Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Dr. Sean F. Craig, Professor, Cal Poly Humboldt

This site provides examples of instructional resources created in the Humanizing Online STEM Academy, a professional development program funded by the California Education Learning Lab and administered by the Foothill DeAnza Community College District.


Where I was.

At the start of this course, I was somewhat frustrated with my students after 23 years of teaching.  I felt they were often "too busy" to study and/or prepare for exams and learn the material in my class.  However, Because I myself was very "overloaded" with my own work this semester (which was largely my own fault), I found out during this humanizing professional development course what it is like to be late in turning in assignments.  In fact-I got very family with the "late" grade category and I now know what that looks (and feels) like. I suspect that most of that (bad feeling) is not intended-and simply reflects the impersonal nature of the CANVAS grade book.  In addition, I learned how even small issues with the CANVAS course website can lead to frustrations for students first-hand while taking this Humanizing course.  In short-it was an eye-opening and humbling experience to be a student again!  In summary- I entered thinking of myself as a "very empathetic" professor,  but now I know I still have a ways to go to engineer CANVAS to better reflect empathy & support! 

Where I am.

After six weeks of this course, I have gained many insights on how I can improve my interactions with students and make their online experience more "human", warm and welcoming.  I have found the "warm demander" philosophy to be a good one for me-both because I did not realize how barren and cold my online course CANVAS site truly was in the past, but also  because I think the "warm demander" philosophy fits my own personality when teaching in-person classes.   I am now armed with several tools, including Adobe Express, which I will continue to use to make "bumper videos" and small "micro-lectures" that can give students brief and imperfect yet warm and interesting lectures and information.

Where I am going.

I am excited to use Adobe Express and several other tools, such as Flipgrid, to create more warm and welcoming modules in my online CANVAS website!  I plan to develop 1 short "bumper video" for each week's module that gives a brief overview of the animals to come in my Invertebrate Zoology (Zool 314) class.  This will help students understand where the course is heading, as well as keep their focus on "the big picture" (e.g. the major differences among animal phyla).  In addition-I plan to continue to expand the diversity theme I have developed here in this Humanizing professional development course by adding short micro-lectures on why diversity matters in our oceans, on land, and for us as humans.  This theme resonates with me deeply-both as a biologist, an educator and a person who strongly believes that a variety of perspectives helps us to "learn to make a difference" in the world around us-a central theme here at Cal Poly Humboldt. 

Liquid Syllabus

My Liquid Syllabus emphasizes the marine environment and diversity, both major themes of my Invertebrate Zoology (Zool 314) course.  It provides information about who I am, and gives a little bit of my own background in marine science-so that students can get to know me as a human who is unique, approachable, and knowledgeable. 

This syllabus also provides quick information on my teaching philosophy-emphasizing the role of diversity in marine communities as well as in human learning communities.  It lays out the course goals, how to succeed, what materials they will need, and how to get help.  The banners herein provide eye-catching "hints" of the diverse animals we cover and their incredibly varied forms, as well as local field trip sites.  In short-the liquid syllabus itself reflects the theme of diversity in experience, form and content.

Course card for Zool 314

Course Card

I selected this particular image to use as my Invertebrate Zoology (Zool 314) course card because It is a photo of my students on a field trip to the tide-pools in Trinidad, California-right below Cal Poly Humboldt's Telonicher Marine Lab where I teach.  In addition, it shows a diverse group of students who will get to know a diverse group of animals (from sponges to sea squirts) in this class.  Diversity is an emphasis in the course-and I will try to develop more images that emphasize this theme to place throughout the CANVAS site for my class.


My homepage here introduces students to me with an image and information on how to get ahold of me.  It includes very brief and to-the-point information on how to get started in my course in Invertebrate Zoology (Zool 314).  It also inclused something unusual-links to few of the many extra credit assignments I have posted within CANVAS.  These assignments give students many ways of improving their grade-but as the syllabus states, these cannot take the place of "required elements" of the course, but rather are provided so that they can help boost their grade.  I think this signals to the students that I am most interested in them learning about invertebrates--and that they are in control of their destiny and can gain a high grade in the course in numerous different ways.  I feel these serve as a kindness cue for social inclusion of students who may not be "good test takers" or who have anxiety issues during exams.

Getting to Know You Survey

My Getting to Know You Survey is an important tool at the start of the semester to signal both that I am interested in their opinions, and in helping them to succeed. By the time students have navigated to this survey, they should have seen my Liquid Syllabus and Welcoming Home Page. Hopefully-they've started to become more comfortable with me as their instructor and realize I am asking them questions in order to help me help them.

I will use these responses (along with their posts to the "favorite invertebrate" icebreaker direclty below) to adapt my teaching to their interests and needs.

Ice Breaker

In this "ice-breaker" assignment, I have students share their names, pronouns, and their favorite invertebrate(s), as well as why they chose that particular animal.  

This activity immediately fosters a sense of belonging, by connecting students and their real-world experiences, sharing knowledge with one another, and "celebrating" their diverse opinions about an incredibly diverse group of animals-those without backbones.   I believe this assignment will lead to all kinds of shared stories, on everything from different foods and cultures, to field trips people have taken in different parts of the world, to the many different cultural connections people have to animals, and the multitude of  reasons why we all want to conserve the natural beauty and diversity of animals in our oceans and back yards.

 Bumper Video

I've added this video to the page that introduces the 2 week unit on Crustaceans in my CANVAS site.  It serves to introduce the key features of crustaceans, as well as emphasizes the tremendous diversity of crabs, lobsters, etc. found within this group.

I hope the video will improve the student learning experience by providing key differences between crustaceans and other arthropods, as well as provide a theme to focus on as we dig deeper into these animals during "project-driven" labs, where students select different infraorders of crustaceans, collect them live, and present to their peers (in lab) what makes these taxa unique and interesting.

I hope to add more bumper videos to fill this role in the future- both to excite students animals to come in lab (and field trips), as well as distinguish the key synapomorphies (shared derived characters) that distinguish different animal groups.


The micro lesson I have created here explains what Ocean Acidification (OA) is and what causes it.  Most importantly-it connects ocean acidification to some of the many marine animals that it creates problems for, including (in particular) mollucs-animals that have trouble making shells in more acidic waters (and whose shells can dissolve in more acidic conditions).  The student learning outcome this lesson aligns with is "students will understand threats to marine life" and "why these threats pose a problem for all animals on earth".