Posts by: rjhowe
Picture of Bo - the chatbot

Whether we like it or not, we are increasingly being directed to basic conversations with chatbots. The image above is taken from a discussion with ‘Bo’ who is the lovely chatbot that hosts discussions on the Differ system – students are encouraged to chat with other students on topics introduced by Bo. The aim being that it encourages greater online networking between students who may not normally meetup.

There are many sites providing information on what a chatbot is and how they may be used.

“At the most basic level, a chatbot is a computer program that simulates and processes human conversation (either written or spoken), allowing humans to interact with digital devices as if they were communicating with a real person. Chatbots can be as simple as rudimentary programs that answer a simple query with a single-line response, or as sophisticated as digital assistants that learn and evolve to deliver increasing levels of personalization as they gather and process information.”

Oracle – What is a Chatbot

The excellent Edubots Webinar Series is providing greater insight and a discussion forum for those investigating how chatbots may be used within Education environments. It also raises the interesting moral issues such as when it is appropriate for chatbots to provide emotional support.

If you are based at the University of Northampton and you’d like a little pilot with Bo ‘the chatbot’ then please contact

Those who are interested for more information can join the Introduction to Chatbots for Educators – online course and community

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Led by: Dr Elizabeth Hidson

Senior Lecturer in International Teacher Education, University of Sunderland

Dr Elizabeth Hidson

The recording of the event (53 mins) is available to view.

The slides from the session are also available to download.

At the heart of any teaching resource is an unheard narrative: the decision-making process that the teacher has gone through in order to develop the resource for the students that they teach. This is built from a range of knowledge sources accessed by teachers from the start of their career, which develops over time. In this session we will focus on in-service ICT teachers faced with the 2014 English National Curriculum shift that now required the teaching of Computer Science. We will see how their pedagogical knowledge was enhanced through shared lesson resources and professional communities of practice.

Elizabeth started her career in education as an IT teacher, progressing to ICT Advanced Skills Teacher, Lead Practitioner in ICT and later to assistant and deputy headteacher senior leadership roles in schools. Moving into academia, she has been an educational technology researcher as well as teaching on PGCE, MA and doctoral training courses at Durham University, Newcastle University and the University of Sunderland. Elizabeth’s research interests involve technology and pedagogy, and the use of digital and visual research methods.

Staff profile:

Selected publications

Hidson, Elizabeth (2021) Pedagogy by proxy: teachers’ digital competence with crowd-sourced lesson resources. Pixel-Bit Journal of Media and Education, 61 (May 21). pp. 197-229. ISSN 1133-8482

Hidson, Elizabeth (2020) Internet Video Calling and Desktop Sharing (VCDS)as an Emerging Research Method for Exploring Pedagogical Reasoning in Lesson Planning. Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy, 5 (1). pp. 1-14. ISSN 2364-4583

Hidson, Elizabeth (2018) Video-enhanced lesson observation as a source of multiple modes of data for school leadership: A videographic approach. Management in Education, 32 (1). pp. 26-31. ISSN 0892-0206

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“It is a cold Autumn day at Waterside and you are sitting in a room within the Learning Hub. You recognise other people in the room and there is a facilitator at the front. Do you:

a) Talk to other people on your desk?

b) Talk to the facilitator and engage in the workshop?

c) Log onto your laptop and check emails?

d) Exit the room and go elsewhere?”

Fortunately, all participants on the first meeting to explore the nature of gamification and the value for the University decided to remain in the room and fully engage with Tim Hinchliffe, Senior Adviser from Advance HE.

‘Games can be used as a general tool to look at our teaching processes more generally. The lessons are broadly applicable to whatever we do. You can take any subject and any content and use gamified mechanisms and dynamics to achieve what you’re looking for.’

Tim Hinchliffe, Senior Adviser from Advance HE.

Over the day we were treated to an exploration of the differences between defining gamification in education, serious games and game based learning. We then went on to discuss the Octalysis Framework and apply this to a range of both physical and virtual games.

Tim used a slide deck to keep us all on track but the flexible nature of the workshop gave us plenty of time to explore how the concepts could apply to our own areas.

Tim Hinchliffe , Kate Coulson, Jim Harris and Simon Chapman provided some insightful reflections into the day.

‘The approach of gamification would be really useful because it’s helping students to develop a lot of transferable skills: critical thinking, teamwork, collaboration, problem solving.’ 

Simon Chapman, Senior Lecturer in Education.

Discussions are now ongoing on the possibility of launching a inter disciplinary group to further explore gamification.

If you are interested in further conversations around gamification then please email

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There are a range of tools available for new and existing enrolled students to contribute towards development of digital capability. The three listed below are key starting points. A video introduction to this posting is also available.

1) Rate your digital fitness

This will provide a quick overview of your digital strengths and areas for development. A personal report will be generated which will allow you to track improvements over time. For more details see –

2) The “Student Introduction to NILE (Ultra)” site on the Organisations tab on NILE

NILE (Northampton Integrated Learning Environment) is a online base for most of your course. This site provides a basic introduction to NILE. You will find the site listed in the “Organisations” area after logging into NILE.

Image showing location of the Introduction to NILE resource

3) LinkedIn for Learning Resources

LinkedIn Learning will be a resource that you will return to regularly over your student journey. It will help you develop the generic skills that will improve your ability to produce academic level assignments as well as develop digital skills specific to your chosen field. We believe the sooner you get familiar with using LinkedIn Learning the quicker you will be able to produce high quality work. For more details see

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“Digital capability at the University of Northampton (UoN) enables our mission and vision for the students, staff and external collaborators to be socially innovative, employable members of society by developing the skills to become digitally fluent and professional through the use of Active Blended Learning (ABL), interaction, and collaboration to thrive in a digital world.”

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Staff are currently being allocated emergency virtual rooms to use during March 2021. They will be updating a central document [opens in a new tab] once they have been allocated a room.

Students may follow the links to these rooms during normal timetabled sessions with these staff. All of these links use Blackboard Collaborate – further guidance is available [opens in a new tab] if needed. There is also a list of frequently asked questions. [opens in a new tab].

Once on the sheet – press CTRL+F (or click onto Edit – Find and Replace) to search for the tutor’s name. Column B will show the tutor name; Column C will show the Subject area; Column D will show the address of the Collaborate room that the tutor is using for their session.

Example Room listing

Students may follow the links during normal timetabled sessions or as directed by the tutors.

  1. Background

With the current network problems, some staff and students may find it difficult to access NILE to engage in Collaborate sessions.

As a temporary measure during this time it is possible to setup an open Collaborate room which does not require any usernames or passwords to access. All those who click on the link will have presenter status (meaning they can share slides / audio and video). Normally the tutor will be the only presenter and students will be participants.

Naturally there may be problem distributing the links to students once generated and this may depend on the tutor being able to email students either within NILE or though links outside. The temporary links will not allow recordings or breakout rooms. These temporary rooms will expire at the end of the day on Friday 2nd April.

2. Guidance for those able to access NILE

If tutors still have access to NILE using the lower link to login:

Then they can follow the guidance on the Collaborate guide:

Create a new Collaborate session by clicking “Create Session” – give this session a name.

Click on Guest access and then give the Guest role – Presenter

Click on “No end (open session)”

Click on Create and then click on the copy option to the right of the “Guest link”

The link that has been copied can now be used by everyone to access the session without any username / password or need to access NILE. They will just need to follow this link in their browser.

This temporary Collaborate room should be deleted once the network problems have been resolved.

3. Guidance for those unable to access NILE

For those unable to access NILE then please add your name to the shared document (link sent separately) to reserve a room. If all current rooms have been taken then please add your name to the bottom of the table and an open link will be generated for you. You can then use this link as an open classroom until the network problems have been resolved. Please follow the link sent separately to reserve / request an open room.

Note: The temporary links will not allow recordings or breakout rooms. These temporary rooms will expire at the end of the day on Friday 2nd April.

4. Informing students of the room you are using

Once you have obtained the address of a room then please follow the 2nd link which is included in your email to the form where you should enter your name, subject area and the room address that students should follow to gain access.

5. Further help

Staff needing further help should contact their Learning Technologist –

Pasted below for those unable to access Libguides:

Faculty of Arts, Science and Technology (FAST)

Subject CodeFieldLearning Technologist
2DD2D DesignCleo Cameron
3DD3D DesignCleo Cameron
ACTDramaCleo Cameron
ARTFine ArtCleo Cameron
CSYComputer SystemsTim Guyett
DRADramaCleo Cameron
ENGEngineeringTim Guyett
ENVEnvironmental ScienceTim Guyett
FSHFashionCleo Cameron
GEOGeographyTim Guyett
HISHistoryBelinda Green
JOUFilm Media and CommunicationsCleo Cameron
LEALeather TechnologyTim Guyett
LIFLift EngineeringTim Guyett
LITEnglishBelinda Green
MEDFilm Media and CommunicationsCleo Cameron
MUSMusicCleo Cameron
PHOFine ArtCleo Cameron
SLSSport, Exercise and Life ScienceLiane Robinson
SPMSport, Exercise and Life ScienceLiane Robinson
SPOSport and ExerciseLiane Robinson

Faculty of Business and Law (FBL)

Subject CodeFieldLearning Technologist
ACCAccounting and FinanceAl Holloway
BSOBusiness Systems and OperationsAndy Stenhouse
BUSInternational Strategy and BusinessAl Holloway
CJSCriminal Justice ServicesTim Guyett
CRISocial SciencesTim Guyett
DEVEconomics, International Relations and DevelopmentAndy Stenhouse
ECOEconomics, International Relations and DevelopmentAndy Stenhouse
FINAccounting and FinanceAl Holloway
HRMHuman Resource Management and Organisational BehaviourAndy Stenhouse
IRDEconomics, International Relations and DevelopmentAndy Stenhouse
LAWLawAl Holloway
LEIEvents, Tourism and HospitalityAndy Stenhouse
MKTMarketingAndy Stenhouse
STRInternational Strategy and BusinessAl Holloway

Faculty of Health, Education and Society (FHES)

Subject CodeFieldLearning Technologist
EDUEducation StudiesBelinda Green
EYSEarly YearsBelinda Green
ITTInitial Teacher TrainingBelinda Green
MIDMidwiferyLiane Robinson
NPRNursingRichard Byles
NURNursingRichard Byles
OTHOccupational TherapyRichard Byles
PDTProfessional Development and TrainingBelinda Green
PHYPhysiotherapyRichard Byles
PODPodiatryCleo Cameron
PSCParamedic ScienceCleo Cameron
PSYPsychologyTim Guyett
SENSEN and InclusionBelinda Green
SOCSocial SciencesTim Guyett
SWKSocial WorkLiane Robinson

Foundation Study Framework (FSF)

Subject CodeFieldLearning Technologist
FDNFoundation Study FrameworkBelinda Green

Other Academic & Professional Services Departments

DepartmentLearning Technologist
Academic LibrariansTim Guyett
Academic Partnerships OfficeAl Holloway
ApprenticeshipsRichard Byles 
Additional Student Support and Inclusion Services Team (ASSIST)Al Holloway
Changemaker HubAndy Stenhouse
Educational LinguisticsLiane Robinson
Graduate SchoolCleo Cameron
International OfficeLiane Robinson
Placements OfficeLiane Robinson
Research SupportCleo Cameron
Staff DevelopmentTim Guyett
Student Information DeskLiane Robinson
Student ServicesAndy Stenhouse
Students’ UnionRichard Byles

The Learntech Team note that staff who are exploring new tools with their students should undertake a number of considerations when these are being reviewed:

Always start with the reason for the tool and have a chat with your Learning Technologist in the first instance. There may already be licensed and/or supported tools which will satisfy your needs.

Ensure that the tools are accessible for all students – complete an Equality Impact Analysis to obtain guidance with this.

Ensure that use of the tool is inline with data protection regulations complete a Privacy Impact Assessment to obtain prompt questions. Please also review this useful GDPR blog post

Review the guidance on using unsupported or external tools, and the University guidelines on use of external web (cloud) services.

Ensure that use of the tool is sustainable (i.e. is tool support only localised with one person?) What will happen if the tool is withdrawn in the future or the cost becomes prohibitive?

Students should be fully aware who is providing support for the tool to ensure they address the correct support desk.

Any tool which is used for summative assessment should comply with University regulations on retention of content / student engagement.

The University Digital Steering Group makes decisions on the tools which are fully supported by the University; which are recognised but not fully supported; and which are not to be used.

If in doubt then please contact for further guidance.

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Helen Caldwell kindly collated a list of the tools used across the Education courses with their students. This shows a wide range and diversity which are useful for students who will be working in a Schools environment in the future. The team have shown a real enthusiasm to enhance student engagement and enhance the interactivity within sessions. The range of activities reflect a growing confidence and expertise with Active Distance Learning and Active Blended Learning.

Helen notes that “…the collection of tools and strategies is a testament to the drive within the education team to make their online sessions active and engaging, and to find imaginative ways to facilitate sensemaking through digital making. “

An example of use of Bitmoji classroom

The Education Teams who are using the tools provide localised support with their students. The range of tools covered within the Education courses included:

  • Blackboard Collaborate
  • Book Creator
  • Jamboard
  • Padlet
  • Adobe Spark
  • Powtoon
  • Wakelet
  • Tweetbeam
  • Bitmoji
  • Thinglink
  • Kahoot
  • Mentimeter
  • AnswerGarden
  • OneNote
  • Miro
  • Canva

The use of these tools within the Education Teams are driven by pedagogical requirements and they are carefully piloted within the team in conjunction with their Learning Technologist in the first instance to ensure they are fit for purpose and do not duplicate any existing licensed product. The tools support the teams flexible approach to ensure their students are prepared for school environments and enhances their employability. Staff in other teams should review the recommendations for the use of third party tools and speak to their Learning Technologist in the first instance prior to introducing any new systems.

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One of our course advocate students on Events Management has kindly collated some reflections on the student’s experiences of online learning.

“I know you are all trying to make our learning experience the best you possibly can in this situation and we are very thankful for that. So to support this, I am reaching out to communicate feedback that I received from my course mates. We will all be stuck with online lectures, probably until we graduate, so I think it is in all our interest to make this the best we possibly can, rather sooner than later.”

Group work

The questions asked were: where are the problems? what would you like to be changed? & are you happy with everything?

There were two different opinions about group work and break out rooms:

  1. Students feel a lot more confident and comfortable contributing when they know the other person, or at least recognise the name of people in the group.
    This leads to group work where no one is speaking with each other at all and work isn’t being done so it’s ultimately a waste of time.
    —> so the goal here would be to be able to choose your partners yourself, as you would in F2F lectures.
  2. On the other hand there are students raising their concerns about this as it can be super isolating for new and anxious students, who may not know anyone personally, and don’t want to be “pushed away”.

One of the suggestions around group work is to set up groups being named as “Camera & Mic”, “Mic”, & “Chat”, so that students can choose the way of group work they feel most comfortable with. Another idea would be to integrate more verbal engagements.

Some of the above suggestions echo those covered in in other guidance on groupwork from Inside Higher Education

Interactive sessions

“Students have more than one lecture where they are physically just spoken to for two hours straight and are watching a PowerPoint. Often not even referenced, this feels pointless.”

Lectures could do with being more interactive, if possible. Many students have mentioned the way other tutors incorporates polls in their lectures to find out about our opinions, then afterwards he asks about the reasons for the answers. This engages students! They are then able to have verbal and written discussions on the chat.


There is currently a discussion underway about whether cameras should be left on or turned off in online sessions. Some students and tutors are valuing the social interaction which is encouraged when they are able to see other participants in the room. Others emphasise with articles such as “Reasons Why You Should Reconsider Requiring Students to Turn on Their Zoom Cameras During Class” and suggest that this should be optional.

For more information on strategies see previous blog postings from Learntech, Mark Allenby’s suggestions on group work and suggestions from Kaltura

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