Bringing online learning to life: Students find inspiration and peer engagement across borders

Supporting learning success through peer and community connections: The Australian Consul-General in Guangzhou was recently guest of honour at a special University of Sydney in-person event for almost 100 students in China studying remotely.

The Find your Inspiration – China Connect event on 20 August was designed to inspire, engage and motivate students studying online from China during Semester 2, 2021. The event featured guest presenters and a panellist discussion with industry leaders and notable alumni, who share connections, with Australia and the University of Sydney, through their current positions and education.

Organised in collaboration between the Centre in China (CiC) and the Student Experience Program, the event provided students with the unique opportunity to meet face-to-face, and outside of the Zoom classroom, to engage with industry leaders and build connections with their peers. It was designed to complement the great work from across the University that supports students in succeeding during online study, and enabling development of critical skills and exposure to the workplace environment. The event was an opportunity to complement, in a new Chinese Province, the successful Peer Study Program being run at the University’s Centre in China, extending an in-person learning experience and tackling the isolation that students can feel when studying remotely.

Australian Consul-General in Guangzhou, Michael Sadleir, gave a keynote welcome speech, then joined a panel of esteemed industry guests, which included NSW Trade and Investment Commissioner, Greater China, Murray Davis; and Dr Tong Zhang, Alumna and Researcher from Peng Cheng Laboratory.

Insights from the panel discussion and question and answer session

What COVID has shown us

“How quickly a problem in one part of the world can quickly spread and become a problem for the rest of the world. But it’s also shown that the solutions to these problems is best solved by the world working together. That’s what diplomacy is all about.” Michael Sadleir, Australian Consul-General in Guangzhou

Advice and tips for students to succeed

“You have to find your own path. To do that you have to use the skills: critical thinking, openness to new ideas, explore, etc. that you will get from your USYD education.” Michael Sadleir, Australian Consul-General in Guangzhou

“In life you can listen to us, talk to your parents, friends, get some ideas, get some work experience … but at the end of the day you have to use your critical analytical skills to work out for yourself what makes you happy. Don’t be shaped by others … you can only ever find it out by yourself, you can only ever do it through experience and trying new things.” Murray Davis, NSW Trade and Investment Commissioner, Greater China

“Be flexible. You have to take opportunities as they arise and make the best out of them. That’s the way the ball bounces. You have to take those moments, seize them, run with them, and do your absolute best with them. You’ll find that over the long course it does work out… It is critical not to lock yourself out of opportunities. Take the long-term view.” Murray Davis, NSW Trade and Investment Commissioner, Greater China

“One piece of advice – just trust yourself.” Dr. Tong Zhang – Researcher, Peng Cheng Laboratory

Event highlights

The event was at full capacity with nearly 100 students attending and the Q&A session ran overtime with insightful questions from the audience. We have observed similar demand and over-subscription for complementary activities such as CiC’s Peer Study Program, which provides students an opportunity to connect face-to-face with peers whilst studying offshore and unable to travel to Australia. Students reported coming away feeling connected, inspired and excited about what their future holds.

Colleagues can watch and share the video highlights with students.

How might I go about doing something similar in my unit or program?

We have the great opportunity, and responsibility, to not only impart academic knowledge and teachings in the classroom, but to also prepare our students for their future careers, and application of their learnings in the ‘real world’. Below are a few practical ways to support teaching and students:

  • Reaching out to various teams and networks across the University and exploring alumni and industry networks may prove relevant and insightful to your student cohorts. Students build confidence, and essential skills such as communication skills, innovative thinking, and self-leadership.
  • Finding ways to support students to find inspiration, take initiative, and discover their unique career pathways. One way, which the event leveraged, is to invite industry in to the learning experience. This offers complementary insight and knowledge to the students’ learning experience. Embedding industry engagement within a student’s learning experience yields significant benefits, students are able to begin to build their networks and relationships amongst workplaces.
  • Finding opportunities for students to learn and develop essential skills outside of the classroom through events and networking opportunities. These are an integral part of the student learning experience, and complement the academic teachings currently delivered online.

Find out more


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