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Connecting Research Communities Through Podcasts

Have you ever listened to a podcast? A pretty silly question these days, we admit. Not long ago, however, such a question wouldn’t have seemed odd. Over the last several years, podcasts have become ubiquitous for several reasons. This is especially true in the #SciComm domain. Several of the PLOS Blogs have featured posts about podcasts; it is now our turn. To that end, we asked Dr. James Pickering, host of The Anatomy Education Podcast to explain why he was motivated to start podcasting, and how he and the discipline of anatomy, has benefitted from his work. As an added bonus, Episode #29  features one of the editors of SciCommPLOS. Enjoy! –JMO

Higher education is changing rapidly due to many powerful forces. Governmental policy, demographics and advances in technology, are all forcing educators and administrators to readdress how they deliver their curricula. No discipline can avoid this change, and the area in which I teach—anatomy—is without exception. In fact, anatomy education could be seen as leading the way among biomedical disciplines in many aspects of this changing landscape—both in the reframing of curriculum delivery to reflect changing student demographics and increased class sizes, and also in the adoption of new educational technologies and pedagogies. Thinking of human anatomy may conjure up some haunting thoughts: cadavers, and dark, old-fashioned dissecting rooms. But, anatomy education is undoubtedly at the cutting edge of educational change. Whether this is in the use of social media, eBooks, 3D software applications, 3D printing, MOOCs (massive open online courses), virtual and augmented reality; or the current focus on changing pedagogies from teacher- to student-centred approaches to curriculum delivery like problem-, case-, and team-based learning environments; or the transition from traditional didactic to active lectures; or the adoption of the increasingly popular flipped classroom, these changes are happening right now and are to be found in anatomy education.

As an anatomy educator, I am deeply passionate about understanding this change and aim to develop and deliver the best possible educational experience for my students.  Indeed, my own pedagogical research focuses on how curricula can be designed to incorporate this changing landscape and yet still provide a robust and meaningful educational experience.  So how do I, like many of my colleagues, go about discovering and building on current educational scholarship to enhance and add to the evidence-base? Simply, the same way that other researchers in their specific fields do – by searching the literature and attending the relevant conferences. But having followed this approach for many years – by signing up to journal updates for the latest research papers, and by making the annual or bi-annual trip to relevant conferences, are we missing something? How many times during that conference have you shared a coffee or sat down for lunch with a likeminded academic and discussed an approach that worked, or not? How many times have you discussed an area of educational scholarship not related to your discipline that has still gone on to inform your own practice? How many times have you shared your own experience of teaching hundreds of students each week of varying ages, abilities and backgrounds? If your conference experience is anything like mine, then this occurs a lot. Plenaries, short communications and posters provide great insight, of course, but it is also these informal moments that can lead to a new project or approach to your own teaching practice, or even a future collaboration.

It was this desire to try and capture those informal moments that inspired me to establish my own podcast: The Anatomy Education Podcast. The goal of the podcast, as well as the associated Twitter handle (@AnatEducPodcast) and hashtag (#AnatPodcast), is to share the vast array of student education excellence that is currently underway within my discipline, but doesn’t make its way into the peer-reviewed literature or popular press. So why a podcast? I first became aware of podcasts during my daily commute to work, and by doing so, I joined the millions of people around the world who have started to engage in this form of media consumption. A recent survey by Edison Research on the public engagement of podcasts found that in 2017, 40% of the US population – that’s over 100 million people – had listened to a podcast, and 24% – that’s over 60 million Americans – had listened to a podcast in the previous month. Podcasting as a medium has been around for over a decade, but it is over the last few years that the number and availability of podcasts has rapidly grown. This increase has coincided with the near-ubiquitous presence of smart phones that enable the seamless engagement with content that can be accessed on the move – either during the daily commute, recreationally at the gym, or even while cooking – and unlike video content you are not fixed to a screen. This ease of use is supported by data showing that two-thirds of podcasts are consumed via a smart phone or tablet device, and reassuringly to all the hard-working podcast producers out there, over 80% of people listen to most of the episode’s content.

The power of podcasting is in the simplicity of production. You can set-up a podcast on the smallest of budgets using a USB-microphone and free audio software. To get the podcast online you can subscribe to an audio hosting platform for a minimal fee and they will do all the work of generating a RSS feed that will get your show out there. It really is that simple. Moreover, there is freedom. Freedom to create exactly what you want and share this content with your audience, however big or small. It was this freedom to invite who I wanted onto the podcast and discuss whatever we wanted, where I saw an opportunity to disseminate the anatomy education excellence that is going on within our community. By inviting guests onto the show to discuss their area of scholarship or innovative program, that is not always suitable for publication in a journal or presented at a conference, people can hear and learn about the individual and their work, and in particular, the stories behind the research. The Anatomy Education Podcasts has created a community of individuals who can work across disciplines and across institutions to develop, expand and share our great work far and wide to both the academic and public communities; it can support early career colleagues to be prepared and supported for the future by learning from others; and it highlights the stories behind novel, innovative and exciting anatomy education programs that utilize the latest technology and are supported by evidence-based pedagogies. Simply, it is about sharing the anatomy education scholarship that aims to answer those questions posed by our rapidly modernizing healthcare program.

Edited by Jason Organ, PhD, Indiana University School of Medicine.

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About the Author
  • James Pickering

    James Pickering, PhD, is an Associate Professor in Anatomy at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. His research focuses on the use of technology in anatomy education curriculum development. He is the founder of the Anatomy Education Podcast that is available on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify, and the website – You can follow the podcast on Twitter via @AnatEducPodcast and connect with James via @AccessAnatomy.

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