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Pharmacology as a foreign language: a preliminary evaluation of podcasting as a supplementary learning tool for non-medical prescribing students

Oonagh Meade, Dianne Bowskill, Joanne S Lymn
BMC Medical Education 2009 December 18, 9: 74
20021673

BACKGROUND: Nurses and other health professionals in the U.K. can gain similar prescribing rights to doctors by undertaking a non-medical prescribing course. Non-medical prescribing students must have a thorough understanding of the pharmacology of prescribing to ensure safe practice. Pharmacology education at this level is complicated by the variation in students' prior subject knowledge of, and anxiety about, the subject. The recent advances in technology, particularly the potential for mobile learning, provide increased opportunities for students to familiarise themselves with lecture materials and hence promote understanding. The objective of this study was therefore to evaluate both the subjective (student perception) and objective (student use and exam results) usefulness of podcasts of pharmacology lectures which were provided as an extra learning tool to two cohorts (n = 69) of non-medical prescribing students.

METHODS: The podcasts were made available to students through the virtual learning environment WebCT. Use of podcasts by two successive cohorts of nurse prescribing students (n = 69) was tracked through WebCT. Survey data, which was collected from 44 of these students, investigated patterns of/reasons for podcast use and perceived usefulness of podcasts as a learning tool. Of these 69 students, 64 completed the pharmacology exam. In order to examine any impact of podcasts on student knowledge, their exam results were compared with those of two historical cohorts who did not have access to podcasts (n = 70).

RESULTS: WebCT tracking showed that 91% of students accessed at least one podcast. 93% of students used the podcasts to revisit a lecture, 85% used podcasts for revision, and 61% used the podcasts when they had a specific question. Only 22% used the podcasts because they had missed a pharmacology session. Most students (81%) generally listened to the entire podcast rather than specific sections and most (73%) used them while referring to their lecture handouts. The majority of students found the podcasts helpful as a learning tool, as a revision aid and in promoting their understanding of the subject. Evaluation of the range of marks obtained, mode mark and mean mark suggested improved knowledge in students with access to podcasts compared to historical cohorts of students who did not have access to pharmacology podcasts.

CONCLUSIONS: The results of this study suggest that non-medical prescribing students utilised podcasts of pharmacology lectures, and have found the availability of these podcasts helpful for their learning. Exam results indicate that the availability of podcasts was also associated with improved exam performance.

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