A DEDICATED lecturer who transformed his theatre workshop into a “unique online learning experience” has been recognised as the UK’s best.

The University of Essex’s Dr Liam Jarvis was presented with the Most Innovative Teacher award at the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) Awards.

Widely recognised as the ‘Oscars of higher education’, the awards attract hundreds of entries from individuals, teams and institutions from across the UK and Ireland.

Dr Jarvis, who was one of eight UK lecturers shortlisted for the national award, was recognised for his quick thinking and imaginative response to the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

His ingenuity in response to the pandemic saw him give his students £40 out of his own pocket each year, giving them just 30 minutes to decide democratically how to spend it.

Read more: 'Welcome to Colchester' - gateway gets revamp as part of £11m project

He also developed digital performance workshops which allow students to explore, with industry professionals, how computing and interactive technologies can inform performance practices.

The lecturer was further recognised for transforming his intensive creative theatre workshop into a unique online learning experience in a matter of weeks.

It ensured his students didn’t miss the chance of a lifetime to work with actor and director Mella Faye.

By redirecting departmental funding for cancelled conferences and research trips and negotiating a deal with theatre-streaming service LIVR, he sent 25 virtual reality headsets around the world.

This meant his students could watch performances, take part in storytelling workshops and pitch their own reinvention of a Greek myth, from wherever they were in the world.

Dr Jarvis said: “Winning this award has been wonderful and unexpected.

“My interest in theatre has always been as an inherently collaborative practice, which can be challenging at the best of times.

“But lockdown restrictions have put the collaborative dimensions of our discipline to the test, imposing new sets of limitations, unforeseen personal barriers and new ethical sensitivities.

“What I have learnt from our extraordinary Essex drama students, colleagues and invited professional theatre-makers during the pandemic is our phenomenal collective capacity to adapt in surprising ways.

“I’m proud to dedicate this achievement to those teachers and students negotiating the complex challenges we face.”

Dr Jarvis continued: “Beyond my own achievements, this award is so important for drama teachers across the UK because of the seismic logistical and pedagogic challenges we have faced in a discipline so heavily impacted by the restrictions of the last 18 months.

“The visibility this award offers to our collective efforts - not just mine - is extremely important and I’m proud to dedicate this achievement to those teachers and students negotiating the complex challenges we face.”

Also celebrating at the event was the university’s Library and Cultural Services team, which was a finalist in the Outstanding Library Team category for the second time in three years.

Speaking at the event, THE editor John Gill said: “The Times Higher Education Awards have been recognising outstanding achievements in UK higher education for the best part of two decades.

“But, never before have they shone a light on the level of effort and creativity that was demanded of universities throughout the 2019-20 academic year.”