U of A prof's teaching notes go global

Dr. Jonathan White's podcasts began as a teaching tool, but now reach tens of thousands of listeners worldwide.

What began with an innovative way for a University of Alberta professor to help his students master lecture material has garnered a global audience.

"Through this, I've reached a 120,000 individual people,” said Dr. Jonathan White, a U of A professor and surgeon at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. “I don't know who's listening.”

White launched Surgery 101, a podcast describing diseases and their various treatments in 2008 on iTunes, a downloading website.

“When you're short on time, you have the podcast to rely on in order to get the bulk of information that you need to learn," said medical student Todd Penney.

"The podcasts are less dry than reading out of a textbook," he said. "You have someone talking to you as if you are in a lecture. They try to make it a little more interesting. They add music.”

Now the weekly 10-30-minute podcasts are being downloaded in more than 100 countries around the world.

“There's no way to control who it is because we give it away for free,” said White. “Maybe it's patients listening to it.

“Maybe if you are sitting in the hospital today about to have a hernia operation and you're fiddling with your iPhone and you type in hernia, you'll be listening to this before.”

White says he has long been interested in using technology for educational purposes.

"I was the first person I knew who had an email address; first person who had a blog or had a Wiki. I mean, I had a first generation iPod! I was always interested in using that sort of technology."

Early episodes introduce basic medical procedures, while more recent editions feature the expertise of specialists — all volunteers, all Edmonton based.

White never imagined how popular his podcasts would become.

In his whole career White says he's taught about 700 students in person, but now he's reaching upwards of 120,000 people around the world.

"Pretty much every other major country in the world has somebody listening, almost a 1,000 downloads in Africa, we've got 2,000 in South America.

"Just imagine if you are a medical student in Africa working with some flimsy internet connection and some textbook that is 20 years old. Suddenly you can find an expert speaking on whatever topic you need."