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The State Regents’ Council for Online Learning Excellence (COLE) recognized faculty members, administrators and two university teams for their outstanding work during Friday’s State Regents meeting.

Dr. Kathy Essmiller, open educational resources (OER) librarian at Oklahoma State University, was honored with the Oklahoma Online Excellence Award for Open Education Impact. Kara Stanley, instructional designer at the University of Oklahoma, was honored with the Oklahoma Online Excellence Award for Accessibility. Dr. Niccole Leanne Miller, adjunct professor and senior director of strategic initiatives for student success at the University of Central Oklahoma, was honored with the Oklahoma Online Excellence Award for Teaching. Christala LaFay Smith, director of the Center for Instructional Development and Technology at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, was honored with the Oklahoma Online Excellence Award for Individual Leadership. The Oklahoma Mesonet Outreach Team was honored with the Oklahoma Online Excellence Award for Team Leadership. The IDEA Team of the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments at UCO was honored with the Oklahoma Online Excellence Award for Innovation.

“Online learning is a vital component of Oklahoma higher education,” said Chancellor Allison D. Garrett. “With more than 300 fully online degree programs available across the state system, our colleges and universities provide innovative, academically rigorous online education options that expand college access and enhance flexibility for the students we serve.”

As the inaugural recipient of the Open Education Impact award, Essmiller played a crucial role in the development and success of OSU’s OER program, OpenOKState. Her work has been guided by the Diffusions of Innovations theory and has helped create a community of OER practitioners at OSU and across Oklahoma. She was praised for her attention to implementing sustainable innovative practices, such as course marking, to help students locate courses that use no-cost materials. She also guided faculty through the process of Backward Design to ensure content is aligned with instructional needs.

Stanley has been recognized for improving course accessibility and developing a new accessible course template that launched in fall 2022. She regularly champions accessibility needs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in her work at OU, and encourages the use of assignments that go beyond the typical discussion, quiz or essay to engage students and make learning more accessible.

Miller was honored for developing multiple resources to support students and colleagues, including winning more than $40,000 in awards and grant funding to support student success and retention initiatives for UCO’s College of Business. She also advocates for mothers completing doctoral programs, regularly speaking to classes and volunteering on panels to share her experiences.

Smith was noted for her work in micro-credentialing and implementing research-aligned course templates and review processes for online instruction. Additionally, she led Southeastern’s transition to a new learning management system and designed virtual reality enabled modules for online, blended and face-to-face courses. She also works with Southeastern’s Career Management Center to facilitate online and/or blended course modules to meet local workforce needs. She is a founder and chair of the Oklahoma Canvas Area Network and now shares her expertise in online and blended learning among the recently established Oklahoma Education Commission.

Oklahoma Mesonet, a world-class network of environmental monitoring stations, was designed and implemented by scientists at OU and OSU. Mesonet’s Outreach Team demonstrated leadership, innovation and adaptability by rapidly converting in-person certification classes into professional and well-delivered online classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team has also mentored undergraduate students, supported the Oklahoma Science Olympiad, and provided life-saving weather data, access to important tools, and high-quality training for public safety officials, emergency managers, and federal wildland firefighters across the state.

The IDEA Team at UCO, led by Robert Wall, practices an iterative design method that allows for continuous refinement to maximize effectiveness, which has been used on a variety of projects ranging from website development to classroom simulations. The team built a virtual reality crime scene simulator, which allows students and faculty to immerse themselves in a virtual crime scene and solve simulated murders using cutting-edge technology. The team collaborated with faculty members to develop the simulator, which has had a significant impact on crime scene investigations and the educational experience of UCO students. The team has collaborated with the Lumina Foundation and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and published all projects with open-source code to make these solutions scalable and deployable for any size institution or program.

The State Regents’ Online Education Task Force formed the COLE in 2016. COLE is comprised of faculty, staff and administrators representing each tier of Oklahoma’s public and private colleges and universities, as well as other entities connected to online learning technologies. As part of the ongoing effort to improve online learning, COLE members recognize the excellent work of faculty, staff and administrators at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities. The Oklahoma Online Excellence Awards were established in 2017 to formally recognize individuals and teams for excellent work in online or hybrid learning. Nominations are submitted by peers and judged by a committee of COLE members. For more information about the awards and current and previous awardees, visit