Tim Greenhalgh on the BT Higher Education Awards, co-sponsored by THES.
Two events on the same day last week at British Telecom's London headquarters underlined the breathless pace of cultural change dictated by internet technologies.
BT announced radical restructuring plans that focus on e-business opportunities presented by broadband internet and mobile services. The company also announced the end of its Higher Education Awards and its replacement next year with a lifelong learning awards scheme.
The Higher Education Awards, co-sponsored for the first time this year by The THES, have been an annual feature since 1993. More than Pounds 4 million has since been distributed to projects that have supported the extension of teaching and learning through information and communication technologies.
Five universities were presented with awards totalling Pounds 462,000 by Auriol Stevens, editor of The THES. The awards, from BT's Community Partnership Programme, were made following 70 entries from institutions nationwide, judged by a panel of experts and educationists including Tony Durham, THES web editor.
Robin Pauley, BT's group communications director, said the company had a commitment to encourage experimentation and innovation in the application of information and communications technology (ICT) to support teaching and learning in higher education.
"These awards are a tangible way of supporting higher education, at the same time as encouraging our institutions to be creative in their approach to addressing the lifelong learning process," he said. "All these projects offer new approaches to the delivery of learning and training within the sector and provide replicable good practice that can be promulgated to a wider audience."
Each of the five projects addressed one or more of the main four bid categories, which emphasised: widening access and participation; improving living and learning environments; innovation in curriculum and staff development; and improving employability.
The University of Derby, awarded Pounds 96,500, scored in all four departments with its project to analyse the potential of the internet for voluntary organisations and enhancing employability skills.
"Everyone benefits from this award," said Denise Haslam, head of the university's career development centre. "Voluntary organisations will have a low-cost but high-quality option for investigating the potential of the web and email, while students have the opportunity of paid work experience to boost their business know-how."
Jonathon Darby, director of technology-assisted lifelong learning in the department for continuing education at Oxford University, said the Pounds 100,000 award for their project to provide an online health-care information service for young mothers would enable the department to provide the educational model for telemedicine as it moved into the mainstream of health-care provision.
"This is an exciting opportunity to bring education to the place where it is needed most - the home - and to make it relevant to each woman by basing the education on her own health data," Mr Darby said.
The University of Portsmouth will also seek to widen knowledge and participation through the provision of a multimedia local training and educational network.
Ken Devine, senior lecturer and course coordinator, said the Pounds 98,126 award would facilitate the development of a centre for creative empowerment that would allow previously excluded groups to take part in the creation and distribution of developing e-culture.
Wider distribution was also a target for Sean Cavan, head of lifelong learning at Sheffield Business School, through the Pounds 81,220 award to Sheffield Hallam University. The university's project will develop online delivery of training to promote the use of the European Foundation for Quality Management Excellence Model.
"'Know thyself' is a philosophy that underpins EFQM and we hope to make this concept accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises," he said.
The University of Wales, Swansea, was awarded Pounds 86,294 to provide a remote-learning network for health-care workers (eWard), which aims to bring clinical authenticity to distributed learning.
Mike Tait, head of the school of health science computer-aided learning team, who will be developing the package, said: "We believe the eWard project will significantly enhance our students' learning experience. We are also pleased the project is being supported by our nursing lecturers and by the clinical nursing specialists at our partner National Health Service trusts, as they will all play a key role in ensuring that the scenarios are as clinically authentic as possible."
WINNERS: VOLUNTEERS, YOUNG MOTHERS, LOCAL EDUCATION, STUDENT NURSES, SMALL BUSINESSES
University of Derby (Pounds 96,500) Connecting People: Project-based analysis of internet's potential in the voluntary sector
This project aims to help 20 voluntary organisations become familiar with new technologies and benefit from a communications and information needs analysis.
Twenty students from the combined subjects programme at Derby, who are not IT specialists, will undertake a work-experience placement with voluntary organisations. They will get support from 20 students in IT and computing subjects and from 20 business mentors.
The project aims to enhance students' employability through the development of IT, communications, presentation, organisational awareness and project management skills. It will also allow the students to develop support and consultancy skills. Some elements will be accredited through the National Open College Network. Students will be remunerated via the university's student employment agency.
University of Oxford (Pounds 100,000) Combined telemedicine and learning environment for young mothers
An integration of personalised online education and health-care information to improve life opportunities for young mothers and children.
Focused pre and post-natal education will improve the effectiveness of the mother's medical intervention by better interpretation of data and online access to expert advice. This will increase the mother's familiarity with ICT and build self-confidence through contact with online peers and mentors.
The project will develop a system for the online delivery of health and other educational services. It will also provide learning materials on ICT and access to online careers advice.
University of Portsmouth (Pounds 98,126) Media Communities
This project will develop a community training and educational network in digital technologies in a partnership between the university, local education authority, primary and secondary education, community and residential associations and other council agencies.
It will provide learning opportunities in areas of Portsmouth that are under-represented in higher education. Through collaboration with community-based agencies, it will deliver interrelated activities.
Four institutions will connect through an intranet. A key aim is to engage disaffected and excluded young people in the production of multimedia materials. Certificates will be awarded that can be used as credits against pre-access courses at the university.
University of Wales, Swansea (Pounds 86,294) eWard: Multimedia remote learning care simulations for nursing students
The aim is to develop and evaluate an online electronic ward with a modular structure, each module simulating the care of a patient from admission to discharge.
The user will learn about the care of patients with particular conditions and develop skills in the design of care plans. Each scenario will be based on a patient with a set of conditions that changes over time. The user will have to design an appropriate care plan every time they visit the ward.
The project will provide training for about 1,000 nurses and health-care workers, who will become more familiar with ICT. It will rely heavily on remote-learning technologies and widen IT access to a predominantly female workforce.
Sheffield Hallam University (Pounds 81,220) Excellence online
The European Foundation for Quality Management Excellence Model is widely acknowledged in the UK and Europe as a powerful tool for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations through self-assessment, benchmarking and business planning.
Led by Sheffield Business School in partnership with Sheffield Hallam's school of education, this project will develop a new approach to the delivery of the model through the use of communications and IT to support training for organisational assessment using the model and an associated web-based benchmarking resource.
The target group will be small and medium-sized businesses.