BMC Med Educ. 2023 Jan 24;23(1):56. doi: 10.1186/s12909-023-04032-7.
INTRODUCTION: Imperial College Teddy Bear Hospital (ICSM-TBH) is a student-led volunteering group, which uses interactive, play-based teaching to educate school pupils aged 5-7 years about healthy lifestyles and healthcare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteering sessions shifted online. The aim of this study was to compare the value of online and in-person ICSM-TBH volunteering for volunteers and school pupils.
METHODS: Undergraduate university students at Imperial College London (medicine can be taken as a first degree in the UK) who volunteered with ICSM-TBH between 2019 and 22 were invited to complete an anonymous online questionnaire evaluating their experiences of volunteering online and in-person through Likert-scale questions. Those who completed the questionnaire were also invited to an interview. Teachers who hosted online ICSM-TBH sessions were also invited to an in-person interview, exploring their view of their pupils’ experiences with these sessions. Questionnaire results were analysed through descriptive statistics. Interviews were analysed through inductive thematic analysis.
RESULTS: Thirty-two university students completed the questionnaire. Of these, 9 experienced both in-person and online volunteering, all of whom preferred in-person volunteering. For those who only volunteered in-person, 92% reported that ICSM-TBH sessions were a positive experience, compared to 100% who volunteered online; 92% in person volunteers agreed or strongly agreed that ICSM-TBH volunteering in person improved their mood, compared to 89% online; and 100% agreed or strongly agreed that ICSM-TBH volunteering in person helped them feel part of a community, compared to 84% online. A total of 12 volunteers and 4 teachers were interviewed, from whom five themes emerged: interaction and engagement (interaction and engagement between pupils and volunteers was more readily achieved in-person); personal and professional development (both online and in-person sessions enabled volunteers to gain valuable skills); community and social (greater sense of community was established in-person); emotional wellbeing and enjoyment (both modalities were enjoyed by volunteers and pupils); and workload (online sessions were more convenient for volunteers but with risk of screen fatigue).
CONCLUSION: Overall, both in-person and online volunteering were of substantial benefit to volunteers and school pupils. However, most teachers and volunteers preferred in-person volunteering.