2023 Outstanding Innovation in Online Teaching Winner Dr. Amanda Sladek focuses on flexibility and accessibility for online learners

Posted: November 30, 2023 10:00:00 AM CST

Woman and man holding certificate and smiling at camera.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney has 4,244 students who are currently enrolled in at least one online course
 
UNK is filled with excellent faculty who have mastered this new form of instruction students are demanding, including Assistant Professor and Composition Coordinator of English Dr. Amanda Sladek, who the Office of Graduate Studies and Academic Innovation is recognizing with the 2023 Outstanding Innovation in Online Teaching Award.  
 
The Office of Graduate Studies and Academic Innovation created the Outstanding Innovation in Online Teaching Award in 2022 to honor the hard work and dedication it takes to create a successful online course for over half of the student population who take online courses.  
 
“Dr. Sladek is an exceptional online educator, and we are thrilled to be able to present her with this award,” Dean of Graduate Studies and Academic Innovation Dr. Mark Ellis said. “Her dedication to creating innovative online coursework for her students is inspiring.”  
 
Sladek was presented the Outstanding Innovation in Online Teaching Award on November 28 at UNK’s Center for Teaching Excellence's final Teaching Tuesday event of the year. 

Professor and graduate student smiling in graduation attire. 

Sladek’s graduate and undergraduate students also applaud her on her outstanding online courses. 
 
Kenna Grove, a Lincoln high school teacher, enrolled in UNK’s online English M.A. due to the “convenience of attending graduate school remotely,” but she feared it would be disengaging and heavily focus on independent studies. 
 
Dr. Sladek’s classes proved her wrong. 
 
“Dr. Sladek challenged this misinterpretation of the online classroom through her masterful pedagogy as an instructor, consistently sparking class discourse and critical thinking skills through a variety of approaches,” wrote Grove in her letter of support. 
 
One of the approaches Sladek utilizes to engage her online students is flexible assignment formats. 
 
“Even in my asynchronous courses, I like to give my students opportunities to connect face-to-face, or as close to it as possible,” Sladek said. “I schedule an optional Zoom meeting during the first week of class to drop in, ask questions, and get to know each other, with a discussion board available for students who prefer to do it that way.” 
 
She does the same thing with her presentation assignments. Students are allowed to complete recorded presentations and submit them to a discussion board or participate in synchronous Zoom presentation sessions. 

Woman speaking.

“I’m a big fan of building in flexibility where I can,” Sladek said. 
 
Sladek also builds flexibility into her online courses by allowing students to make immediate use of their assignments based on their current jobs or future aspirations, providing multiple unique assignments that best fit each student, and listening and allowing students to create alternative ways of showcasing their knowledge and skills. 
 
Accessibility in online courses is another passion of Sladek’s. 
 
“Canvas has some easy accessibility checkers built in, and there’s a self-paced faculty training course on creating accessible online classes available through UNK Online,” Sladek said.  
 
Sladek says she is honored to receive the award but has UNK Learning Designer Eric Tenkorang, her teaching mentors, and her UNK students to thank for becoming the outstanding innovative online educator she is today. 
 
“I learn from them every day,” Sladek said about her students. “They’re the reason I do what I do.”

By: Heidi Knake

Category: UNK Online, General, Graduate Studies

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