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Student perceptions of an online surgical teaching programme during the COVID-19 pandemic at the University of KwaZulu-Natal: A short report

S Ebrahim
B Singh
J M Van Wyk


Background. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented global health crisis, with impacts on many facets of the health system, including lack of access to regular training wards and the need for social distancing, which posed particular challenges to undergraduate teaching.
Objectives. To explore the perceptions of students of the online surgical programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Methods. An online survey was administered to 258 final-year students. Data were collected on student demographics, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the teaching programme, engagement and learning from live Zoom sessions, overall perceptions about the module and general feedback on students’ experience of the programme.
Results. Most students (84%, 77/91) supported the need to change to the virtual programme. The module was perceived as well-structured (89%, 81/91). Most students (87%, 79/91) regarded the online resource materials as beneficial. Analysis of open-ended responses showed that asynchronous delivery allowed students to review and revisit resources in their own time. Student challenges included poor internet connectivity, difficulty in concentrating where live sessions exceeded an hour, and lack of clinical exposure.
Conclusion. Online teaching in medical education is a feasible option for remote learning. However, it cannot replace the benefits gained during clinical exposure. Findings from this study will help to set a benchmark for online surgical training at UKZN and develop best practices for blended teaching models. As we adapt to a new normal in the era of COVID-19, the disruptions and results of innovative teaching methods have the potential to change the future of medical education.

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