S. health system in spring 2019. The podcast episodes replaced a 90-minute lecture from the previous year, enabling better integration between the background health system content and two small group sessions during the same week on the patient-centered medical home and implications of the Affordable Care Act for patients and physicians.

During the TEL colloquium, I read about using podcasts for teaching in publications identified in PubMed and utilized resources on the Gelardin New Media Center website. Then, I became familiar with the recording and editing software program Audacity by viewing a tutorial on Lynda.com, accessed through the Georgetown University library. I posted finished podcast episodes on the P3 Canvas webpage and, through the podcast hosting service Libsyn, made them available on popular podcast directories, including Apple ITunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. I wanted to give students the option of listening to the podcast on their commutes or during workouts, rather than sitting at a desk or a library carrell.

Listening to and reflecting on the podcast episodes was not a stand-alone assignment, but instead incorporated into preparation for the small group sessions. I adjusted my teaching strategies in several ways. First, in the absence of a live audience, I switched to a less lecturing, more conversational tone of voice when recording. Although I posted a few key visuals (e.g., pie charts of insurance coverage types, percentages of national spending on various health services) from the previous year’s lecture slide set on Canvas for students to view during or after the podcast, most of the slides containing text simply weren’t necessary to reproduce. It was a little humbling to realize how much “slide reading” I must have been doing the year before.

My originally stated goal in joining the 2018 TEL Colloquium was to develop a blended learning project to “help me and course faculty engage in new and deeper ways with future [GUSOM] classes to better prepare them to be well-rounded physicians who are prepared to advance and advocate for their patients’ health outside of medical settings.” My two major objectives were to reduce course didactic time and to integrate online / asynchronous and in-person learning activities. I didn’t change my overall goal or specific objectives as the Colloquium progressed, but I did change the timing of the project in response to feedback from CNDLS faculty and peers. I originally envisioned the podcast beginning during the October intensive course week, continuing through the months in between, and concluding during the March course week. I fairly quickly realized that this timing was impractical, as students would not have time or motivation to listen to P3 podcasts while they were taking other courses with tests. So I instead decided to focus on the March course week, where the U.S. health system overview lecture was most amenable to being converted into a podcast because 1) I was the assigned lecturer; 2) the content had been identified by past students as being too much to digest in a single sitting.

Were students able to better absorb and engage with this material in a podcast versus a lecture? It’s hard to say for certain. Unfortunately, I did not think to add a specific question or questions about the podcast to the student course survey, and none of the free text comments from students thus far mentioned the podcast. Anecdotally, several students in my own small group of 10 said that they found the podcast to be informative and easy to digest, and course faculty e-mailed some encouraging comments about it:

“I definitely think you should write this up as an innovative way of teaching!”
“Your podcasts are excellent!
“I think it is so nice for them to get this info via a different medium than lectures or reading.”

I came into the TEL Colloquium with the prior experience of having blended learning (specifically, team-based learning exercises) not having gone particularly well in the past – a lot of time and effort invested, but mostly negative feedback. In contrast, the podcast was fun to create and seemed to have a positive, or at least neutral, effect on the faculty and student experience. Although I don’t have any specific plans to integrate podcasts into my other teaching roles, I certainly would consider doing so if an opportunity arises.



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