Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer, Student Voice.

Kate Exall, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

Reviewing the Evidence from the Student Survey

This month’s blog focuses on the results of the survey completed by my students and the preliminary findings from it.

Data was collected from 12 students who attended a face to face workshop.  9 of them said that they has used the Discussion Board over half the time with 2 saying they have occasionally or never used it and 1 who had used it less than half the time.

Pulling out some of the findings, they fell broadly into 4 categories:

(a)    The perceived value of discussion boards

(b)    The problems with using them

(c)     What would encourage them to use Discussion Boards

(d)    How effective they found them in combination with the face to face workshops.


(a)    What the students liked about Discussion Boards

The students reported that they liked seeing other people’s opinions and answers which they could learn from.  It gave them a different perspective and the opportunity to consider other ideas.  They also liked the ability to share their own views and opinions and to express themselves.

They preferred being able to post ideas about a topic as they felt that this gave them more to talk about and being able to post their own ideas allowed them to be less academic.  Some students preferred identifying key points from a decision or a report as this sharpened up their analysis and evaluation skills but other students found this to be a difficult activity and preferred to go into detail on cases in the face to face workshops.


(b)    What stops them engaging with Discussion Boards?

The main comment was lack of time or understanding of the topic.  One student noted that it took longer to do than usual seminar preparation and another that it was more formal than preparing for a face to face seminar.  One student commented that the feedback was less effective than in a class room session where it was immediate.

In previous informal feedback the students had asked for anonymous posting and half of them repeated that message in the survey, with one person commenting that “the thought of everyone knowing it was you who had posted was daunting”.

The students generally liked the way that the Discussion Board answers were integrated into the face to face workshops and that they could build on the work that had been done.


(c)     What would encourage them to use Discussion Boards?

They would like these for assignment queries and would like the link to be clearer between the work they do on Discussion Boards and its use in class or for assignments.

They would like the ability to post by mobile phone or tablet.


(d)    The effectiveness of them

Many of the students questioned the need for them.  There were several comments along the lines of we could have done all of this just as effectively face to face. One student noted that they didn’t post their ideas on the Discussion Board as they preferred to save them for the workshop discussion; another said that they had better discussions face to face with more immediate feedback and there was an overall preference for face to face delivery.   Part of this may have been, as the students noted, that there wasn’t much interaction with the Discussion Board in that instead of being a tool for discussion they were simply a posting tool as people didn’t comment on each other’s posts.  One student stood up for Discussion Boards saying “even though it takes me some time, I must admit that my understanding of the topic is better”.


Some preliminary thoughts from this are that there is a place for Discussion Boards but thought needs to be given to the extent of their use; that students would value them more if they were used for discussions rather than simple posts and that they would like the option to post anonymously.


Posted by & filed under Student Voice.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes

This is the third in a series of blog posts which have come from our ILT-funded project which focuses on the Student Voice. The first two posts are here and here.

The project is starting to generate some results now, as we are moving towards the close of the second term. It is already clear that one of the original aims of the project is not going to be possible to complete, as the roll-out of Unitu (the online student rep system) did not work on either of the PG Programmes on which it was being trialled. Initial technical problems, such as the link being sent to incomplete lists of students, and poor engagement with the system by the students on the programmes which are part of this study, has resulted in a lack of meaningful data.

What has been markedly more successful was finding out how our Collaborative Partner institutions capture the voices on the students who are studying on their sites. There are processes set out in most of the Partnership Agreements, but the evidence gathered as part of this project suggests that these processes are being honoured more in the breach than in the practice.

For one partner, Student Representatives from each year group are elected, but because of the relatively small number of students enrolled on the programme, the formalised, regular Student-Staff Liaison Committee structure has been replaced with a more informal problem identification and resolution system. The Student Representatives are very active, and are frequently and regularly canvassing their cohort to see if there are any issues which need resolving. Some of the issues are partner-specific, and others relate more to the University. In Law, for example, one of the suggestions by the students is that they set up their own branch of the Student Law Society, as the majority of the events organised by the Northampton-based SLS are physical events, and it would not be practicable for students studying with Partners to attend.

What has also helped this system to function effectively that students report that no “serious issues” have occurred, and it is only minor issues that have had to be resolved. This is supported by the Student Module Evaluation forms, which are largely positive and do not identify any common issue that needs to be resolved.

Whilst this is clearly and effective system that suits all parties at present, the students have said that they would like the process to be a little more formalised. One of the recommendations of this project will be that it is good practice for the formalised structure to be used from the start of a partnership, so it can become embedded while there are perhaps lower numbers. This way, partner institutions will not have to adapt their ad hoc processes while they have larger numbers of students.


Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

In the Spring Statement this week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, announced that the government would not be imposing a ‘latte levy’ on single use disposable coffee cups, and would instead rely on the coffee shops to offer a reduced price to people who bring reusable cups, while the government launched a two-month call for evidence exercise (LINK). The results of this exercise will no doubt be carefully and slowly analysed, before a Consultation exercise is started. This too will yield a set of results which can be pored over, before draft legislation is introduced. With a bit of luck, this process could be halted at the end of this Parliament, so instead of demonstrating a decisive nature at the dispatch box, Mr Hammond has started a process which the Chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh MP has said “will drag on for years”



I agree. This was a missed opportunity, and shows a complete misunderstanding about the nature of financial incentives on human behaviour. A good few years ago, Harrington and Morgernstern wrote a short paper for the Resources for the Future organisation (LINK) in which they compared the environmental benefits of “command and control” measures and financial incentives.


In it, they argued that traditional financial incentives had a small impact on behaviour. Traditional financial incentives are those where the state rewards good behaviour – so a 10 per cent reduction in the price of coffee for those who bring a reusable cup falls squarely within this category.


The same was true with the initial drive to reduce the consumption of single-use carrier bags. Most supermarkets and chain stores offered customers the opportunity to buy a “Bag for Life” which would be replaced free of charge if it ever wore out. This had an impact on the use of single use carrier bags, but not a dramatic one. In 2014, the last year before the 5p charge was introduced, the seven main UK supermarkets (Asda, M&S, Sainsbury, Tesco, Co-op, Waitrose, Morrisons) issued 7.6 billion single use carrier bags – that is over 100 to every person in the UK.


In October 2015, a 5p charge was introduced on single-use carrier bags. This would be the equivalent to the latte levy. By 2016/7 the number of single-use carrier bags sold by the seven UK supermarkets had fallen by 83 per cent, to 1.3 billion (LINK).


This demonstrates that a small levy on an unsustainable practice has two beneficial impacts – a significant reduction in the occurrence of the practice, and (provided the revenue raised does not disappear into the central government pot) a large income for charities (£66m in the case of carrier bags).


It is unlikely that Mr Hammond will change his mind, so there are two things that we can do.


The first is to submit some evidence to this LINK before 18th May. This will cost you nothing but time.


The second will probably cost you (sorry). As I mentioned in a previous blog, the downside of trying to live a “plastic-light” life, is that the alternatives cost money. Buy a reusable cup – there are loads of different ones available – and then choose your coffee shop based on whether they give you a discount for using it. At around 15-20p a cup discount, it won’t take you a huge amount of time to recoup the cost of the cup.


Oh, and please don’t buy plastic straws.



Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer, News.

Dr Melanie Crofts, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

January 2018 saw, once again, news about women being groped, sexually harassed and propositioned whilst working as hostesses at a men only fundraising event for the President’s Club charity held at The Dorchester.  Talking about this event, journalist Camilla Long questioned why this was even a story.  What did the hostesses expect? This was “standard behaviour” in these kinds of places.  So why should we be bothered?  In recent months we have heard allegations of sexual assault and harassment within Parliament, sport, the film industry and in the theatre, to name a few.  The Fawcett Society published a report on the 23rd January 2018, the Sex Discrimination Law Review Report, which concluded that “Almost a fifth of women aged 16 or over have experienced sexual assault…. These crimes are part of an environment of misogynistic abuse and harassment.” (p8)

And there it is, the reason we should all be concerned. In 2018, the year we celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave (some) women the right to vote, we are still experiencing an environment where misogyny is still rife and where sexual harassment is regarded by some (many?) as “standard behaviour”.  We may now have equal suffrage, but clearly there is still a long way to go.  Unfortunately the issues are not just apparent when the rich, famous and powerful are involved.  Yes, this is when it hits the headlines, but at some point the media furore will abate and I suspect we return to a situation where these stories no longer make headline news.

We need to look closer to home.  If this kind of behaviour really is “standard”, how do we change this? Campaigns such as #metoo and #everydaysexism have certainly drawn attention to the issues and attracted some high profile support.  However, the question for me is how do we influence attitudes and behaviour in our own spheres of life?  How do we educate people that this should not be normal or “standard” behaviour? We need to get across that these behaviours are not just occurring in high profile sectors.  For example, it has long been known that sexism, sexual harassment and violence is widespread on university campuses.   The NUS published a report in 2010 ‘Hidden Marks: A study of women students’ experiences of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault’ which highlighted that sexual harassment/violence was an everyday occurrence for some women (p3).  Similar conclusions were drawn by the Universities UK report ‘Changing the Culture’ published in October 2016.  It was as a result of the Taskforce report that the Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE) devoted it’s Catalyst Fund for projects which addressed sexual violence, harassment and hate on campuses. 63 projects were funded in total (out of 109 Higher Education Institutions in England) demonstrating that it isn’t normative practice for all Higher Education Institutions get funding to address this problem.

The University of Northampton was awarded just over £40,000 from the Catalyst Fund.  The ‘New Spaces’ project considers the policies, processes and mechanisms which are in place to support women making disclosures of sexual violence.  The aim is to make recommendations to ensure robust reporting strategies and a joined up approach to addressing support for both victims and staff, to whom disclosures are often made.  A holistic approach to ensuring that victims of sexual violence and harassment are given appropriate and timely support is needed.  The impact of experiencing sexual violence can be varied and severe and clearly has implications beyond a student’s academic engagement.  Mental health and counselling services are key in providing an adequate response for victims, both within the university and externally.  This means involvement from student support services are vital.  Therefore, support services, which are already stretched, need to be adequately resourced to be able to provide appropriate assistance.  As a result of early findings in this project a ‘Gender-based Violence Working Group’ has been proposed with the aim of implementing the eventual recommendations from the ‘New Spaces’ project.  Unfortunately the response to this proposal has been that “[t] the issue of gender based violence is obviously very important to us. However, as they stand we do not feel that the Terms of Reference and membership of the proposed working group would achieve the proposed objectives.” I will leave that there.

In addition to considering processes and support mechanisms, education is key to changing the culture within universities (and we couldn’t be better placed!).  For the past three years there has been a campaign, run by a small number of staff at the University of Northampton, based on the NUS, campaign, I *Heart* Consent. ‘I *Heart* Consent week’ has had contributions from academics, external support services, the counselling and mental health team at the university and students from the Students’ Union.  This year sessions covered bystander training, the meaning of consent in law, consent and the LGBTQ+ community and many more topics.  However, on the whole, sessions were poorly attended (unless run as part of a lecture already taking place) and mostly attended by female students (it is a ‘woman’s’ issue, after all!).  The message is slow in getting through.  Without the week being part and parcel of the institutional events calendar and organised by the university, with sufficient resources devoted to it, it is unlikely that ‘I *Heart* Consent week’ will have the desired impact of engaging male staff and students, challenging perceptions and knowledge of consent and changing institutional culture.

My final point relates to the issue of power.  There has to be a recognition that sexual violence and harassment often involves significant power differentials.  This is illustrated very clearly in the context of universities.  We are not only talking about incidents between students, but there has to be an appreciation that where intimate relationships between staff and students occur there is a risk of abuse of power which can result in sexual harassment and violence.  For example, too often relationships between staff and students are ignored because they are, after all, consenting adults.  However, this fails to recognise the potential abuse of power (most often with male lecturers having relationships with younger, female, students) and the difficulties in leaving such relationships or reporting sexual violence when it occurs.

So, what is all the fuss about? The impact of sexual violence and harassment are far reaching.  The issues don’t just impact women who work with powerful and high profile men. Taking the issues seriously, having robust processes in place for reporting incidences and supporting women are essential.  This includes universities. Universities need to take the issues of sexual harassment, violence and the power dynamics which exist seriously.  A failure to do so has implications for academic work, mental health, physical health and the overall safety of staff and students on campuses.

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

The country has been in the icy grip of the “Beast from the East” this week, and many places have seen pretty substantial accumulations of snow. It is not set to thaw today, and indeed there are Met Office weather warnings for tomorrow and Saturday as well.

One every occasion that it snows, or becomes icy, the conversation often turns to the tricky issue of whether or not you should clear snow/ice from the pavement outside your house, or from the dropped kerb area between your driveway and the road.

The Government website (LINK) is not entirely reassuring – telling you that “It’s unlikely that you’ll be sued or held responsible if someone is injured on a path or pavement if you’ve cleared it carefully” although the yardstick for much of the advice is that as long as you don’t make the situation worse, you should be fine.

The government advice on how to clear snow and ice is useful and practical, however:

“When you clear snow and ice:

  • do it early in the day – it’s easier to move fresh, loose snow
  • don’t use water – it might refreeze and turn to black ice
  • use salt if possible – it will melt the ice or snow and stop it from refreezing overnight (but don’t use the salt from salting bins as this is used to keep roads clear)
  • you can use ash and sand if you don’t have enough salt – it will provide grip underfoot
  • pay extra attention when clearing steps and steep pathways – using more salt may help” (LINK)

Most of us have to leave the house to go to work or school as well, and with transport networks creaking under the strain of the weather, and journeys taking longer, there are those who feel a sense of their own invincibility when driving. Yesterday morning, driving to work at a shade under 40mph in a 40mph zone, with reasonably clear roads but gently falling snow, I was overtaken by two cars which disappeared into the murky distance. Notwithstanding the standard seeping offence, this was a ludicrous display of recklessness.

The Highway Code gives braking distances for cars at different speeds – 36m at 40mph (LINK), but the insurance company LV quotes Kevin Clinton, head of Road Safety for RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), who points out that in wintry conditions

“you may need up to ten times the normal distance for braking.” (LINK)

The maths is easy – ten times 36m is 360m, but how many of us can accurately gauge what 360m looks like? It is actually three times the longest length a professional football pitch can be (LINK)

In the last couple of mornings, there have been images on the news of cars, vans, and lorries which had spent the night stuck on Motorways in Scotland and the North and South West of England. I have some sympathy for the drivers and passengers, as it must have been a dreadful night, but there had been a Red Weather warning in place for several hours before they got stuck – a warning which they had all clearly felt they could (or had to) ignore. Chief Inspector Adrian Leisk, of Devon and Cornwall Police tweeted early this morning:

“Please can we have a more literal interpretation of the word ‘essential’ this morning. There have been so many warnings that this weather was coming.”

Perhaps there is a tenuous link here to Brexit. Experts warned of the danger of driving in blizzard conditions, and the snowfall was widely and accurately predicted. As Michael Gove has been often quoted for saying, people are fed up of listening to experts, decided they knew best, and set off down the route of no return.

Then they spend a long, cold, hard night going nowhere.

Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

This year, three of the University of Northampton Law Team will be presenting work at the Association of Law Teachers’ (ALT) Annual Conference at the University of Keele. The overall conference theme is “Diversity and Innovation.” The ALT is a professional organisation of legal academics, and the aim of the organisation is to “inspire and celebrate excellence in the teaching of law, and to share the understanding and practice of legal learning.”[1] The four papers being presented by Melanie, Nick and Simon cover a wide range of issues, from equality duties and safety on campus to Team Based Learning and Active Blended Learning.

Dr Melanie Crofts will be presenting two papers, one with Dr Kimberley Hill from the Psychology team at Northampton.

Melanie’s first paper is entitled ‘Formal Equality, Legal Compliance and the TEF: Impetus for Change?’

Using Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a theoretical basis, this paper discusses the impact of the politics and perceptions on compliance with legislative requirements as reflected through the equality processes within a case study institution.  The tendency towards adopting the formal equality stance impacts on the case study’s equality processes and, in turn, their response to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). The institutional barriers are not seen by those tasked with implementing the PSEDs because a substantive approach is not adopted. The situation is unlikely to improve whilst the external pressures on institutions decline further. However, this paper will explore the implications of the approaches to equality and the PSED for the TEF.  Will the need for institutions to consider the whole student journey in relation to the various protected characteristics provide the impetus needed for institutions to demonstrate their commitment to equality?

Melanie and Kimberley’s paper looks at Consent on Campus – Challenging Gender Based Violence. Research suggests that consent is often misunderstood but limited research has focused specifically on the perceptions and attitudes students. In 2014, the NUS initiated a campaign called ‘I Heart Consent’ to raise awareness and challenge myths around gender-based violence. The campaign followed research which found that sexism and ‘lad culture’ were pervasive on campuses.

Inter-disciplinary researchers from Law and Psychology convened a local ‘I Heart Consent’ week of action, to raise awareness at a local level. During this week, students were surveyed about their perceptions and understanding of issues around sexual consent, as well as their knowledge of gender-based violence and support services.

This paper will focus will be on the direct and practical applications of this research. For example, these findings may inform local policy and practice, as well as systems within Higher Education which support students disclosing incidents of sexual violence.  The implications of this research impact on the wellbeing of staff and students and discusses the implications of inter disciplinary working and the role of legal education when it comes to raising awareness and running campaigns addressing sexual violence on campus.

Nick Cartwright’s paper is called “(Dis)engagement and innovation in legal education.” In it he shows that despite the claims made of Team-Based Learning (TBL) that it advantaged all learners[2] there were patterns of dominance in group activities which correlated with race and gender.  The students had not seen (or were not reporting) these issues, instead reporting a meritocracy.

TBL may be as oppressive as more traditional approaches critiqued by critical pedagogists[3] and there is a danger that this may not be fully realised when embracing innovative practice.  Further students adopt ‘working identities’[4] that allow a narrative of meritocracy to be super-imposed over their experiences of oppression.  This is cast against a backdrop of first neo-liberalism and then austerity which has resulted in a less culturally diverse curriculum and policies which hinder the retention, progression and attainment of students from minorities.

Dr Simon Sneddon’s paper also looks at issues relating ot learning and teaching. Titled “You’ve done what? Breaking out of the lecture theatre” his paper explores the impact of moving to an Active Blended Learning (ABL) model of delivery. ABL modules are delivered “taught through student-centred activities that support the development of subject knowledge and understanding, independent learning and digital fluency.”[5]

The pedagogic rationale is the notion that large lectures are often “broadcast”, and that interactivity boosts both knowledge retention and understanding (UoN, 2016). This approach required the redesign of the module materials and delivery style, and the redesigned ABL-embedded module was rolled out in September 2017.

Each week, sessions follow a similar pattern:

1)      A discursive online (and recorded) session (using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra), presenting basic topic material, and giving students the opportunity to pose and respond to questions.

2)      Directed preparatory work posted into the VLE and discussed by students on the discussion forum.  Students are encouraged to bring their own content to the discussions.

3)      These discussion points form the basis of the workshop activity where further discourse takes place.

The paper introduced ABL, assesses its impact of on this cohort of students, and explores whether improved engagement levels can be attributed to ABL.

Nick, Melanie and Simon will reflect and feed back on the conference after the event.


[1] Association of Law Teachers, 2018,

[2] Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., & Fink, L. D. (Eds.) Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups (2002, Greenwood publishing group)

[3] For example see: Freire, P. Pedagogy of the oppressed (2000, Bloomsbury Publishing)

[4] Ferri, B. A., Annamma, S. A., & Connor, D. J. ‘Critical Conversations Across Race and Ability’ DisCrit: Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education, (2015) 213

Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

Last year, my cat was shot.  The pellet we dug out from his back was less than a centimetre from his spine. He was lucky, and survived with no long-term ill-effects. The number of cats, dogs and other animals killed or seriously injured by air weapons is unknown, as no official records are kept, but a quick online search uncovers multiple hits.

Under s4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, punishable by “imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or to both” (s32(1) AWA 2006). Oddly, last year, the CPS decided to prosecute Franky Mills, from Surrey, with Criminal Damage rather than animal cruelty, after he shot seven cats with an air rifle. The CPS explained their decision:

“By charging the offender with a number of counts of possessing an air weapon at the time of committing criminal damage and criminal damage, this allowed us to ensure the case could be heard and sentenced in the Crown Court.

A charge of animal cruelty and simple possession of an air weapon could only have been sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court, which we felt would not have been appropriate in this case, as it would not have reflected the serious nature of the offences or offered sufficient sentencing powers.”(LINK).

At the moment, anyone over the age of 18 can go and buy an air gun. There is no licensing requirement. There are exceptions. Anyone who has been sentenced to between 3 and 36 months imprisonment cannot own an air weapon for five years, and anyone sentenced to more than five years can never own an air weapon.

The Home Office “Brief Guide to Safety” for Air Weapons (LINK) published in October 2017, lists a range of offences that it is possible to commit with an air weapon, including:

“It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill a pet animal or knowingly cause a pet animal to suffer unnecessarily, which could be committed by shooting at a pet animal.”

In December, the Home Office opened a consultation on increasing controls of the ownership and use of air weapons. The consultation was triggered by the tragic death of 13-year old Benjamin Wragge, who was accidentally shot in the neck. The focus of the consultation was whether  It was not an open consultation, and was limited to:

“a number of families who have raised the issue of air weapon legislation with their MPs as well as police forces and relevant charities and representative bodies such as the RSPCA, the Gun Control Network, the British Shooting Sports Council and the Gun Trade Association” (LINK)

Taking the issues raised in the limited consultation in turn, the requirements on storage of firearms are very strict, as you would expect.

There will be a chorus of air gun owners and users who cry “but people are stabbed all the time, why not have a licence for knives.” This is true, far more people are stabbed than are shot with air guns. The argument is spurious, however. Knives have other uses, airguns only have a single purpose – shooting things. I will use a knife, or probably a series of knives at home this evening to prepare my food. There is no circumstance where I could use an air rifle to do the same thing.

Air weapon licensing has been introduced in Scotland (Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015). Several of the bodies representing people who like to shoot legally have criticised it – and their criticism is based on the same assumption. The Countryside Alliance says “only those that wish to use airguns legally will bother to have them licenced” (LINK) and the British Association of Shooting Clubs argues that the “licensing system…, will only be taken up by already law-abiding airgun users” (LINK).

Again, this misses the point somewhat. I have the pellet which was used to shoot my cat. No doubt the shooter would consider themselves to be a law abiding airgun user, but on this occasion they were not, and a list of licence holders of the same type of weapon could yield a successful prosecution under either the Animal Welfare Act or Criminal Damage Act.

The safety issue for manufacturers hinges around whether it should be made harder for air weapons to be accidentally discharged. In addition, making it harder for after-market upgrades to be fitted is being considered.  There is a thriving (legal) market in upgrade kits, and also in DIY for a describing how to make an air weapon more powerful (most of the latter come with disclaimers of liability for any illegality).

I am not suggesting for a second that the majority of air gun enthusiasts are law abiding, entirely pleasant people, who just happen to have a penchant for shooting things. Neither am I denying that the number of reported offences committed with air weapons has declined over the last decade – though they are currently increasing, and numbered in excess of 3,000 for 2015-16. What I am suggesting is that a licensing regime, including the registration of resales, would make people think twice about misusing their weapons.

Posted by & filed under Student Voice.

Sophie Robinson,  third-year LLB Student writes:

The last week in January, 5 other Law students and I visited Belfast, Northern Ireland with our lecturer for our Terrorism module. The intention of the trip was to learn more about the conflict between the Unionists and Republicans, particularly since the ‘troubles’. This conflict began when the Unionist majority wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, however, the minority wished to become part of the Republic of Ireland. I think I speak for all of us when I say that I did not expect to have learned as much from our trip and did not expect to meet the people we did whilst out there.

Photo (C) Nick Cartwright

The first day in Belfast was long as we had been up since 4.30 and I think we would all have gladly got to the hotel and gone to bed, however we had an action-packed day. We were met at Belfast International Airport by Roy and Adree who were our fantastic tour guides and without whom the trip would not have been possible. Our first meeting was at the Lower Shankill Community Association who aim to offer hope and work with the community to reimage the area and ensure peace. They explained to us that if you were to mention ‘Shankill’, the connotations related to it were negative, however they set out to change that by encouraging the residents to cut ties with paramilitaries and to work with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). To give Shankill a more positive reputation their idea was to communicate with the younger generation and organise activities with them and the PSNI to allow the younger generation to see that they are approachable.

After Lunch we met a mediator for Tides Training and Consultancy, a non-profit, charitable organisation. They have been very involved in mediation between the local communities and push for more integrated schools. He  shared his experience about working in Northern Ireland during the troubles, including the sad stories of his two friends being killed in front of him. Although sad, the meeting ended on a happy note as he expressed how he is starting to see a change in the younger generation as they are seen walking past each other on the way to school without creating a problem. This shows that the work these charities are doing with younger people is having an impact and making a difference on the streets in Northern Ireland.

Next stop on our very busy first day in Belfast was being lucky enough to meet with the Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI. Our luck continued when one of the detectives had just completed a masters in Terrorism studies and was able to give us lots of helpful information whilst the Deputy Chief Constable became a part time waiter, bringing us all some tea and coffee. When we thought it was over we then got to play dress up in some riot gear and had a nose around the vehicles they use during riots and learnt about how they go about controlling the riots.

Day still not over, we had one more visit which proved to be a big challenge for all of us because we were so tired, however it was made easier with the nice cake spread they put out for us! This was the meeting with the Sinn Fein Counsellor who explained the history of the divide in Northern Ireland as well as some of the political party’s principles.

Finally, after this we could all go to bed, after getting some dinner of course.

After a well-deserved sleep, day 2 of the trip began. Our guides were very good to us and allowed us a lie in which meant out day didn’t officially begin until 10.30. We spent the first half of the day looking at the murals in Belfast and visiting the Peace Walls. I think we were shocked by the Peace Walls and it wasn’t just a brick wall. It seemed the brick walls were not stopping the violence they were intended to and so on top of the brick walls was a solid fence, and with that still not being enough there was another fence added on top of that. The reason for having such high peace walls is so that petrol bombs and grenades can’t be thrown over into opposing areas. Seeing the walls and the murals in the city was a real eye opener as it made the conflict real and not just something I had read. Especially as one of the Peace Walls had a police station built inside with no windows and submarine doors. When we were there we discovered that they are hoping to take down the Peace Walls by 2030, after speaking to our guides and other people along the way, it seemed the locals believed this to be a bad idea as although there is a shift in people’s mindsets, if the walls were to come down, there is no saying what would happen.

Next stop was a big white building with a strong resemblance to the White House, it was Stormont. Our tour guide, although rather patronising, showed us around the beautiful marble building with extravagant ceilings and chandeliers before we had a brief encounter with Paula Bradley, a member of the Democratic Union Party. I think we were slightly apprehensive about this meeting due to some of the views the DUP holds, however I think we all managed to behave in a polite manner, despite some of us finding that very difficult. After a quick freshen up we went for a drink at the John Hewitt Bar, a bar that was open to both Catholic and Protestants. After a couple of pints of Guinness, we were in Ireland after all, the younger lot headed off to bed and left the proper adults to it.

On our third day was a fairly early start as we had to head west over to Derry where we saw large murals in the Bogside, a Republican neighbourhood, visited the Fountain Estate which was mainly inhabited by Protestants. Our driver and tour guide did not seem so keen to let us get out and take photos on this estate and so on we went to visit the some of the museums, including the Free Derry Museum, the Guildhall, where we enjoyed dressing up in the mayor’s gown and sitting in the Mayors chair, although I looked a little odd as I could not reach the floor. Finally, we visited the Siege Museum before being introduced to the Restorative Justice Group. I have to say I have a huge amount of respect for the two men that we met, Peter and Jim, Jim who was Sinn Fein and Peter, the biggest man I think any of us have ever seen, was former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Both men had complete polar views and this made the fact they were both sat opposite me working together to bring a change in Derry surreal as they still have different views. Our final meeting of the day was with the Pat Finucane centre. Pat was a lawyer who was assassinated and this centre was set up to help family members of people who were killed by paramilitary groups, allegedly in collusion with the Government, seek justice.

For me, this was the best day as it was amazing to see the hard work that these people are putting in to make Northern Ireland better and safer, of course all the groups we met on this trip who are working for change were inspiring. We topped of this day with a lovely dinner at the most bombed hotel in the Europe, the Europa in the centre of Belfast. This dinner was especially nice as we were joined by Roy and Adree who had both put in so much effort to make it a successful and interesting trip, safe to say the atmosphere that night was very happy and we all had a lot to talk about.

Unfortunately, we were on our last day and were heading back to the beautiful town of Northampton in the afternoon, but not before we had one final important meeting, a meeting with Gerry and Colin, a former INLA and former UDA combatants, both of whom have been in and out of prison for the acts they committed whilst being part of these groups. I can’t thank these two men enough for how honest they were with us about everything they had done and participated in whilst being involved in these groups. After learning about the victims, the day before, I have to say I did not want to like them, however their honesty about what they had done and the compassion they showed made it difficult to dislike them, especially as Gerry gave us a lift back in his black cab!

All in all, the trip was a very busy and tiring trip but that is because we got to meet so many amazing groups and people that all had different perspectives on the history of Northern Ireland. I learnt a lot on this trip and it has really opened my eyes to see first-hand the damage caused by the troubles as well as meeting with the groups who are working hard to ensure the next generation learn from the mistakes made in the past. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Belfast and would strongly recommend it to future students if it is offered, I might even try and tag along again!

Thank you to all the people who gave up some of their time to speak to us, to Roy and Adree for organising everything and being fantastic tour guides and driver, despite a couple of risky hill starts, and also to our lecturer Nick and the students who came for making it such a good trip.

Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer, Student Voice.

Kate Exall, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

This is the third in a series of blogs linking to Kate’s ILT-funded project. The first two posts can be found here and here.

This project started out with twin aims of

(a)    To find out what student perceptions are of using Discussion Boards and

(b)   To ascertain what barriers, if any, there are to effective student engagement with Discussion Boards.

In my last blog post, I reported that I had carried out informal feedback with the students.   They identified one barrier as not being able to post anonymously so I set up the next Discussion Board to allow for this.  However nobody posted to it.  There may be a number of reasons for this.  Firstly it was right at the end of last term and feedback would have been given via the Discussion Board rather than in class, secondly whilst it was on the broad topic of their assignment, it was not the specific focus of it (although it is for the resit question) and finally, whilst I had made it anonymous and said so in the announcement asking students to engage with it, I did not say so on the Discussion Board thread itself.   I have now added this to the next one to try and encourage engagement.

I had anticipated that blended learning would help students who for whatever reasons could not attend the face to face classes on a regular basis.  Discussion Boards are, in theory, an ideal way of supporting these students as they allow them to engage with the module and contribute to the group discussions.   However, this has not proved to be the case.  From an analysis of the 15 students who have either not contributed at all or have only contributed to one Discussion Board activity, 10 of them have poor or no attendance with 5 attending more regularly.  Of those who are poor attenders, just one has a good record of posting to a Discussion Board.

What this suggests is that it is not a problem with the Discussion Boards but with student motivations to engage with the module itself however it is offered to them.   This would be interesting to research further.

In our final face to face workshop last term I carried out the formal evaluation of the use of Discussion Boards.   I decided to use a survey and to do it in class time because as Kumar (2014) notes “if you have a captive audience for your study, don’t miss the opportunity – it is the quickest way of collecting data, ensures a high response rate and saves you money on postage”.  It also gave the students the chance to give their feedback quickly, at no cost and anonymously.  I have been using Discussion Boards regularly in my teaching, with the students in this module being asked to post to 6 last term so the students had plenty of exposure to them and seen how they were used in teaching.

12 students completed the questionnaire which represents half the cohort.  I would like to have had a greater response but the downside of carrying out a survey in class time is that I can only get responses from those who attend.  It would be useful to have feedback from those who did not attend as this will help me to understand their motivation for not engaging with Discussion Boards and to see what barriers there are to their participation.  This will also link to the point made above about the link between non engagement and non attendance.  I will need to explore alternative options for gathering this anonymously.

The next step is to analyse the results and to then draw together the conclusions and recommendations.

Posted by & filed under Student Voice.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

This is the second update from our ILT-funded project which is taking a look at the ways in which the Student Voice is captured in different delivery locations. The first update is here.

The project team is split across two Faculties at the University – the Faculty of Business and Law, and the Faculty of Education and Health, and between us we will be looking a the different mechanisms for capturing the student voice (CSV).

This project has four aims:

  • Provide an objective assessment of the Unitu online Course Representative system being trialled in 2017/18; Unitu is being trialled by the SU in 2017/18, and this project will provide a parallel analysis of the effectiveness of the system,
  • Explore the extent to which the issues raised by students are effectively dealt with by EWO Partners and UoN
  • Demonstrate the potential for improving student engagement and retention provided by enhanced engagement with the student voice;
  • Produce a best practice guide for CSV

As we move into the second teaching block, we are starting to see some patterns emerging in relation to some of these aims.


The Unitu system was rolled out under the auspices of the Students Union on a trial basis on specific programmes in October 2017. What the system essentially does is allow for Course Representatives to gather the thoughts and input of students on the course via an online system. If an issue is raised by a student, the Course Rep can “promote” it, so that it is visible by the other students on the course. If a sufficient number of those students consider the issue to be valid, then the Course Rep “promotes” it again, and it becomes visible by the course tutors. Any action taken to resolve the issue is then tracked and students can log in an see what progress has been made and what the outcome has been.

In practice, there were several issues with matching programme enrolments with students who could access Unitu. This is an issue which would be resolved if the system is adopted fully, as the VLE enrolments will be mirrored by the Unitu enrolments, but notwithstanding that potential for resolving the issue, it is currently a problem. On both of the Level 7 programmes under the aegis of this project, the enrolment has been patchy, slow and inconsistent. The efficacy of Unitu is hard to gauge as no issues have yet been raised by the Course reps. The students have attributed this to one of three main reasons:

  1. 1)   They are happy with the course, and no issues have needed to be raised.
  2. 2)   They cannot access Unitu
  3. 3)   They do not believe the Course Rep is likely to engage with issues raised.

As the project moves forward, we will be able to see which of these issues is the key, as we will be talking directly to students (via the SSLCs) in order to pick up any issues which exist but have not been reported on Unitu.

EWO Partners.

There is clear early evidence emerging that the mechanisms for capturing the Student Voice at EWO partners are being implemented in a patchy fashion. Some of the EWO partners have yet to hold an SSLC (or equivalent) and elsewhere it appears that there is limited knowledge of SSLCs by students. This is of course one of the areas which will be key to the best Practice Guide which emerges out of this project.


The impact of this on module level evaluations has not yet been evaluated, and so it will be interesting to note if issues are raised in the feedback which have not been raised in other fora.