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Online learning: our experiences

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As the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold in the UK, university lecturers across the country were tasked with moving their planned teaching online as it looked increasingly likely everyone would be working from home for the foreseeable future.

Whilst this was challenging in itself, some courses which require the use of specialist equipment and facilities, or benefit from face-to-face teaching, met additional obstacles. How could staff adapt to moving practical, hands-on sessions online? Would students manage to continue with their studies and receive the same level of support from their lecturers? Would student experience be affected?

Sunderland was recently named University of the Year for Social Inclusion (The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021) and we pride ourselves on the support we provide our students. With this value in mind, our teaching staff, technical staff and support staff joined forces to ensure online teaching would be just as engaging and fulfilling for our students as if they were on campus. Using online platforms such as Microsoft Teams, or our own Virtual Learning Environment, Canvas, tutors were still able to present lively and informative lectures, deliver seminar sessions using the chat function for group discussions and be more innovative and creative in their usual approach to teaching.

Support was continuously offered through group chats and emails, and students even took it upon themselves to arrange regular catch ups with their classmates to keep each other motivated and feeling positive during such a difficult time.

Across all our subject areas we are particularly proud of what we have accomplished with a mixture of online and safe, on-campus teaching and learning sessions. We asked our students to share with us their experiences of studying from home and how they’ve really found this new learning model. Their answers were overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and inspiring – but don’t just take our word for it, here are some of their responses:

Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing

Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries

Faculty of Education and Society

Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism

Faculty of Technology


Among the responses we received, here are the key things our students found to be positive about their hybrid learning experience:

  • Virtual connections and support from tutors: Teaching staff were there for their students whenever they needed them – one student reported that they never had to wait more than 24 hours for a response, another said they have had more interaction with lecturers than ever before and another said they’d organised virtual coffee catch ups simply because they missed seeing their tutor’s face!
  • Comprehensive resources: Some students have been surprised with just how engaged they have been with their studies online, and this is credited to the efforts that lecturers have been putting into learning resources. From pre-recorded material to weekly assignments, teaching staff have done everything they can think of to keep students motivated. Some students have even received videos of how to use equipment before coming in for on campus sessions, so they are up to speed beforehand and can get straight to work when they arrive.
  • Easy to use online platforms: Some students weren’t sure what to expect when it came to using online platforms instead of coming on campus, but can happily report that they have found them easy to use. Plus, the function to record sessions has been really useful as students can go back and watch them all over again – something that isn’t always possible on campus.
  • Guest speakers: Many courses already offered sessions with guest speakers, but a great thing about moving online was that more guest speakers than ever have been able to get involved with teaching and sharing their industry experience, as it has been easier to arrange an online call than having to travel for an on-campus session.
  • Safety on campus: As well as a full health and safety briefing before returning to campus in September, students have found the safety measures that the University have put in place to be well managed, from instructions to social distance and wear masks, to clear signage and access to hand sanitiser and cleaning products.

Finally, Photography student Jenny tells us one of the most surprising things is how resilient all the students are and that they have now gained skills which will help them in the ‘real-world' after graduation. This year has been a tough one, but as Jenny explains, our students are well-equipped to handle whatever challenges they may face in the future.  

Online Open Days

To experience our commitment to delivering engaging online content for yourself, why not sign up for one of our Online Open Days or see our facilities through our Virtual Campus Tour.

Published: 23 November 2021