We are celebrating a record-breaking year at the University of Essex with our incredible work receiving four nominations in the prestigious Times Higher Education Awards. This is the most the university has ever received in one year and is the joint highest for 2023. As the University marks our 60th anniversary we are proud to highlight this outstanding achievement across our teaching, research, and professional services teams.

Most Innovative Teacher of the Year: Dr Rebecca Warren

It’s not surprising that Dr Rebecca Warren is dedicated to challenging traditional perceptions of what the role of an academic should be – and to providing a transformative education.

The senior lecturer from Essex Business School has witnessed first-hand the difference education can make. Driven by a desire to do the same for today’s students, she developed Democracy in Action, a unique course that sends students into the community to develop real-life campaigns through community organising methodology from Citizens UK.

Students describe Rebecca as “an extraordinary teacher who possesses a spark, with the ability to create such in the students she teaches”.

Growing up, Rebecca’s family faced challenges with money and housing. Eventually accessing social housing, a door was opened to higher education, and she became the first in her family to study A-levels and go to university.

“Access to transformative education is very close to my heart – it can change someone’s whole life,” she said, “it changed the trajectory of mine.”

She isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of education and research. She is passionate about making change, and empowering others to do the same, and it’s for this reason that she developed Democracy in Action.

Open to final-year students across all departments, the course makes important links between the University and the local community. Students drive real-life campaigns making a difference on issues that matter and acquiring skills along the way.

No-one knows the impact of Rebecca’s role more than her students.

The first cohort to take part in the fully-fledged module in 2021-22 (following a pilot in 2019-20) are quick to tell you how her innovative teaching was a transformational experience.

They talk about her being a “rode model” and an “inspiration”. They emphasise how they felt valued and engaged, how she had time for everyone, and that she went above and beyond all expectations.

When talking about the course itself, they say it was “one of the most rewarding parts of my degree”, “incredibly stimulating”, and “uniquely positive.” As well as students saying it “radicalised” their learning experience, there is an appreciation for it teaching them about the real world.

“This unique and out-of-the-box module introduced us to the real world. It taught us about the struggles, but at the same time comforted us by showing how many people care,” said one. They also appreciated her openness and encouragement for feedback, and how she uses it to inform her professional development – to which colleagues also testify.

“Rebecca integrates her own reflexive practice into the course by conducting surveys and exit interviews, but also by creating a safe and comfortable environment for students to feel comfortable giving feedback throughout the year,” a colleague explained.

Her students all agree that Rebecca should be recognised for her commitment and innovation:

“Dr Warren being nominated for such an award somehow feels like a personal achievement for me. I would bet that most of her students from Democracy in Action would echo my feelings. This is because of the life changing impact she has had on many of us.”