What is virtual classroom training and why is it significant?
Virtual classroom is a digital solution that enables an easier and more efficient way to access education globally. Accessing cost-effective medical education has been a problem for several decades and has now become an even greater issue due to Covid-19.
Surgical skills courses traditionally employ face-to-face training methods; therefore, the implementation is logistically complex and resource demanding. This means limited availability, high costs and travel issues for attendees. Virtual classroom training is a novel technological alternative. It creates an interactive learning environment using synchronous web-based video communication with supplementary polls and interactive graphical aids. Instructors are able to run a virtual classroom from a control centre while students attend remotely using their personal computer. Virtual classrooms may optimise resources, increase training accessibility and facilitate large-scale teaching whilst providing substantial educational benefit. However, as a new technology and teaching method there is limited evidence for its efficacy.
What is VIRTUAL and how is it being carried out?
VIRTUAL is a randomized control trial designed to measure the efficacy and accessibility of virtual classroom surgical skills training compared to traditional training methods.
Medical students will be recruited from across medical schools and randomly assigned to three equal intervention groups based on year group and subjective suturing confidence. Group A will receive virtual classroom training, Group B will receive face-to-face training, and Group C will practice independently with access to an instructional video.
Participants place three interrupted sutures with hand tied knots before and after the training intervention. A core technical procedure that is used for assessment with the Royal College of Surgeons. The footage will be reviewed, and blind marked independently by two experts using the validated Objective Structured Assessment of Technical Skills (OSATS) and a novel granular scoring system. Pre- and post-intervention questionnaires will evaluate changes in subjective confidence and enthusiasm. Participants will also be invited to provide feedback on the interventions. Data relating to the financial costs and resource demands associated with each intervention will be recorded.
What impact do we expect VIRTUAL to have?
The trial will be the largest of its kind and will serve as a comprehensive appraisal of the suitability of virtual surgical skills classroom training as a practical and cost-effective alternative to face-to-face training. The validation of training modalities that permit social distancing is of particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future. The findings of this study will assist the development and implementation of further resource-efficient virtual training programs.
Want to find out more?
Follow National Surgical Teaching Society (NSTS) for more information and how to get involved.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank University College London (UCL), Royal College of Surgeons (England) and the Medical Defense Union (MDU) for their support and funding.
About the Authors
Monty Fricker – Monty is the co-study lead for VIRTUAL and is a final year medical student at Newcastle University
Amil Sinha – Amil is the trial coordinator for VIRTUAL and is a final year medicals student at Cambridge University
Study Lead: Arjun Nathan – Arjun is the study lead for VIRTUAL and is a Urology surgical trainee at the Royal Free Hospital, London. He is also an academic clinical fellow with the Royal College of Surgeons and Honorary Research Fellow with UCL. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Co-Authors: Monty Fricker, Nancy Hanna, Aqua Asif, Sonam Patel, Maria Georgi, Kien Hang, Amil Sinha, Will Mullins, Jessie Shea
Senior Supervisors: Benjamin Lamb, Ashwin Sridhar, John Kelly, Justin Collins