Nottingham Trent University
Annual NTF Symposia

#ANTF2024: Where passionate people meet radical robots – The future of a WISER HE sector

Julie Hulme is the Deputy Chair of the Committee for the Association of National Teaching Fellows, and Professor of Psychology Education at Nottingham Trent University

I had the privilege to organise and host our annual symposium at my own institution, Nottingham Trent University, this year, and I can honestly say I loved every minute of it. As the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the ANTF, it was a real joy to bring together the best of the higher education community, in the form of National Teaching Fellows, CATE winners, and our friends, and to hear about the fabulous and innovative work happening in the sector right now. A humungous thank you to everyone who made the event so fabulous – the inspiring speakers, the friendly and interactive delegates, the committee members and everyone who chaired sessions, the team from AdvanceHE who worked so hard behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly, and the events and catering teams from NTU, who showcased what our university has to offer. A shout out too to NTU student interns, Riman and Ben, our photographers for the event.

But of course, underneath the fun, the hard work, and the friendships, there were some important lessons to learn from each other. In this blog, I want to share a little of my own learning from the conference.

There was definitely a futuristic theme running through this year’s symposium, with many of us exploring what Artificial Intelligence (AI) might mean for higher education. This is slightly scary territory for me, as a self-confessed technophobe, but also fascinating to hear about potential and opportunities. In particular, Jenny Lawrence and Lee Fallin shared their “pearls of wisdom” on the ethical, sustainable, and inclusive use of AI to enhance higher education. I loved the idea that trainee counsellors could safely practice their skills on a chatbot before being let loose on real humans, for example! Likewise, Holly Henderson and Debbie Holley brought Prof Ed McFly to life for us, and made us wonder whether bots could do the teaching for us (my biggest question about this talk is when they are going to take over the marking!). There is no longer any doubt in my mind that the future of higher education will involve innovative use of AI on the part of both teachers and students, and we will need to navigate this new terrain both boldly and with caution. I am reassured by the knowledge that we have wise experts in our community to lead us on the journey.

So, shall we all hang up our clickers (they still seem newfangled to me!) and leave teaching to the bots? A newcomer to the ANTF scene, NTU PhD candidate Stephen Eccles, offered us a very clear “no” in response to this question, in his Psychology in the Park presentation. Aware that his students were feeling anxious about upcoming assessments, Stephen organised a walk in the local Arboretum, with his three lovely dogs, with opportunities to ask him questions about what to expect and how to prepare. Being outside, connecting with nature, each other, and the animals, brought a new perspective and sense of being cared for to the students. Stephen sensitively reflected on ways of achieving similar outcomes for all students, ensuring inclusion, and concluded that the really important lesson he learned was that he needs to relate to students as fellow human beings. Learning is about connection.

This message was reinforced at every moment throughout the conference. One highlight for me was Chris Knifton’s exceptionally insightful and reflective talk on being a “role model” in higher education. As those of us in the workshop explored the concept together, we recalled Michelle Morgan’s comments last year about “real models” rather than “role models”, and gradually came to appreciate that what we really need is people who bring their authentic selves to universities, and who are compassionate and caring. There it is again – the human touch, the connectedness that underpins true learning and education.  

And we, as human educators, bring some incredible attributes into our institutions. Liz Mossop, our pre-dinner speaker, encouraged us to get creative and craft a representation of the strengths we bring to higher education. Some of us, for whom pipe cleaners and art supplies were too “old skool”, turned to AI and generated visual images of their superhero selves; you’ll find some examples on X (formerly Twitter) if you search #ANTF2024.

So there we are – all done for this year, but I hope feeling energised, motivated, and invigorated, and ready to collaborate with each other and those newfangled bots through another year. In the coming weeks, we’ll be hearing from our presenters and speakers, and we hope to share recordings of our keynote panels – so there’s plenty more on its way to keep you going until we’re back again. You can also find the abstract booklet, with the names of presenters, on the National Teaching Repository, via our very own DOI:  

And on that note…watch this space for more news on #ANTF2025! We’ll be at NMITE in Hereford, on 20-21 May 2025, and I simply can’t wait to see you there! Find out more about our location here:

#ANTF2025 promotional video

The image/link above should take you to our #ANTF2025 promotional video, should the technology not be working in our favour please try: