Online Learning Consortium Announces 2021 OLC Accelerate Award Winners

BOSTON, Mass. (August 19, 2021) — The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) announced the 2021 OLC Accelerate award winners today, celebrating peer-reviewed excellence in digital teaching and learning practice and scholarship, equity and inclusion, and open education.

“The OLC Awards program is an opportunity to showcase leadership and innovation in the field of online, blended, and digital learning,” said Dr. Jennifer Mathes, Chief Executive Officer of the Online Learning Consortium. “We are thrilled to amplify the inspiring work of our winners, and look forward to announcing the 2021 OLC Fellows class soon. The awards program allows us not only to celebrate the incredible work that has been done by our community in the past year, but to look forward to what is possible in the year to come.”

This year’s OLC Accelerate award recipients include the following list of winners:

Michael Tassio, Aaron Zachmeier, Nandini Bhattacharya of the University of California Santa Cruz, who received the Excellence in Faculty Development for Online Teaching award for their submission entitled Integrated Course Design for Remote Instruction. As a result of this self-paced faculty development initiative, online courses at UC Santa Cruz improved in not only accessibility but also other access issues highlighted and made visible by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Center for Online and Continuing Education at Florida Atlantic University, who received the Excellence and Innovation in Online Teaching Award (Instructional Design) for their submission entitled Engaging Online Students in Immersive, Interactive Science Lab Experiences. The virtual lab gives students an interactive visual exploration of the laboratory space, with a particular focus on what they need to know to achieve course objectives. Exploration of the lab environment is made possible through the use of relatively inexpensive 360-degree cameras and virtual reality goggles or computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Sandhya (Sandy) Maranna of the University of South Australia who received the Excellence and Innovation in Online Teaching Award (Faculty) for her submission entitled Creation of Innovative Digital Assessments to Enhance Higher Order Thinking in Medical Sonography Students Studying Courses Related to Women’s Health. Maranna notes “my online teaching approach is underpinned by the conviction that students are motivated to learn when they understand the sense of purpose in the learning strategy.”

Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler of the University of Washington, Seattle who received the Leadership in Equity and Inclusion in Online Learning Award for her contributions to the field of digital learning exemplifying the principles of equity and inclusion in spaces of accessibility. One of her nominators noted that “Sheryl was one of the first educators to think about universal design in online education, and her work over the years in creating ideas and resources to benefit students with disabilities and others have had an immeasurable impact.”

Dr. Sherri Restauri of Coastal Carolina University, who received the Gomory-Mayadas Leadership Award in Higher Education for her contributions and in recognition of her leadership in the online education community. One of her letters of recommendation had this to say: “Dr. Restauri sleeps, eats, and breathes online education, not because it is her job, but because she believes in the transformative power of education and is dedicated to building platforms that make it easier for all people to access that power. She is a visionary, and her transformational leadership on our campus has made us all better educators.”

Dr. Barbara Means Executive Director of Learning Sciences Research at Digital Promise, who received the Online Learning Journal Outstanding Research Achievement Award in Online Education. As a recent example of her work, this year her article Teaching and Learning in the Time of COVID: The Student Perspective (co-authored with Dr. Julie Neisler) was featured in the 25th Anniversary issue of Online Learning and focused on the emergency transition to remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her research portfolio is vast, as is her research management and administration experience, and the Online Learning journal is thrilled in selecting her for this year's honor.

Dr. Mariann Hawken and the Instructional Technology team in the Division of Information Technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who received an Effective Practice award for their project entitled Planning Instructional Variety for Online Learning (PIVOT). PIVOT reached about 70% of UMBC’s faculty, and the majority of participants said the program was helpful for their pedagogical shift to online teaching. Faculty found their role as students in the training course and access to peer mentors to be among the most valuable aspects of the program.

Linda Merillat of the School of Nursing at Washburn University, who received an Effective Practice award for her project entitled Interactive Teaching Design (ITD): A Proven Faculty Enrichment Program for Online Teaching. ITD combines key elements from teaching and learning with principles from interaction design. It can be applied universally, but it is especially useful for designing learning experiences facilitated using online environments.

Dr. Liz Owens-Boltz, Brittany Dillman, and Candace Robertson of Michigan State University who received an Effective Practice award for their project entitled MA in Educational Technology (MAET) Blog Series and Mini-MOOC on Remote Teaching. The blog series and mini-MOOC provided educators with building blocks and critical lenses for no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech strategies to create the equitable and accessible learning experiences possible during the sudden shift to remote instruction due to COVID-19.

We invite the public to join us for a free panel discussion and celebration at the OLC Accelerate Virtual Awards Gala, taking place on Monday September 20, 2021 at 7:45 PM as a part of the OLC Accelerate virtual program. More information can be found at Further, opportunities to engage directly with these winners are currently being scheduled for after the conclusion of the OLC Accelerate conference, when a selection of these award-winning individuals will be hosting free public webinars for the OLC community. The final schedule for these webinars, as well as the announcement of the 2021 OLC Fellows class will be announced in a future release.

About the Online Learning Consortium
The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is a collaborative community of education leaders and innovators, dedicated to advancing quality digital teaching and learning experiences designed to reach and engage the modern learner – anyone, anywhere, anytime. The growing OLC community includes faculty members, administrators, trainers, instructional designers, and other learning professionals, as well as educational institutions, professional societies and corporate enterprises. Visit for more information.

Media contact:
Dr. Jessica Knott
AVP of Community Strategy, Experience and Management