Active Teaching Techniques Using Virtual Didactics: Novel Experience From a National Neurosurgery Resident Course

Martina Stippler, Sarah E. Blitz, Carolyn Quinsey, David Limbrick, Richard Byrne, Greg Zipfel, Nathan R. Selden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To investigate the attitudes of neurosurgery residents regarding active teaching techniques and virtual didactics based on a national neurosurgery resident sample. We also evaluated the relative cost and time commitment required for faculty participation in virtual versus in-person resident courses. Design: The Society of Neurological Surgeons (SNS) national junior resident courses (JRCs) were reformatted for active teaching in a virtual setting in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyzed course evaluations from the virtual 2020 courses in comparison to the 2019 in-person SNS JRCs. We also compared course budgets and agendas from these courses to identify comparative costs and the time commitment for faculty participation using these 2 course models. Setting: Survey of nationwide participants in virtual junior resident courses. Participants: A total of 122 residents from 80 ACGME neurosurgery residency training programs attended the 2020 virtual JRC. Results: The survey response rate of attendees was 36%. In-class engagement was thought to be good to great by 73% to 80% of the virtual learners. In-class activities and active learning techniques also were evaluated positively by 61% to 82% of respondents. Expenses were significantly lower for the virtual course, at $118 per course participant, than for the in-person course ($2722 per participant). There also was a 97.3% reduction of faculty hours and a 97.6% reduction of faculty cost for the virtual JRC compared to the in-person course. Conclusions: Neurosurgeon residents embraced the active teaching techniques used to teach portions of the prepandemic JRCs in a virtual format. Other aspects of the course curriculum could not be replicated virtually. Virtual courses were dramatically less expensive to produce, used fewer faculty teachers and required less time per faculty member. The data from this study may inform the choice of active teaching techniques for other neurosurgery residency and continuing medical education courses to optimize learner engagement and participant satisfaction in the virtual setting. We recommend that the curriculum of in-person courses emphasize hands-on, experiential learning and professional enculturation that cannot be recreated in the virtual space. Curricular elements suitable to virtual learning should take advantage of lower costs, reduced faculty time requirements, and scalability. They should also utilize active teaching techniques to improve learner engagement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-318
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Surgical Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • active learning techniques
  • cost
  • faculty time
  • virtual teaching


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