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Back in early June 2016 Ricky Murphy, Associate Lecturer and Wendy Turner, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Humanities attended a Xerte training session with Anne Misselbrook the Content Developer at the University.

Ricky had never used the Xerte software before and Wendy had used the Xerte software previously.

Ricky Murphy

The Xerte software training provides instruction on how to use the software and how to develop interactive e-learning with strong instructional design.  The course also provides technical advice and useful hints and tips.

Ricky was responsible for re-developing the Xerte e-learning packages for the ‘Promoting Children & Young People’s Emotional Wellbeing’ module (EDU1022-AUT).  The e-learning packages had to be ready for the students by October 2016, so Ricky had four months to complete them.

The students are currently working with the new Xerte e-learning packages.

Here is Ricky’s story…..

The Xerte Journey

As an associate lecturer, I teach a module to undergraduates on the Childhood and Youth degree pathway, it covers children and young people’s emotional well-being. The course is taught via an E-Learning programme on Xerte and a corresponding set of taught classes.

The E-Learning was developed a number of years ago using content from a mental health professional that was commissioned by the university. In reviewing the Xerte module we came up with a list of enhancements to be completed by October 2016. These were to condense 11 Xertes into 6 more logically connected presentations, to redesign its look, feel and content, and to update and edit out the outdated material.

I approached Xerte as a novice. My first position was to storyboard the full module, rearranging and designing the content as appropriate, to ensure that the module grew in complexity over time. For example, in the initial Xertes, students learnt child protection near the start and mental health near the end. Interrelated topics such as resilience and emotional competence were separated, and content around how to build relationships came between them. I selected the suitable content and drew up a storyboard which initially taught about brain development, then about emotional competence, on through mental health, before progressing on to how to manage and respond to challenging behaviour and to safeguard children. In this way the students were slowly progressing from general to more complex issue-based content, and I replicated this model within each Xerte.

Once I had moved the content into this storyboard, my focus was to design a template Xerte that would create a feeling of familiarity between the six different presentations. This was as much about using the same font size, colour, and symbols as it was to maintain a rhythm of 3-4 slides then question, 3-4 slides then question, interesting fact, video, 3-4 slides then question, and so on. I went as far as to create templates from the Xerte templates themselves, such as on every Question template I used a picture of 300 width, a text of 22 point for the question, a text of 18 point for the answer, and so on. This is because the original Xerte templates, in my view, lend themselves to being disengaging, where all text size, colour, font, and so on, is replicated on each template. I felt this was important to change because the feedback from students has been that the courses can be text-heavy, and so I designed the pages to look free from “noise” or extra text, and then fitted the content into the design, rather than the design around the content. This meant that I stripped all text down to its basic message. If I felt the need to explain more, I framed it as a question, used my 3-4 pages of content, or attached a document via an information symbol. This had the effect that the presentation increased from 30 pages on average to 50, but, crucially, reduced the text to around 30% of the original – meaning more interaction and less reading.

Another technique I used was to “interview” the student throughout the Xerte. For example, before I explained what mental health or depression was, I gave them a scenario of a girl crying in the lunchroom because her and her friend had argued and she had said that she wanted to be left alone. The student was asked whether or not to refer her to a school counsellor. I gave 3-4 slides of what “ordinary” development involves, of which this is of course a good example, and then enhanced the scenario so that two weeks later the girl remained in low mood persistently, showing further signs of distress and so on, asking the student at each point what they would do, following it up with advice. In this way the student becomes a decision maker in what feels like a real case study, and they are able to develop their learning as the case progresses. I used the case study as a template and adapted each storyboard to fit into it. For example, here I was teaching the signs and symptoms of common mental health concerns, and was using the case study as the anchor. But in the Xerte for Child Development, I used the same idea, but, instead, as I was about to show an MRI scan of a neglected brain, I asked the student what they would expect to see on the following page, and gave them multiple-choice answers to select from. The idea behind the template was to engage the thinking before offering the learning.

After this, and because I am a novice, I reviewed each Xerte template to identify those that had not been used but were either fun or interesting to students. I did this based on intuition as time was short. These were things such as annotated pictures or YouTube feeds. Once I had identified them, I scrolled through each Xerte presentation to “feel” when the content became a little dull or disengaging and I changed those sections with the more interesting templates. I did this in order to ensure the course was not too formulaic, and that each Xerte maintained the interest.

Finally, I reviewed the content, scrolling each Xerte to ensure it meets the learning outcomes. Here I identified around 10 gaps that had been created from my slimming down of the content. One gap for instance was to provide realistic de-escalation techniques for the challenging behaviour section – this gap only existed in the new layout, and did not become apparent in the previous one. This then concluded my work and I sent it for evaluation by the course leader (Wendy Turner), a professional (Social Worker) and the content developer (Anne Misselbrook). This highlighted a number of structural issues such as inactive links and issues with pop-up windows, and in October the Xertes were launched.

Overall, the result is that we have a stylised programme where students progress in incremental steps, using multiple-learning styles. The students have given positive verbal feedback in two separate classes. One student said they found the explanations very clear. Another student mentioned that it was fun, and the class in general agreed that it was helpful to their learning. We are open to a more rigorous evaluation if there are any resources available for this and would be happy to take part in any evaluation process of the content and design of this Xerte course.

Ricky Murphy
Associate Lecturer.

To book a place on the Xerte e-learning software training course contact
Anne Misselbrook on email:



It’s no easy thing to create an interesting, engaging and effective educational video. However, when developing educational presentations and videos there are some straightforward principles that you can apply which are likely to make them more effective.

Richard Mayer, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, has developed a set of multimedia principles for the creation of educational presentations and videos, and these are discussed in detail in his book Multimedia Learning.

If you’d like a short and practical introduction to Mayer’s multimedia principles then we have created the following video, which outlines each of the principles and gives an example of how they might be applied in practice. Click on the image below to find out more …

In this video Tanya and Claire talk about their work developing e-tivities for their education students in order to provide a pre-sessional activity and inter-sessional activity and a post-sessional activity for students. They share the strengths of the approach including flexibility and accessibility for the students, sharing of staff expertise and the things they have learnt about best practice.



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In this video, recorded as part of the S.H.E.D – Sharing Higher Education Designs, James Underwood (Principal Lecturer in Teachers’ CPD) demonstrates an essay planning technique useful at different levels and in different contexts.

Image of James Underwood

This technique is discussed, as mentioned at the end of the video, in the following paper:

Searching for commonalities in the teaching of critical thinking skills, from Masters’ to sixth form to primary (NECTAR:’_to_sixth_form_to_primary


Teaching Students at University of Northampton, along with Helen Caldwell (Senior Lecturer in Education) describe how well and how effectively they feel blogging has become a way to record and assess their work.
A short film edited together for Northampton University School of Education.

To watch the video, please click the image below:

Screenshot of the Blogging for students video on Vimeo

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In this podcast, Jean Edwards (Senior Lecturer in Education) talks to Jim Harris (Learning Designer) about the module PDT3003 Educational Debates in Learning and Teaching, part of the BA Learning and Teaching, which includes assessed Online Debates using discussion boards in NILE

Please click below to listen to the podcast (duration: 07:32).
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In this podcast, Jim Harris (Learning Designer) speaks to Jean Edwards (Senior Lecturer in Education) about the project which aims to investigate the use of mobile technologies in innovative assessment design and guidance, broadening the range of assessment practice to enhance tutors’ and students’ digital literacy.

The objectives of the project are:

  • To map the current use of mobile technologies in assessment by staff and explore student perceptions.
  • To explore and evaluate three case studies of digitally based assignments across the School of Education.
  • To design a digital toolkit to support staff in devising assignments and assignment guidance.

Please click below to listen to the podcast (duration: 07:45).
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To find out more about the project, please visit the project website by clicking here.

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In this associated blog post, Matthew Mccormack details the team approach to the redesign of the MA History, and how the use blogs aligned to evidence one of the key subject benchmark statements.

“Our blog assessment fits in with the module’s fortnightly structure. We alternate between ‘classroom’ and ‘online’, with the blog taking place alongside the online seminar: case studies have emphasised the importance of structuring blogging around the rhythm of classes. Every fortnight, the tutor posts up a primary source that relates to the previous class topic, and the students have 500 words per source to blog about it. After 5 fortnightly blogs, the students submit their work for assessment…One of the key ‘History’ skills highlighted in our subject benchmark is ‘an ability to read, analyse and reflect critically and contextually upon contemporary texts and other primary sources’ – so this is an example of how blending the method of delivery can enhance subject skills.”

Please click here to read the original post.

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“First Year Education Studies students have been participating in a joint project with students at HAN University in Nijmegen and Arnhem in the Netherlands.  An ongoing email correspondence with regard to preconceptions of and stereotyping within England and the Netherlands culminated on Wednesday 25th March with a SKYPE seminar and conversation between students at the two institutions. 

Contributions and discussions were lively and both cohorts of students were able to expand on cultural and social traditions in their respective countries. The UoN students will form part of a group travelling on a study visit to Nijmegen in June – it is intended that a meeting with the Dutch students who participated in the SKYPE seminar will form part of their itinerary.” (Tony Smith-Howell

The students reported that talking with their peers oversees in this way it felt no different from being in the classroom.  The tutors are already planning further meetings and online mentoringThey captured their feedback of using SKYPE for the session, via the magic of iPad….. 

Please contact the Learning Technology Team if you would like to find out more about using Skype for your students.


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School of Education Early Years students, led by Dr. Eunice Lumsden, recently engaged in a Tweetchat with students from Sheffield Hallam over two days, using the hashtag #epcrep .  This was to respond to the new All-party Parliamentary group report ’Early Years – A Fit and Healthy Childhood’, which has been co-written with contributions by SoE Faculty, and presented at the House of Lords in March.  The Tweetchat was moderated by Dr Damien Fitzgerald, Principal Lecturer.  An overview of responses has been created in Storify:  Students reported that this was an exciting way to engage, and are keen to continue using Twitter as part of their professional development.

If you would like to explore how to use Twitter for Learning & Teaching, please contact the Learning Technology Team.

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