“If you win a THELMA, don’t let it overwhelm ya!” – Bill Bailey.
The Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards (known as the THELMAs), are an annual showcase of the best examples of innovation, teamwork and enterprise in higher education (HE). This year’s awards were as impressive as ever, with leaders from all over the sector coming together for a fantastic night of sector celebration.
This year, Bill Bailey hosted the event in style, even performing a song: "If you win a THELMA, don’t let it overwhelm ya!” – setting the tone for an exciting and entertaining evening.
The Jisc award
Fittingly, we sponsored the award for outstanding digital innovation– recognising the innovative use of digital technology to improve an institution’s teaching, learning or research activity. Entries were varied and impressive, addressing key issues such as access to learning opportunities and research, widening participation, and student wellbeing.
Our winner: Open University - OpenSTEM labs
OpenSTEM labs connects geographically-distributed students to state-of-the-art instrumentation for practical enquiries over the internet, blending real and virtual space. Students are able to connect remotely to various technical equipment such as microscopes, robotic-rovers, telescopes, and a satellite, engaging with a range of environments from analytical labs to a Mars-analogue landscape, and even a mountain-top observatory and a low Earth orbit.
Their use of blending virtual reality marks a step towards making education truly immersive, whilst completely eradicating the barrier of distance for students. OpenSTEM allows learners to access all sorts of places and spaces that they might never have dreamed of being able to experience, by using mixed reality - something that stands to be a real gamechanger in both the HE and further education space.
We wish the OpenSTEM team all the best with their future endeavours, and to congratulate them on all of their outstanding achievements so far.
A shortlist of impressive calibre
A tough category to judge – we’d like to pay tribute to all of the shortlisted institutions.
Here are the rest of the entries, who are using digital technology to support recruitment, student wellbeing, improve the student experience and increase the reach of their research.
University of Liverpool - 'Scholars apply' online recruitment tool
An automated online recruitment tool for the university’s existing outreach programme, which provides a range of support, guidance, and mentoring activities for year 12 students from under-represented backgrounds.
The online application process makes processing applications quicker, freeing up staff time to review qualitative information such as references, and widen the recruitment pool.
University of Portsmouth – 'WhatsUp' wellbeing app
This entry is an app - WhatsUp - that aims to support student wellbeing. It includes functionality for students to track their moods and leave diary entries, with the option of sharing them with the institution’s student wellbeing service. It also offers direct messaging from the student to the wellbeing service, to ask questions and receive support.
The app has notably had some take-up among males and international students, who are less likely to seek help through traditional routes.
University of Salford – course 'MatchMaker'
The aim of this entry was to attract students to Salford during clearing in 2016.
The MatchMaker tool had a ‘Tinder’-style functionality to enabled students to ‘find their perfect match’ in a course. Students simply entered their UCAS points and interests and were shown courses that suited them – allowing them to swipe left or right and to save their favourites.
The tool created a stir, increasing web traffic to the university website and grabbing the headlines too.
University College London – UCL Press, an open access publisher
UCL Press has an open access approach that supports open science by enabling access to its works by researchers all round the world. Their publications are distributed on global platforms in a range of formats, as well as on their own platform.
The approach has dramatically increased the reach of the publications: UCL Press books and journals have been downloaded over 190,000 times in over 200 countries, compared to typical traditional sales of 300-500 print copies globally in a book’s lifetime.
University of Warwick – 'HearNow' feedback platform
HearNow is a digital community feedback platform – delivered your mobile. It gets instant student reactions to questions about a broad range of on-campus facilities and services. Students can opt-in, with preferences on topic, and receive financial rewards for completing survey questions.
HearNow appears to be combatting survey fatigue: it saw an average 40% response rate across nearly 50 polls in the 2015/16 academic year, and the number of active users has grown from 200 to over 13,000.
More from the THELMAs
Find out more about the THELMA awards and all this year's winners on the THELMA Awards website.
You can browse photos from this year's event (including Bill Bailey in full swing) via the THELMAs 2017 Flickr album.