Professor Becomes iTunes Hit



Contact: Brad Lifford           
February 10, 2011

JOHNSON CITY – By any measure, Dr. Allan Forsman has enjoyed the kind of notable career where success is the rule rather than the exception. He is a respected associate professor in the East Tennessee State University Department of Health Sciences, which is housed in the ETSU College of Public Health. He has worked at NASA as a researcher on the effects of gravitational biology. He still consults for the space agency on occasion.

But becoming a hit on iTunes? Being downloaded by listeners tens of thousands of times in a week, even those in other countries? That one caught Forsman by surprise.

“I started out doing this for students here on campus,” said Forsman, “but pretty soon after we started with iTunes University, I started getting e-mails from students from all over telling me how useful it was.”

Useful is the operative word, as Forsman isn’t uploading tunes to iTunes U, but education – in the form of audio lectures and video demonstrations for the classes he teaches on anatomy and human physiology. Working with the ETSU Office of eLearning, Forsman makes anatomy and physiology and human anatomy course lectures available by podcast on iTunes U, as well as many dozens of instructional videos using human anatomical models.

Forsman isn’t the sort to trumpet his own achievements, but the objective statistics from iTunes U and comments that users leave on the Web speak for him.

Apple maintains rankings that track the popularity of iTunes U downloads worldwide. Consider that during a recent week, Forsman held the top two spots for the most downloaded anatomy material and occupied four of the top six positions – Stanford University inhabited the other two. Listeners downloaded Forsman 65,000 times one week this winter; during a two-week period there were 100,000 downloads of the ETSU professor.

Forsman receives rave reviews from students, too. One listener from Arizona, a nurse of 27 years who had returned to pursue her degree as a nurse practitioner, left this message at iTunes U: I really want a good review of anatomy and this by far has been the most interesting as well as fun to listen to. … I live in Arizona so there is no way to actually go there [to ETSU] for class. Thanks so much!

Another listener was from essentially halfway around the world: I don’t go to ETSU, but I’m a first-year med student in Australia – and found his podcasts on iTunes U. I can’t say just how amazing I thought his musculoskeletal anatomy lectures were. Not to mention he makes it interesting and has a sense of humor.

And finally this, from London: Hello there, I’m listening to your podcasts from AP1 (anatomy and physiology) back in 2007 and I had to tell you that you have been a GREAT help to me! Especially with the ribs … long story but you are amazing, keep doing what you are doing. We’re listening and learning.

“I guess I do come at it with a slightly different perspective and a sense of humor,” Forsman said in trying to explain his popularity. “One thing to consider is these are usually students who are trying to go the extra mile in learning the material, so they’re going to the trouble to seek it out. They get it.”

Scores of students are getting ETSU’s use of online media to supplement the traditional classroom experience, or replace it with distance learning opportunities where appropriate. Dr. David Currie, assistant director for the ETSU Office of eLearning, can provide a measure of that success. The university is on iTunes U at www.etsu.edu/itunesu.

“We just passed 7.65 million downloads on iTunes U through Jan. 23,” Currie said.

Regardless of Forsman’s far-flung success on iTunes U, he uses the tool first and foremost to help students who are enrolled in his classes at ETSU. He records all of his lectures and usually has them available for current students to stream the same day of class or at least the next day via ETSU’s Desire to Learn course site.

With his daughter’s help on the production end, Forsman’s downloadable videos demonstrating anatomical models now top 80. He has made over 400 lectures available for download. 

Still, when making his students aware of the help available on iTunes U, he offers a caution, too: “I tell them, ‘Please don’t use this as a substitute for going to class. There are things you’re going to get in class that you won’t get from an audio download or a video.’”

Students aren’t the only ones who are admirers of virtual Forsman. A colleague from Naugatuck Valley Community College, located in Connecticut, found Forsman’s work on iTunes and sent an e-mail. His request: Would Forsman mind if he placed the podcasts and videos on the Naugatuck Valley Web site? Forsman gave him his blessing, and the material is still there to augment the education of students in Connecticut.