To explore medical students' use of computer tutorials embedded in a busy clinical setting; to demonstrate that such tutorials can increase knowledge gain over and above that attributable to the clinical rotation itself.
Six tutorials were installed on a computer placed in a central area in an emergency department. Each tutorial was made up of between 33 and 85 screens of information that include text, graphics, animations, and questions. They were designed to be brief (10 minutes), focused, interactive, and immediately relevant. The authors evaluated the intervention using quantitative research methods, including usage tracking, surveys of faculty and students, and a randomized pretest-posttest study.
Over 46 weeks, 95 medical students used the tutorials 544 times, for an overall average of 1.7 times a day. The median time spent on completed tutorials was 11 minutes (average [SD], 14 [+/-12] minutes). Seventy-four students completed the randomized study. They completed 65% of the assigned tutorials, resulting in improved examination scores compared with the control (effect size, 0.39; 95% confidence interval = 0.15 to 0.62). Students were positively disposed to the tutorials, ranking them as "valuable." Fifty-four percent preferred the tutorials to small group teaching sessions with a preceptor. The faculty was also positive about the tutorials, although they did not appear to integrate the tutorials directly into their teaching.
Medical students on rotation in a busy clinical setting can and will use appropriately presented computer tutorials. The tutorials are effective in raising examination scores.