Exploring the effectiveness of virtual and in-person instruction in culinary medicine: a survey-based study | BMC Medical Education

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The study uncovered a consistent and high level of satisfaction among students who completed the Culinary Medicine course over fiveyears. The majority expressed satisfaction with the knowledge gained and overall enjoyment of the course, as reflected in the survey responses. Notably, the 360 students who completed the course expressed contentment with the acquired information and skills. Despite not being a graduation requirement for the Osteopathic Medical Program, students recognized its importance for future clinical practice as physicians, highlighting the course’s perceived value beyond mandatory academic obligations.

A comparison of virtual and in-person instructions for the Culinary Medicine course revealed that the in-person group enjoyed the course more significantly than did the virtual group. However, there was no significant difference in the knowledge gained between the two formats. This aligns with the finding of Brennan et al., who observed that the online and semi online (mixed-mode) cooking experiences in a course yielded comparable benefits to the traditional, in-person cooking experience conducted in a kitchen lab [10]. This study’s finding suggested that, for preclinical medical education in culinary medicine, virtual instruction might be less preferred for greater enjoyment. However, integrating virtual components, including reading assignments, quizzes, and PowerPoint presentations, could still enhance knowledge acquisition. In contrast, other studies present a positive perspective on virtual culinary teaching. Several authors [11] argue that programming in a virtual environment can enhance the learning experience. This positive effect may arise from increased self-efficacy, as participants engage in the coursework within their home kitchens. Additionally, the virtual setting allows students to utilize class time for meal preparation throughout the week. Poulton et al. emphasized that virtual technology removes limitations imposed by the absence of a teaching kitchen. Teaching students to cook in their own kitchens is seen as potent, empowering them to utilize the available space and tools effectively. This approach also encourages students to visit grocery stores, procuring ingredients they might not have considered purchasing before [9].

The decrease in perceived enjoyment in 2020 is attributed to the substantial transition toward a virtual learning environment prompted by the global pandemic. The challenges associated with this transition, such as adapting to remote instruction, potential technological issues, the absence of in-person interactions and maintaining the quality of culinary teaching in a virtual setting, as well as a potential lack of student engagement, can impact the overall learning experience. The factors contributing to the lower ratings in 2019 remain unidentified, and despite initial examination of the comments of the course survey, a more detailed understanding could not be obtained.

A limitation of this study that could have influenced the results is the difference in the level of hands-on experience between the virtual and in-person instruction formats. In the virtual classroom, students were not required to cook alongside the Chef on the virtual platform, which may have affected their responses regarding culinary techniques and enjoyment of the cooking portion of the course. The extent to which virtual students practiced their culinary skills is unknown, and this could have impacted their agreement responses on the survey. In contrast, the in-person cooking classroom allowed students to make multiple recipes alongside their classmates, with the Chef available for questions and guidance. This hands-on approach likely contributed to the in-person students’ stronger agreement with the enjoyment of the course and perceived knowledge gained about culinary skills and nutrition. In addition, virtual class students were required to purchase their own ingredients, whereas in-person, they were provided with the ingredients. This is a potential limiting factor in whether the virtual students participated in the recipe portion of the course. Specifically, during the pandemic, where the course was virtual, grocery store shopping was limited due to exposure precautions.

While self-selection bias is acknowledged as a confounding factor and limitation in the current study on culinary medicine, there is a need to explore this topic with a more diverse participant pool. Research studies that incorporate culinary medicine as a mandatory curriculum requirement in medical school programs can offer valuable insights. For instance, a study by D’Adamo et al. [12]. implemented a culinary medicine course as a compulsory component of the medical school curriculum, minimizing self-selection bias. In the study, participants were required to engage with culinary medicine concepts, irrespective of their individual interests. This approach allows researchers to examine the impact of culinary medicine education on a broader spectrum of medical students, providing insights into its effectiveness beyond the influence of self-selection. Findings from such studies can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits and challenges associated with integrating culinary medicine into medical education.

It is important for future research to build upon this foundation and explore the same variables within different medical school settings, where the course is obligatory rather than elective. This shift in study design helps mitigate self-selection bias, enabling researchers to draw more robust conclusions about the potential impact of culinary medicine education on medical students’ engagement and enjoyment across diverse populations.

At minimum, recommendations for designing future culinary medicine courses include a hybrid combination of the in-person component dedicated to the cooking segment of the course. The hands-on experience of cooking alongside a chef and instructors providing step-by-step instructions is an invaluable aspect unique to culinary education. This practical exposure is fundamental for understanding the time and factors necessary to prepare healthy meals, which is essential for effectively conveying this message to future patients.

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