Oct 15

A prayer for diversity & hate crime awareness week

I worship at Thrapston Baptist Church and this week was invited to lead the congregation in prayer.  In light of the negative comments about diversity in the news last week and the fact that this week is national hate crime awareness week I made these key themes within my prayer, this is what I prayed:

Father God,

We stand before you as a diverse group bound together with hope and love.  The hope that comes from the certainty of an eternity with you, the love that you shoed through the sacrifice of your son, our saviour, Jesus Christ.

We stand in a world not of hope and love but of fear and hate, not because of your shortcomings but because of ours.  We hear our leaders telling us we should fear the diversity of your creation and we stand witness to this fear fermenting into hate and we ask you to give us, your church, the strength to stand as a beacon of hope and love at the heart of Thrapston.  Today marks the start of hate crime awareness week and we ask that your hope and love shining through us will be a challenge to those who might otherwise be driven by hate to commit acts of violence and we pray for your grace on all those who have been the victims of crime because of their disability, race, religion or sexuality.

We have also heard again this week of those who have been harmed and killed across a world divided by fear and hate, and we lift to you the families and friends of the 95 people killed and 245 injured yesterday by a terrorist attack on a peace rally in Ankhora, of PC Phillips murdered in Liverpool, of 8 year-old MaKayla Dyer shot by her 11 year-old friend in Tennessee, of the victims of yet another high school massacre in the US, of 22 Medicine Sans Frontiers volunteers and their patients in a hospital in Kunduz killed by American bombs, of the countless Syrians victims to the barrel bombs of Assad, the scud missiles of Russia and the drone strikes of our own government.  We pray that as President Obama apologises to the world for America’s crime of bombing a civilian hospital and offers compensation to the victims that this is not an empty gesture but a prompt to all world leaders to reconsider their own policies and that from such suffering some good will come.

We thank you that you have placed a desire in the faith community of East Northants to lead the response to the plight of refugees fleeing war and famine.  We ask that you give us the wisdom to accompany our compassion so we can find the practical solutions necessary to be able to welcome orphaned children, the war-wounded, the starving, and the destitute to Thrapston remembering that your son sought asylum from Herod in Egypt and that when we love those in the most desperate need we love you.

At this celebration of harvest we thank you for showering us all with your abundant blessings and recognise that they are not the just desserts of our labours but the blessings of our gracious creator.  We ask that you grant us the grace and wisdom to share these blessings as Christ instructed.  We thank you that you have blessed us as a church with the resources to be active within our community and we pray for your blessings and support for Messy Church this afternoon, for Monday Night Live, Tues to Grow, Tiddlers, the Food bank and the home groups as they meet.  I especially ask for your support as we do something new in organising the FoodShare meal later this month, that you will give the support we need to honour you through this act of sharing.

Finally we thank you for those who have led us in worship this morning and that as we prepare to listen to your word you open our hearts and minds to the message that you have asked Mat to bring to us today and that you will bless and inspire him as he shares with us.

We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen

Jun 15

Power to the pupil!

Last week I was fortunate enough to not only witness Professor Michael Apple present the annual lecture of the Centre for Research in Race and Education entitled ‘Educational Realities and the Tasks of the Critical Scholar/Activist in Education’ but also to chat with him and Professor David Gillborn over a glass of wine afterwards.  Apple has been hugely influential on me  (if you haven’t read any of his work I suggest you start here)  with his focus on the relationship between education and power, critically examining how education can dis-empower those who don’t come from a background of privilege.

This week I have tried to, with some success, advance the ideal of empowering the disadvantaged and I am proud to be part of a law division who at a programme re-design event that concluded this week listed ‘empowerment’ as one of its core values.  I would urge all of our students and colleagues to challenge us if we now don’t live this value.  I was also honoured to be recognised as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a testament to those colleagues and students who have challenged and shaped me into a much better lecturer than I would otherwise be.  As part of the application I was asked to reflect on my evolution as a practitioner and I chose to include a discussion about how I came to believe so strongly that we must not merely educate, we have to empower, I include an extract from my application below:

I had, until I taught at Kaplan Holborn College (KHC), mainly taught Home/EU students and, as my previous two substantive posts had been at Reading and Keele, students who had excelled at ‘A’ level.  As a white British male who had done well in my ‘A’ levels and studied my undergraduate and Masters’ degrees at Keele I shared these students lived experiences and was able to relate to them well.  KHC’s student population was predominantly international students with some Home/EU students who had not achieved the ‘A’ level grades necessary to access more traditional HEIs – these were certainly not the students who shared my lived experiences!


I took a strict approach to preparation, students who I thought couldn’t be bothered to do the reading or preparation were told to leave, when whole classes had failed to prepare I left.  It was my classroom, students would sit down, and quietly listen as I doled out my words of wisdom – mobile phones were certainly not to be tolerated.  This led to conflict with the students, but I was the Programme Leader, could defend myself well and senior managers backed me.  I have, I sincerely hope, changed beyond recognition since this time and although the process was evolutionary, as opposed to a ‘road to Damascus’ conversion the following case-study illustrates what I came to realise and why I consciously made the effort to change my approach…


… This case-study describes a private meeting I had with one of my personal tutees.  My personal tutee was a final year undergraduate student, as personal tutoring was new at KHC this was her first meeting with a personal tutor.   She was a 44 year-old Nigerian women, she came from a privileged background and was reasonably well-off meaning that although she only had a room in a friend’s home she didn’t need to work.  She told me the circumstances that meant she had left Nigeria and come to the UK; her husband had a powerful and well paid job connected with the political party now in opposition and after armed men had dragged them from their home and hooded them before releasing them they fled Nigeria.  Her eldest son was at University in the UK studying Engineering, her youngest was the same age as my son, then 5 years-old, her other children spanned those years.  Her children had stayed with family in Nigeria, she saw her eldest son reasonably regularly and Skyped her other children but had not seen them in over 4 years.  She calmly explained that she did her studies at the desk in her room but that some evenings she couldn’t; she would find herself staring into space thinking about her children.  I struggled with this conversation, and not knowing what else to say I asked simply “is there anything I can do to help?”  She answered simply “no”, adding that she was so pleased to be able to tell one her lecturers, she only ever needed to be asked.


I realized that I couldn’t understand the lived reality of my personal tutee but that by letting her tell her story I had gone some way to appreciating her situation.  I understood that by listening and trying to understand I had empowered this student, this contrasted with the students I had torn strips off for being unprepared.  I had humiliated students who may have endured hellish realities rather than empower them.   I realized how I had changed earlier this month when participating in the Law Division’s Working Group on Programme re-design a colleague who was new to the Division asked what to do if students don’t prepare, she was throwing them out.  I explained that I tell the students what I expected and why, why it was now more difficult for us all to get to where I hoped we would and ask them to suggest how we might best use the session.  I try to create a feeling that we are on a shared journey, that I’m committed to getting there with them and that they have power to affect the journey and ultimately its success.  I was concerned that this ‘speech’ might come across as patronizing but it was genuine and learned from my mistakes; I was really humbled therefore that my colleague had respected my view and was busily scribbling down what I said.


My journey has been from someone who failed to understand their role and power, to someone who realizes that if we are to enable learners to truly enjoy the benefits of education we must try to take adopt their perspective.  Those who might benefit most from education are those who traditionally don’t benefit from society and as educators we have a responsibility to illuminate exploitation and domination both in our own practices and in larger society to empower our students to struggle against these relationships.  We must, according to Apple, connect our practice to the lived experiences of our students.



Jun 15

The Lenovo Yoga 2 11.6″ for Learning and Teaching

As part of the Parklife project we were provided with an ultrabook to testdrive.  As we approach the end of the project I sat down with Simon Thompson from the LearnTech team to talk about my experiences and he blogged about them, you can read the LearnTech blog or enjoy the content quoted below…

As part of the University Institute of Learning and Teaching fundedParklife project, Nick Cartwright has been piloting the use of a hybrid laptop. The project involved students working in open spaces of their own choice with Nick’s support, so a device capable of taking notes and sharing information with small groups of students was considered worthy of inclusion to support the process.

The device used – a Lenovo Yoga 2 11.6″ – was selected on the basis that it was capable of using the University’s common applications installed on staff and student PCs and that it appeared to offer flexibility in its physical use – it has a touch screen and can be used in stand, tent and tablet configurations, along with a standard laptop layout.

As many of the activities Nick would be carrying out mirrored some of the potential practices that might be used at the new Waterside Campus, LearnTech agreed to record Nick’s experiences to share with Waterside stakeholders. This is the first of a number of reviews we intend to publish – though we are not recommending the University or members of staff purchase this or any other particular model of laptop. We are just seeking to identify the strengths and weaknesses of such devices in the workplace and classroom.

The Yoga has been used to record notes and observations during Parklife sessions but – in practice – it has been relatively little used to share information with small groups of students. While Nick was impressed with the ability to be able to hook it over a chair back as an informal display, in practice the small screen didn’t make it practical to share with more than two or three students.

Aside from general web browsing and Office applications, Nick found it an excellent device to prepare Prezis with but found Turnitin did not respond well to the touch screen. That said, he did complete all his marking using the Yoga successfully. Its particular strength seemed to be that he could quickly move away from an area of disturbance to a quite corner with minimal disruption. Battery life was acceptable – enough for 3-4 hours and a fast one hour recharge was useful. Ultimately, Nick would like to be able to dock to a large screen with a full keyboard for more intensive text work but has found that almost all his work has been possible on the Yoga.

Its main drawbacks are the small screen and weight when used as a tablet – compared to an iPad (around 500g), 1.4 Kg would be uncomfortable to use for a long period – but the flexibility may well be worth this if the device is used in more than one mode. Some reviews suggest that the 802.11n only wireless connect might be an issue, but Nick has noticed no significant wireless connection problems. The mini-HDMI port is the only physical way to connect to an external screen or projector, so this needs to be borne in mind when considering use cases and the available infrastructure. But the fact that a colleague purchased the larger screen version of the Yoga 2 for herself after trying this machine over a period of time is a clear indication that this is a useful device.

Nick is continuing his evaluation in his Law teaching and hopes to try out Panopto at some point as the included web camera appears to be of very good quality.  We will follow up on his experiences later in the year.

Mar 15

Access, Inclusion and Equality in Education: Call for Papers

I am very excited to be involved in chairing a stream on Access, Inclusion and Equality in Education at the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion conference which this year is being hosted in Tel Aviv.

Part of the role of the stream chairs is to populate their streams with exciting papers and, as equality in education is a hugely interesting topic, this shouldn’t prove difficult.

The deadline for submissions has been extended until 31 March 2015 so please consider submitting a paper and forward this invitation to anyone you know who is working in this fascinating area.

Mar 15

Consensus to lead Parkland

With 17.2% of the vote Consensus narrowly win victory in Parkland’s first election, however they are likely to need the support of runners-up Next Generation or the Socialist Party (or both), each polling 15.5% of the vote, if they are going to form a majority government.

The election concluded a year long political battle in which parties fought to take control of the World’s newest democratic State, Parkland, formerly Park Campus at the University of Northampton.  The parties consolidated their learning through Team-Based Learning tasks and produced billboard posters and campaign materials before participating in QuestionTime and a human rights debate.

As well as being an enjoyable way of approaching the issues of public law students have learnt by doing, which we hope will embed knowledge and increase understanding.  We are now interviewing students to assess the impact of the project and will be presenting preliminary findings at the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion conference in Tel Aviv in July.


Feb 15

Learning & Teaching Showcase

From left to right: Nick Cartwright, Melanie Crofts, Jim Lusted & Rachel Maunder

The Parklife project was one of four innovative L&T initiatives showcased this week, the event was covered in the UCU blog and written up in Raising the Bar (the University’s internal staff news bulletin) thus:

​University staff gained an insight into a series of inspiring and innovative approaches to learning and teaching during a showcase event held on Monday at the Sunley Conference Centre, Park Campus.

Organised by UCU (University and College Union) and the University’s Staff Development team, the event saw a panel of four staff members reveal how they have incorporated new approaches to learning and teaching here at the University.

Senior Lecturer in Law, Dr Melanie Crofts from the School of Science, secured funding from the University’s Innovation Fund to bring criminal law to life. This saw actors playing members of a street gang ‘hold up’ a lecture as they searched for a fictional drug dealer in the audience.  A film starring the actors has been made which depicts the story of two gangs, including a case of domestic violence and murder, with additional talking heads providing witness statements. The film will be uploaded to the NILE website for students to use as a valuable learning resource.

Dr Jim Lusted, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise at the School of Health, also received Innovation Fund backing to transform a teaching room into a giant whiteboard.

All walls in the room have been covered in whiteboard paint, allowing students to take a lead in discussions and outline their ideas by writing on the walls.

Dr Lusted said: “Using a traditional flip chart has its limitations, as one person is in control, whereas this method encourages peer and interactive learning. We are able to split students up into groups and give them an entire wall each to express their ideas.”

Senior International Lecturer in Law, Nick Cartwright, referred to the difficulties of trying to keep students engaged during his time working at Kaplan Holborn College.

His solution was to employ experiential learning, which empowered students to take control of sessions. Rather than being “talked at” and losing interest, they responded well to “learning by doing”, and Nick is now using these methods with great success at the University, where he has set up the Parklife project. Parklife has seen students on the Introduction to Public Law module “take control” of Park Campus and declare it a national state. More details of Parklife can be found here.

Associate Professor (Psychology) Dr Rachel Maunder spoke about URB@N, a scheme at the University she coordinates which provides undergraduate research bursaries.

She explained how students can be employed as researchers across all departments at the University and receive a £500 bursary in return.

The scheme has grown in popularity since it was launched as a pilot project in 2008, with around 15 URB@N projects taking place each year.

Jan 15

Responding to criticism: comments on assisted dying

The recent passing of Debbie Purdy was deeply saddening, not least because she wasn’t able to die in the way she had wished to.  I was fortunate enough to meet Debbie and work with those supporting her and was grateful for the opportunity between Christmas and New Year to discuss this on BBC Radio Northampton and to have my tribute to her published in the Herald and Post (http://www.northampton-news-hp.co.uk/University-Northampton-lecturer-pays-heartfelt/story-25789618-detail/story.html).

For my entire professional working life I have been an academic and I’m used to academic criticism however when I wrote about Debbie for The Guardian’s Comment is Free pages I was subjected to what felt like personal criticism from campaigning organisation Care Not Killing in this blog post titled ‘Where has Nick Cartwright been?’  (http://carenotkilling.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/where-has-nick-cartwright-been.html) and, unlike when I present papers at conferences, I didn’t have the opportunity to get on my feet and defend myself.  To be brutally honest I had thought that being criticised by Care Not Killing was a bit like being criticised by the Daily Mail or UKIP – a badge of honour.  However, Care Not Killing – in common with the Daily Mail and UKIP – has an unfathomably large following so must have appeal beyond religious zealots, clowns and nutjobs.

The charge against me was that I had said Parliament had not debated the issue of assisted dying, the claim by Care Not Killing was that they had in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009.  The accuracy, or otherwise, of these competing claims depends on how one defines a debate in Parliament.  It is true that the topic was aired in the House of Lords in 2004 when Lord Joffe tabled the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, although the 2003/4 Parliamentary session ended before the Bill was voted on and it was never debated in the House of Commons.  Lord Joffe tabled a second Assisted Dying Bill in 2005, so again the topic was debated in the House of Lords, but as the Bill was defeated at its second reading in 2006 again it didn’t progress to the House of Commons. In 2008/9 Lord Falconer again raised the issue in the House of Lords when he proposed an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill, again this wasn’t debated in the House of Commons.  I would argue that if an issue is only debated in one of the two chambers of Parliament, and in the unelected chamber, it is fair to say that Parliament has not debated the issue.  The House of Commons did however debate a related issue in 2009 when Patricia Hewitt proposed a separate amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill, the issue was whether assisting another to travel abroad for the purposes of an assisted death should be excluded from the definition of assisted suicide in the Suicide Act 1961.

I’m going to ignore the question ‘Where has Nick Cartwright been?’  I’m assuming it’s rhetorical, I doubt they care about my travels throughout the noughties (although they included the Sudan, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary and Hunstanton).  I’m going to instead address the point about Parliament debating issues – yes it is true that some members of Parliament debated topics relating to assisted dying, I have little doubt that this happens most days, but it is also true that the issue of assisted dying was not debated by both Houses, and never in its entirety, I thought that it was clear this was what I meant and it takes a particularly pedantic reading of the piece to come to the conclusion that Care Not Killing did.

Dec 14

It isn’t all about the assessment

In their last seminar I set my Parklife students the task of creating posters for a billboard advertising their political party’s view of what constitutional issues they would stand for.  It is not an easy task as distilling something one might best express in a short essay visually, with limited text, is difficult.  Further there is no incentive to do this task other than pleasing me – the task is not assessed and therefore technically not compulsory. Unbeknownst to my students (I wonder if any read this) I have arranged for their posters to be printed to display in tomorrow’s lecture (C101 at 1pm if you want to come along) and they have just arrived back from the printers.  I have to say I’m impressed - all 9 political parties submitted posters, all the students sat in class tests last week so had assessments to focus on yet they made huge efforts and all the posters are excellent. The next time I am told that students only do work if it’s assessed I have 9 brilliant examples to prove them wrong!

A huge thank you to my students, you’ve made me extremely proud and I look forward to the opportunity to tell you tomorrow.

Dec 14

Learning Commons observations

Involved in the Parklife project is one of our Learning Technologists and he was kind enough to observe a session in a Learning Commons on Friday, these are his observations:

I’ve observed two Park Life sessions, with the aim of looking at how students use the physical environment and the use of the technology they have to hand.


In both cases, groups seemed comfortable with the concept of dispersing within a designated area and being lightly supervised by roaming tutors. A few students had physical impairments that made the most direct dispersal routes difficult or impossible to use, so forming and reforming on a locus in a Learning Commons should, ideally, be physically easy in a bespoke environment. It was noticeable that groups were less willing to disperse in the last seminar group, but whether this is a sign of wanting to be quickly aware of a dismissal or just the growing darkness making dispersal less attractive is unclear.


During both sessions, groups had been tasked to capture ideas as a group and select a favoured answer or solution. At the end of October, it was noticeable that the most popular way of capturing information was using pen and notebook, with a few laptops and tablets in evidence. In this session, smartphones were widely used for research.


In the December session less research was required as the focus was on collecting opinion, which might account for the lower level of smartphone use, or this might also have been increased engagement with the task. While paper notebooks were in evidence in this session too, fixed and mobile whiteboards, along with student laptops, were much more evident. Efficiently capturing and sharing ideas – especially among the larger groups of four or more – is clearly something that needs facilitation within a Learning Commons.


It would be interesting to know how students are sharing information amongst their groups so that we can consider ways to support them – this might be a physical tool or just advice on how best to do this. I will try and do this informally on my next observation, but it needs to be taken into account in the final survey of student attitudes to the project.

Dec 14

Q&A on Team-Based Learning (TBL)

After my last post Simon Tweddell from the University of Bradford commented about his experiences of TBL and posed some questions, in this blog post I attempt to answer those questions.

1. Do you assess your application exercises?

No.  We are evaluating the impact of TBL by running different seminar groups in different ways, this means the lectures and the assessment remains the same for all students.  I agree though that tying assessment to attendance would likely improve attendance.

2. How often are you teams working together?

The teams have done two ready assessment tests (rats) to date, each with two weeks of follow-up application exercises.  In term 2 (after Christmas) they will do three more blocks like that so over the module they will have 5 hours devoted to rats and 10 hours to application exercises.  In other weeks they work on related tasks, still in their teams.

3. The biggest challenge in TBL is writing significant and challenging 4S applications that are authentic, interesting and written so that the students want to attend. Exercises that relate to their future roles once graduated and ideally that they will be talking about afterwards so those that aren’t there will feel like they’ve missed out.

My application exercises are around the constitutional issues of creating a new State.  Teams are political parties vying to form the first government of a new State – currently the University campus.  Those students who are interested in public law as a career will find that it ties well to their future roles if they wish to work for the civil service or political parties.

4. Ensure students know that the application exercises will prepare them for the end of module assessments, which are also applications and future learning and life beyond the classroom.

There is a clear link to the assessment.  Having started to design the constitution of the new State the coursework assessment requires them to answer the question ‘Should the UK have a written constitution.’  I will ensure that I explicitly draw the links for all the students.

5. Are you using summative peer assessment? Know that poor attendance (or lack of preparation or contribution) will affect the marks given to them by their peers will also incentivise them to prepare, attend and contribute in class.

No – this is for the reasons given in answer to question 1.  However, I agree that it’s a great idea.