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The University of Suffolk

Driving a consistent online learning experience

The University of Suffolk is a higher education institution in the east of England with over 5,000 students and 800+ staff. Technology is part of the University’s 2020—30 strategy and vision, including technological advances for self-paced and personalised learning. In the 2022/23 academic year, the university set out to improve the consistency of its online student experience and to centralise essential student information through an online course module template and the development of a student hub.


The University of Suffolk



  • D2L Brightspace


  • Dr Mary Cornelius, senior learning designer



  • Standardised course module structure for a consistent online experience
  • Teaching staff gain time back to focus on students
  • Ease-of-use and navigation

The campus isn’t just a physical campus; it is also a digital campus and life happens in both spaces simultaneously.

Dr Mary Cornelius, senior learning designer, University of Suffolk


To deliver a consistent online experience and central information resource

The University of Suffolk supports students through a blend of face-to-face and online learning, providing access to course content, university information and collaboration through Brightspace.

The university’s learning design team recognised that setting a structure for how modules are presented in the online platform would give students a more consistent experience, help them find information more easily and support educators in developing online content.

“It was primarily about standardising the view as much as we possibly could,” explains Dr Mary Cornelius, senior learning designer at the University of Suffolk, “and signposting resources for students in the same location in every module to ease up on having to search for things.”

Additionally, the team sought to create an online resource for student information, optimised through the learning platform.


A course module template and central student hub

The learning design team developed a course module template and introduced an online student hub. As experienced Brightspace users, the team was comfortable developing these solutions in-house and found everything it needed in the platform.

“The template has module information and assessment information folders to maintain a minimum standard across all modules,” explains Mary. “With signposting, students are able to access resources and find the services that are available for every module they take.”

The goal, Mary explains, was not to tell lecturers how to organise their own modules and content, but rather to ensure students can go directly to the information they want, held in folders that are consistent across all modules.

The student hub, housed within Brightspace, is organised around nine categories. It includes general course information, such as research ethics and what happens during the course, and university information about digital and IT, campus services, and student life. The hub also contains an events calendar and useful student links.

“We created the student hub as the student-facing intranet for the university to try and be as clear as possible and help students find the information they need when they need it,” says Mary. “This would centralise information in Brightspace and centralise Brightspace in terms of a digital campus.”

The digital campus isn’t just about learning and teaching; it’s about all resources and services. We were interested in making a one-stop shop that students can rely on to get the information they need.

Dr Mary Cornelius, senior learning designer, University of Suffolk


A consistent structure and ease of navigation

Around 4,000 Ipswich campus students at the university now benefit from consistent course modules thanks to the template and centralised information through the student hub. Of the 800+ staff, up to 400 academics can access the template, while the professional services team benefits from the hub.

The learning design team surveyed students and staff to discover the difference these innovations made to the student experience. Over three-quarters (77%) of surveyed students said Brightspace is easy to navigate, and 84% found organisation similar across modules—a central aim of the templates project.

Mary was delighted by mentions of ease of use, navigation and finding information, with one student commenting: “It is quick and easy to use, and I get notifications when deadlines are nearly due.” Another said: “Every module follows [a] similar structure, so it is very easy to find information and know where to go when starting a new module.”

Mary also notes that navigating an online space helps improve students’ digital skills, which are important for the modern workplaces they will subsequently join.

Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds (65%) of responding staff strongly agreed or agreed that the template was easy to navigate.

“Staff like the pre-populated structure,” says Mary. “They don’t have to worry about what they’re going to add or the order; the structure is already there. It’s a time-saving device and a huge weight off their shoulders to know they don’t have to come up with everything from scratch.”

In this way, educators can focus on their teaching rather than how they are going to distribute information.

The template is designed to accessibility standards, so it also helps the university support its diverse student and staff cohort and minimise the potential for inconsistent standards application.

The student hub, meanwhile, is a single collaborative online area, managed by departments across the university, where students can find essential information. “In a way, it’s timesaving,” says Mary. “But more than that, it prevents needless frustration and helps students use the space in a better way.”

Mary acknowledges the positive and collaborative working relationship with D2L that helps it achieve its online aims and also to be a part of how Brightspace evolves: “It is helpful to know we can feedback on features that we would like to see developed and be confident that’s going to be taken seriously. We feel we have a stronger stake in what’s happening.”

The University of Suffolk set out to deliver a consistent online user experience, help students find information easily and support educators developing modules through a template and a central student hub. It succeeded in standardising its approach to online course content to improve organisation and ease of use. The university continues to strive for ongoing improvements, now incorporating Brightspace into the student induction experience, automating signposted information and considering additional innovations to help it meet its learning and student goals.

Discover Brightspace for higher education, visit 

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