Between pursuing research, staying up-to-date on the latest developments in their fields and ensuring they’re creating engaging learning experiences both in and out of class, professors have a lot on their plates. For many, the significant impact they have on student engagement and success often goes unsung.

To celebrate the essential and often remarkable role educators play in the lives of students, each year Top Hat recognizes three exceptional college and university educators at our annual Top Hat Engage user conference. The Top Hat Educator Awards honor professors who use Top Hat in novel ways—experimenting, bringing consistent passion to their craft and constantly raising the bar to improve learner outcomes.

From over a hundred submissions, three professors were chosen to receive awards for Most Innovative Educator, Top Author and Student Impact.

Most Innovator Educator Award

The Most Innovative Educator Award is presented to the professor whose boundary-pushing use of Top Hat has created a better online learning experience for their students before, during and after class. Top Hat was privileged to announce three finalists for the award: Elaine Bohorquez, a professor of Poultry Science at North Carolina State University, Ching-Yu Huang, a Biology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and Demian Hommel, a Geography instructor at Oregon State University and the winner of this prestigious award.

Hommel was nominated by Oregon State colleagues David Goodrum, Director of Academic Technology, Lynn Greenough, Associate Director of Learning Platform Services, Lyn Riverstone, Student Response System Product Manager and Inara Scott, Assistant Dean for Teaching and Learning Excellence, who wrote: “Demian Hommel is a frequent contributor to faculty learning circles and provides mentoring, encouragement and inspiration to faculty with his innovative use of Top Hat. His use of Top Hat as a text and to make the classroom experience more active and engaging inspires me to be a better teacher and educator.”

Hommel was honored for creating a rich, multimedia learning environment for his students. His efforts include using his own self-authored, interactive Top Hat textbooks and empowering students to invest in their own learning through engaging questions and discussion boards. “I’m lucky in teaching geography that there’s the power in learning more about our planet—to be transformed by what you learn,” says Hommel. “Any possible day, any minute, there could be an ‘aha!’ moment or an experience where a student realizes how important it is to recognize some of the changes that are happening.”

See why Professor Hommel was so deserving of this year’s Most Innovative Educator Award:

Student Impact Award

The Student Impact Award is given to a member of the Top Hat community who excels at connecting with students both inside and outside of the classroom to improve learner outcomes. There were three inspiring professors chosen as finalists for this award: Joab Corey, an Economics professor at the University of California, Riverside, Albrecht Classen, a professor of German Studies at the University of Arizona and Sarah Sletten, a Biomedical Sciences professor at the University of North Dakota, who was this year’s Student Impact Award winner.

Sletten was nominated by over 50 students who attested to her dedicated support and impact as an educator. Here’s what one had to say: “Dr. Sletten is always willing to work with me—I can meet with her before or after class or any time she is in her office to answer my questions or entertain my hypothetical microbiology scenarios. She is so passionate about sharing with her students and she does a fantastic job integrating activities into her lectures.”

Sletten was recognized for keeping learning relevant to students’ everyday lives, bringing heart and humor to her lectures and inspiring even the most introverted learners to participate with enthralling questions and discussions in a flipped classroom environment. “I want students to really truly enjoy coming to class,” says Sletten. “Top Hat has been a really great way to help make that class an exciting, more interactive, welcoming environment.”

See what makes Professor Sletten’s class so engaging:

Top Author Award

The Top Author Award was created to celebrate an educator who has used Top Hat’s full suite of authoring tools to create a particularly original, innovative and outcome-driven educational resource. There were three ground-breaking finalists for this award: Ricardo Nogueira, a Geosciences instructor from Georgia State University, Isaac Wiegman, a professor of Philosophy from Texas State University, and this year’s award-winning author, Katie Thompson-Laswell, a Family Studies and Human Services professor from Kansas State University.

Thompson-Laswell designed her interactive textbook to make course material relevant and easy to learn for students from diverse academic backgrounds and, perhaps most importantly, to help them save money. As one of her student nominees put it: “Professor Thompson-Laswell has found a unique way to convert her intellect of Human Development into an easy to learn and retainable curriculum. I feel that the way our course work is designed and presented—not only in written form, but also in video and picture—provides students with an accelerated possibility of finishing the course successfully.”

Thompson-Laswell’s dynamic tome provides a holistic learning experience before and after class, allowing students to come prepared and ready to engage during lecture. She has built a curriculum—intertwined with her textbook—rich with interactive multimedia content and different types of assessment questions and videos, to create an engaging and thoughtful learning experience. “Students today pay a lot to go to university and they really do worry about the cost of their textbooks,” says Thompson-Laswell. “I wanted to provide an affordable textbook option that they would really engage with and enjoy. Now, they’re definitely coming to class more prepared.”

See how students thrive in Professor Thompson-Laswell’s course:

On behalf of the entire Top Hat team we’d like to congratulate this year’s Top Hat Award finalists and recipients. These inspiring individuals are true agents of change in the classroom. Their example is an exciting reminder of what’s possible when educators combine their passion and experience with the power of technology to elevate the learning process for students.

To learn more about how Top Hat can help professors and students thrive in a remote or in-class environment, get started here.

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