Podcasts, or audio recordings of lecture material which can be accessed through the internet or downloaded to a portable media player, have been suggested to be 'an educational revolution in the making' [1
]. The ability of these tools to provide truly mobile learning has been recognised by a number of sources [2
]. Despite this initial excitement there are only limited studies exploring the use of this technology within nursing and medical education [5
] and several of these have been conducted outside the UK [5
Further complicating the literature around the use of podcasts is the uncertainty that exists regarding what the technology is, and how it is being used. A podcast is often defined as an online audio media file which is made available through web syndication [12
]. However, in educational settings, podcasts (or lecture recordings) are often made available to students via on-line virtual learning environments [3
]. Podcasts can also be enhanced by linking the audio recording to PowerPoint slide presentations [5
] or through the use of video podcasts, in which case they are known as vodcasts [7
A number of studies have utilised podcasting as an alternative to face-to-face lectures [7
] while others have utilised this technology solely for revision exercises [6
] and yet others, have utilised podcasts as supplementary learning tools [5
]. Moreover, in relation to the studies which specifically used podcasts as supplementary learning tools, there is some variation in how podcasts of full lectures are used. Some studies have evaluated the use of audio and video recordings [15
], while others focus on the evaluation of audio recordings which have been linked with PowerPoint slides from the related lecture [5
]. Our particular approach to podcasting in non-medical prescribing (NMP) education has been to provide students with access to audio recordings of key pharmacology lectures. These podcasts were housed in the online virtual learning environment WebCT. The podcasts did not replace lectures, but were available to supplement learning. Students had access to either full lecture recordings, or sections of the full-lecture recordings which corresponded with the content of specific slides on their lecture handouts.
Overall, the student view of podcasting in nursing and medical education has been positive with students reporting a beneficial impact on their learning [5
] and a reduction in anxiety [5
]. This is not to say, however, that the introduction of podcasts is without its problems. Students from studies where podcasts have replaced lectures have reported that the inability to ask questions and receive immediate feedback is a disadvantage [7
]. There have also been reports of conflicting data in relation to the effect of podcast introduction on the level of student absenteeism from lectures where the introduction of this technology has been used as a supplementary learning tool [8
While students have often self-reported in questionnaire studies that podcasts have had a positive impact on their knowledge [5
], there is limited literature available which has examined the impact of the introduction of podcasts on objective measures of student knowledge and understanding. Vogt et al. [10
] conducted an evaluation of the use of podcasts as replacements for traditional lectures across a variety of subjects in undergraduate nursing education. The authors found no significant differences in correct responses to exam questions between a group of students who had access to traditional lectures and a group of students who had access to podcasts of lecture recordings rather than traditional lectures.
Our previous study regarding the use of audio pharmacology podcasts within NMP education is the first to clearly provide objective evidence of the value of these tools in enhancing student knowledge and understanding [8
]. Our study differed from Vogt et al. [10
] in that podcasts of lectures were made available to students in addition to the traditional lectures. A comparison of exam results between students who had access to the podcasts as additional resources and historical cohorts of students who did not have this additional resource, revealed a significant improvement in understanding of pharmacological concepts among students who had access to the podcasts [8
]. As part of our previous study, student perceptions of podcasts were assessed and their use of podcasts objectively tracked. Results suggested that podcasts were highly accessed with students indicating that they found podcasts useful in a number of ways and would like more of these tools introduced across the NMP curriculum [8
]. Despite the potential for 'mobile learning' offered by the podcasts, students in our previous study [8
] and indeed in other student groups including computer and marine science [15
] have reported that they generally listen to podcasts through a computer rather than utilising them in the 'mobile' manner intended (i.e. downloading MP3 files to a mobile device). Although there is some similarity across students groups in terms of their mode of accessing podcasts, it is useful to consider at this point the nature of the NMP course and the uniqueness of this particular student population as this will likely impact on student use of podcast material.
Non-medical prescribing in the U.K. is a six month, part-time course which aims to train a range of qualified health care professionals, including nurses, pharmacists, podiatrists, physiotherapists and radiographers, to prescribe drugs. Indeed, following successful completion of the course, these healthcare professionals have access to almost the same formulary of drugs as do doctors [19
]. It is critical then that these students develop a good understanding of the principles of pharmacology and therapeutics [20
]. This is particularly complicated for nurses attending NMP courses as the move away from a biological to a social model of care at pre-registration level [21
] often means that these students do not have the necessary scientific background, exhibited by other professional groups, on which to build this new knowledge. A recent study of nurses enrolling on the NMP course at the University of Nottingham suggested that 50% had no more than a GCSE level understanding of biological science [22
]. Indeed, pharmacology has been identified as being an area of particular weakness in nursing education by a number of authors [23
]. The difficulties for these students are further complicated by both the part-time nature of the course which runs alongside their normal working commitments and the older average age of the student population [8
]. The particular problems associated with these sorts of student groups, in terms of juggling family, financial and professional commitments have been well documented [27
]. While the increased responsibility and accountability in terms of patient safety conferred by a NMP qualification is well recognised by these students [30
], the requisite development of pharmacological understanding can be a significant challenge.
Our previous study of podcast use with NMP students reported an improvement in objectively-assessed student knowledge, as well as positive student evaluations in questionnaire feedback [8
]. Therefore, it is likely that podcasts may play an important role in developing these students' knowledge base. In order to more fully understand the potential value of podcasts as a supplementary learning tool, however, a more in-depth, detailed understanding of students' experiences of using podcasts is required.
By developing a clearer understanding of NMP students' experiences, educators can work to improve student access to these tools and further enhance the development of student understanding in this area. Moreover, this knowledge may be useful for educators interested in developing podcast use across other subjects and disciplines.
The aim of the current study was therefore to develop a detailed qualitative account of how and why students accessed NMP podcasts, their perceptions of the value of podcasts for their learning and to understand more fully any potential barriers towards, and facilitators of, podcast use.