On March 4-6, 2020, the U.S. GRADE Network held an in-person workshop in Phoenix, Arizona, much like any of the 11 workshops to have come before it. Participants and facilitators enjoyed a taco buffet bar together at the first night's reception, sat together in small and large rooms to learn and collaborate, and mingled over coffee and pastry refreshments during breaks.
One week later, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 had reached pandemic proportions.
Over that summer, the USGN took our workshops online, hosting three consecutive fully virtual workshops in October 2020, May 2021, and October 2021. While some changes were made (the addition of multiple, 45-60 minute breaks, for instance, to accommodate eating times in multiple time zones), much of what lay at the heart of a GRADE workshop remained: a three-day format including plenary lectures from PICOs to recommendations, presentations by Evidence Foundation scholars, and small-group, hands-on experiential learning opportunities.
The USGN's shift to an all-virtual setting, and its challenges as well as opportunities for growth, are presented in a new paper by Siedler and colleagues published online in the BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine journal. Using routine feedback survey data collected both before and after the pandemic, the authors (all GRADE workshop facilitators) found that...
- Perceived understanding of GRADE improved to the same extent in virtual and in-person formats,
- At least half of attendees (54-62%) indicated that the virtual format was important for their ability to attend, and
- Participants indicated a high degree of workshop satisfaction and perceived educational value. Similar results were observed for the level of knowledgeability of speakers, value of plenary sessions, and helpfulness of small-group sessions.