When it comes to suture practice, nothing compares to hands-on experience. The more that students can practice their suture techniques on sample tissue, the better prepared they will be. Fortunately, effective suture training doesn’t necessarily require a lab environment, or even in-person instruction.
The COVID-19 crisis forced many instructors to shift their teaching to a virtual setting with very little notice or support. Many instructors suddenly found themselves confronted with a host of new technological challenges in addition to the problem of how to teach something online that they were used to teaching in person. The good news is that there are plenty of resources available for help with transitioning your class to an online environment.
While teaching suture techniques online presents some unique challenges, the basic principles of teaching in a virtual setting still apply. You want to be sure that you’re able to provide students with relevant, thorough and detailed feedback. It’s also important to organize a discussion board or forum so that you can field frequently asked questions in one place (and hopefully not repeatedly).
When it comes to providing suture training specifically, however, here are some things to keep in mind for teaching in a virtual setting.
Draw On Existing Resources
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to do everything yourself. While it may be valuable for your students to watch you performing some of the techniques you are teaching, there are also plenty of suture training videos available online.
You don’t have to create a whole library of videos. At SurgiReal, we’ve created high-quality training videos for a range of techniques such as how to suture in a simple continuous pattern or a simple interrupted pattern, as well as demonstrations of knot ties for both right hand dominant and left hand dominant practitioners. And if we don’t yet have a video of a technique that you’d like to see, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
The reality is that your time will be better spent focusing on individual feedback on student work. That’s where your role as their instructor will be most important. They can watch, pause and revisit demonstration videos as much as they want, but having your insight into their techniques will ultimately serve them best.
Assess Technological Realities
In an ideal situation, you would be able to work with students one-on-one to master their suture techniques. Being able to watch the student and provide direct instruction while they perform the procedure would give you both the best opportunity to teach and learn.
However, the technological realities for both you and your students might not support synchronous virtual contact. If trying to teach using video conferencing software, poor internet connections will result in a choppy and chaotic video. Not everyone has great wifi at home. So, it’s possible that “live” demonstrations will not be viable.
Emphasize Camera Placement
No matter whether instruction is synchronous or asynchronous, students will need to capture video of their suture practice. As such, it’s important to get a sense of your students’ camera options. Smartphones, tablets, and computers each have camera options, but each also presents a different challenge in terms of capturing video of high enough quality and from a visible angle.
Make sure that students understand that the camera is best placed in the first person view (i.e. from the eyes of the person doing the work). That angle will allow you to give the best feedback, and will be significantly more helpful than viewing from the front or the side. Additionally, the camera needs to be close enough, but not too close. You need to be able to see everything the student is doing.
Provide Rapid Feedback
When teaching suture techniques, rapid feedback is very important. You can often make a big difference in students’ abilities in a short time when you can give them specific, actionable feedback. Synchronous virtual contact can help with this, but requires the right camera placement and strong internet connection.
If you have to provide asynchronous feedback, then it can take several back-and-forth connections to get your point across. You will also need to be able to record what you are doing in order to help demonstrate corrections.
Whether you’re able to provide real-time feedback or not, the key is to be sure you are getting your point across. If anything, err on the side of over communicating rather than under communicating. Give yourself plenty of time to really share what you see and offer insights into the students’ techniques.