Reacting to the coronavirus: a case study of science and engineering education switching to online learning in a Sino-foreign higher education institution

A Gill, D Irwin, D Towey, J Walker, Y Zhang

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

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Purpose – On December 31, 2019, the Chinese office of the World Health Organization (WHO) received the first reports of a previously-unknown virus allegedly behind a number of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, in the People’s Republic of China. University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) is a Sino-British campus situated in Ningbo, about 700km from Wuhan, with a student population of approximately eight thousand domestic and international students. Due to the restrictions placed on travel both from within and external to China, UNNC reacted quickly to ensure that the quality of teaching and learning (T&L) was upheld, and that students would meet their credit requirements to progress and/or graduate on time. This paper reports on an on-going study examining some of the major challenges faced when adjusting from traditional face-to-face teaching methods to the necessary online/remote teaching methods used within the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FoSE) at UNNC due to the sudden outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus, Covid-19, within mainland China.
Design/methodology/approach – Through a series of surveys, observations and interviews with both teachers and students, during the intervention, this study aims to identify both successful and less than successful strategies. Given that many subjects within FoSE are practical, often requiring hands-on interaction with specialised equipment, a goal of the study is to understand how the staff and student T&L experience was affected when students were unable to access the campus laboratories, studios, and other necessary materials and equipment.
Findings – The preliminary findings of this ongoing study indicate which online/remote teaching methodologies appear most suitable for the teaching of practical workshop-based subjects that include laboratory experiments, free-hand sketching, model making, prototyping and testing, project-based learning, and CAD modelling. The findings of this study will provide both guidance and understanding on the challenges and successes that can occur when switching from traditional face-to-face teaching to online/remote teaching methods, both from the teachers’ and the students’ perspectives.
Originality/value/implications – This is the first time that a Sino-British campus within mainland China has encountered this scenario: namely, a large number of teachers experienced in traditional classroom-based T&L suddenly having to adopt and adapt to distant experiential learning. This study provides insight into the major challenges and successes that occurred during the sudden switch of instructional setting. The study outcomes aim to aid the larger teaching community when adopting online methods to augment their teaching whilst mitigating potential negative impacts on the students’ T&L experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Conference on Open and Innovative Education (ICOIE2020): Proceedings
EditorsEva Tsang, Kam Cheong Li, Philips Wang
Place of PublicationHong Kong
PublisherThe Open University of Hong Kong
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9789888439676
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Event2020 International Conference on Open and Innovative Education - Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Duration: 2 Jul 20204 Jul 2020


Conference2020 International Conference on Open and Innovative Education
Abbreviated titleICOIE 2020
CityHong Kong
Internet address


  • Online-learning
  • COVID-19
  • Quality Assurance
  • Student Engagement


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