By David Griffin
Effectively engaging students with the course material can be a challenge for educators. This challenge is made more daunting by the gravity of the role played by engagement; it is a major factor in student motivation, knowledge retention and overall academic success. As such, in recent years a lot of work has looked at alternative methods to increase student engagement.
The popularity of podcasts continues to increase, with seemingly every interest, hobby and facet of life now discussed and explored on this convenient format. This increase has been facilitated by the ease with which podcasts can be created, the ubiquity of cheap and free hosting platforms, and easy access to recording technology via home computers and smartphones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the educational benefits of podcasts are now being explored. For students, they have been shown to promote critical thinking around topics and improve material comprehension (Prakash et al., 2017; Hargett, 2018).
The general benefits of physical activity are widely appreciated. Exercise can positively affect our mood, reduce negative feelings of anxiety and generally improve our feelings of wellbeing. What is sometimes underappreciated, however, is the effect physical activity can have on cognition. By increasing cerebral blood flow, exercise can positively affect cognitive function necessary for effective learning and information processing. It is for this reason that short exercise breaks within a longer study period are often recommended to optimise learning.
Due to the popularity of podcasts and the known benefits of physical exercise, two US-based academics have written an article promoting their combination for university teaching. In their study, Biber and Heidorn (2021) incorporated podcast-based lectures with walking or similar cardiovascular gym exercises. This was done in the undergraduate curriculum at the University of West Georgia’s Department of Sport Management, Wellness, and Physical Education.
For classes during several consecutive semesters, students were asked to scan a QR code on their smartphone, which directed them to a 15-20 minute podcast. They then undertook their chosen cardiovascular exercise for the duration of the podcast before returning to the classroom to discuss its content.
Students were subsequently asked to provide anonymous feedback on the ‘podcast-based walking program’.
This can be summarised as follows:
The authors acknowledge that this study is only a starting point and that randomised control trials are required to compare outcomes from this format with those of traditional lectures. However, based on the perceptions of the students alone, this format demonstrates great promise. Aside from the perceived educational benefits, it encourages physical activity in students who may otherwise avoid exercise. By allowing a range of different types of exercise, it enables students with a broad range of physical capabilities to participate. A sense of community is also encouraged through the post-podcast classroom discussion.
The authors stress that this form of blended learning could be further modified by individual educators. For example, students could be asked to walk, listen and discuss the content in pairs before returning to the classroom. Educators have a responsibility to support their students’ pursuit of academic success. However, perhaps equally important is their role in supporting their students’ wellbeing. Both may be supported by this form of blended learning presented by Biber and Heidorn (2021), helping educators mould their students into well-rounded, capable professionals.
Biber, D.D. and Heidorn, J. 2021. Tailoring the Walking Classroom to Promote College Student Engagement. College Teaching 69 (3):169-172
Hargett, J. L. 2018. Podcasting in Nursing Education: Using Commercially Prepared Podcasts to Spark Learning. Teaching and Learning in Nursing 13 (1):55–7.
Prakash, S. S., N. Muthuraman, and R. Anand. 2017. Short-Duration Podcasts as a Supplementary Learning Tool: Perceptions of Medical Students and Impact on Assessment Performance. BMC Medical Education 17 (1):167.