STIFFLER, DEBORAH PhD, RN, CNM; STOTEN, SHARON MSN, RN, NE-BC; CULLEN, DEBORAH EdD
The use of podcasts in higher education has been increasing in popularity in recent years, but little research has been conducted regarding the effectiveness of the use of podcasting on student learning in distance-accessible courses. The few articles that were found are empirical studies containing quantitative or qualitative data connecting student learning or student learning styles to podcasting. The majority of the current literature focuses on descriptive uses of podcasts using mobile learning devices. This article describes a pilot study that used podcasts as a supplement to online learning.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
A podcast is the delivery of audio, text, pictures, and/or video to a computer or mobile learning device. Educators make course material available by download for their students. The students then choose which medium, computer, or mobile learning device is most conducive totheir learning style. The material is available to the students at their convenience, when, where, and as often as they choose. This interaction with the material allows students to engage in a more active learning style than sitting and reading the assigned texts.1 Podcasts are a way for faculty and students to create, distribute, and manage course materials.
Donnelly and Berge2 described that one of the main advantages of podcasting is providing a human voice and connection to the written text of education. Connection is an important attribute to students. Connection promotes student engagement, and when coupled with the immediacy of current technology, the atmosphere is conducive to learning. The control of learning is shifted to the learner and provides the ability to multitask while learning. When listening to a podcast, the students' eyes and hands are free to perform other activities, integrating learning into their daily lives.3 Students may be more apt to listen to a podcast during "down" time, such as walking to and from class or driving, instead of reading large reading assignments, and listening to a mobile device is acceptable in the social lives of college students.
According to Lee and Chan,3 audio has been underused in higher education. Adding the spoken word can influence and motivate cognition. When audio is used along with the written word, the learning process and outcomes can be enhanced.
Several universities have experimented with giving Apple iPods, iTouches, or MacBooks (Apple, Cupertino, CA) to their incoming freshmen classes in an attempt to expand the ability of the students to keep in touch with campus information and activities while providing access to academic applications inside and outside the classrooms (Table 1). Boulos et al4 described iPods and podcasting as a mindtool, which acted as cognitive reflection and amplification by aiding meaning and knowing for 30% of the individuals. Stoten5 reported podcasts support anytime, anyplace learning and were good for auditory learners, as well as augmenting learning experiences. Faculty and students report that using podcasts is convenient.6 Using podcasts reduces the dependence on physical texts and the need to access libraries during business hours that may not be conducive to students' study habits. Students have the ability to make their own podcasts by recording lectures and discussions, which allows flexible access to replay course materials. Students can also produce podcasts for their fellow students, participating in their own and others' learning. Faculty who have used podcasts in their courses note increased student engagement and interest in the course, and the podcasts support individual learning styles.6 In-class time can be used for other engaging and interactive activities.
Huntsberger and Stavitsky,7 in their 2007 study, focused on how to integrate podcasting into an introductory mass media course's material to enhance the material, not to replace it. The podcasts, ranging from 15 to 28 minutes, were made available to students through the university's course management system. Students were surveyed at the end of the term on how they used the podcasts and how satisfied they were with the delivery method. Of the 249 students (84% return rate), more than 40% of the respondents chose to replace the textbook with the podcasts. Almost 20% felt the podcasts effectively replaced the textbook, 36.4% were unsure of the advantages, and 10% offered no opinion. More than 95% indicated that the podcasts helped them succeed in the class.7
There are various types of podcasts used in higher education. The most traditional podcast is the audio recordingof the traditional lecture. According to Durbridge,8 listening to the spoken word can add clarity, meaning,and motivation when compared with reading text. Video, animation, and PowerPoint slides (Microsoft, Redmond, WA) can be added to the audio to enhance the learning experience and can be downloaded onto a computer or mobile learningdevice. Students can develop podcasts to demonstrate their skill and knowledge level. Podcasts can be used as a means of introduction to a course or class, as an orientation to the course, and as a means to promote critical reflection and provide supplemental information that is not covered in the readings or lectures.3 In association with our study's focus, the supplemental podcast can be thought of as complementary to the traditional class instead of a replacement for the class.
In 1992, Fleming and Mills9 identified four learning styles known as VARK: (1) visual, (2) auditory, (3) reading/writing, and (4) kinesthetic, tactile, or exploratory. Given distance education, podcasting can match the needs of verbal or auditory learners as well as meet parameters necessary for designing distance education. Bonk and Zhang10 extended these styles in their "Read, Reflect, Display, and Do" model (R2D2). They describe "read" learners as those who prefer words, spoken or written, as a method of knowledge acquisition. "Reflect" learners are those who prefer to reflect, observe, view, and watch. "Display" learners prefer diagrams, flowcharts, pictures, film, and other demonstrations of material. "Do" learners use active doing, hands-on work as their method of learning.10 The authors identified listening to podcasting as being similar to online reading, virtual exploration, and listening to online lectures. They describe the use of podcasts as addressing one style of learning and that faculty need to address the learning preferences of all the students in a course.10 The R2D2 model can be used in designing distance-accessible courses.
In her work, Snyder11 states that faculty frequently do not have a clear understanding of how a new instructional tool, such as podcasts, supports a particular learning style or content. She is not a proponent of using a technology simply because one can. She proposes an instructional design theory of learning community. Faculty need to incorporate emerging instructional Web tools, but they should cultivate a learner-centered environment; leverage community synergy; respect individuality, diversity, and experience; focus on real-life problems; and promote self-directed learning.
It is clear from the literature that students enjoy using technology-based learning applications, but more empirical evidence is needed to determine the effectiveness of these applications, such as podcasts, on the students' learning styles and preferences. The use of podcasting in nursing distance-accessible courses is new and yet to be studied. This pilot study deals with the useof podcasts as a supplement to online learning. The purpose of this study was to describe a distinctive instructional strategy, using podcasts as a supplement to online learning.
The sample for this pilot study was conveniently selected from the graduate nursing program at a large Midwestern university. The online class that introduced the supplemental podcast was a research capstone course. Four weeks into the course, a survey was administered regarding the students' perceptions of the required readings and unit materials. During the next unit, 1 week later, a 7-minute podcast was uploaded into iTunes (Apple, Cupertino, CA) via the online courseware. Students were informed of the supplemental podcast availability. Included in the podcast was an explanation of unit expectations, overview of the major concepts, and discussion of the unit assignment. A postpodcast survey was administered to determine the access and utility of the supplemental podcast. Both surveys were pilot tested, and institutional review board approval was obtained. Given the exploratory nature and small number of participants in the study, statistical comparisons were not carried out.
Survey results revealed that two of the 19 students chose not to participate. All students were graduate level and either clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner students. Participation in both surveys was 89%, and demographic characteristics were captured for the online course. Nonfemale students represented 5.8%, and nonwhite students were 11.8%. The students' ages varied with 29% between the ages of 17 to 28 years, 52% between 29 to 44 years, and only 18% were 45 years or older.
Self-described learning styles were multiple among the participants' responses. They were given descriptive options for VARK; the results indicated that 35.3% of respondents indicated visual, 29.4% learned through reading and writing, 17.6% indicated auditory, and 17.6%identified tactile/kinesthetic as their learning style preference.
Students accessed the podcast from either a laptop or desktop, although the podcast was available for download via iTunes University through the online course management system. No student reported downloading the podcast to a mobile learning device. All students accessed the podcast more than once, while only 53% read the unit text materials more than once. More students multitasked while listening to the podcast than when reading the course material, as 64% took notes while listening (Table 2). Table 3 noted that 40% of respondents agreed or were neutral that the reading was not a productive use time, but 88% would recommend that other students taking the course complete the reading. Similarly in Table 3, 44% of respondents agreed or were neutral that the podcast was not a productive use of time, while 82% would recommend that other students taking the course listen to the podcast.
Our pilot study found that the students in this online course took advantage of the podcast and listened to itmultiple times. Not all of the students read the written material, and fewer than half read it more than one time. However, more students found the written material more clear and understandable than the podcast. It is uncertain whether this was because the students were better able to learn from the written word or if this particular podcast was not clear.
The students tended to multitask more while listening to the podcast than when reading the written material. The most common additional task was taking notes while listening to the podcast. As such, the students felt they were more productive while listening to the podcast than while reading the written material.
All of the students listened to the podcast on a desktop or laptop computer and not on a mobile device. This does not support the idea that students wish to be more mobile when learning. It is possible that the students played the podcast at work, school, or somewhere other than home while listening, but it does not appear that thestudents listened to the podcast while being mobile. Age may have played a role in how the students listened to the podcasts. Seventy percent of the students were 29 years or older and have not grown up in the age of iPods and MP3 players; thus, they may not have been as tech savvy as younger students. This same study in an undergraduate program might produce completely different results. Students were not asked if they had any technicaldifficulties in listening to the podcasts. It is unknown whether students tried, but were unable, to download the podcasts to their mobile devices.
The students equally supported the readings and the podcast as important for subsequent students to complete when taking this course in the future. The podcast provided supplemental material from the readings, so it would have been difficult for the podcast to stand alone as a means of gaining the information.
A low percentage of the students in our study responded that they were auditory learners as opposed to visual or reading/writing learners. The findings might have been different with a different mix of students; however, the results of this survey are in concert with those of Bonk and Zhang10 and Snyder11; podcasting is only one method of acquiring knowledge for online delivery. Multiple methods of delivery would be needed to meet the various learning styles of all students.
Interestingly, the use of podcasting in education is consistent with Siemens'12 Digital Age Orientation to Learning and other connectivism theorists. Connectivism theorists say that learning happens in unformulated environments and is messy. The learner does not entirely control the learning. Knowledge can live outside the individual, in organizations and databases; for learning to take place, this knowledge must be connected to the right people at the right time and in the right context. Siemens'12 theory can guide instruction efforts through his principles of connectivism.
This study was limited by its small sample size. There were not enough students who participated and not enough variation in answers to make the responses statistically significant.
This pilot study was conducted in a distance-accessible research course in a graduate nursing program, thus a very narrow population. The findings could be more generalizable if conducted in multiple courses in multiple disciplines.
Another limitation was the large age range of the participants. Younger students tend to be more tech savvy and desire to use technology-based methods than older students, and almost 20% of the students involved in the study were older than 45 years.
Future research in the areas of podcasting and the use of mobile learning devices is definitely needed, and the types of studies are almost limitless. Now that we have encountered some of the difficulties in this pilot study, we would like to repeat this study with a larger sample from multiple courses and possibly disciplines. It would be very interesting to study the different age groups further to determine their preferred learning styles and methods. It could be possible to have various learning methods available within a course to assist students with all types of learning styles. From our experiences with this pilot study, we will be better able to anticipate potential technical problems and plan for them, allowing for more usable data to be obtained.
More and more universities and faculty are venturing into the use of technology-based learning methods and mobile learning devices. Yet, little empirical evidence is available to show if learning is taking place with these methods. As we "jump on the bandwagon," it is important to determine the value of podcasting. These methods can be labor intensive, and the technology is expensive for both the university and the student. The use of methods that are not conducive to learning is not cost-effective, and students will not choose to pay for our services if they do not believe they are learning.
This pilot study has described one unique instructional strategy-the use of podcasts as a supplement to written material in an online class. It is one step inproviding the much needed empirical evidence that technology-based learning methods are effective in assisting students to learn. More evidence is needed prior to an "all or nothing" shift in the way we teach.
The uses of mobile devices and podcasts are various, but one thing is becoming clearer. Students today desire technology that easily and quickly connects them with their professors, friends, campus news, information and events, classroom assignments, transportation, tracking, music, and local events. The university setting is preparing the student for a technology-based society, and nursing classrooms are part of this important evolution.
© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.