Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Ruth MacNeille, Human Biology Instructor, Modesto Junior College

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.

  • Good intentions: At the beginning of this course, I held intentions of being humanized and accessible. I intended to develop my course to include 1) my welcoming presence, 2) student-to-student interactions (including video), 3) self-reflective opportunities, and 4) providing constructive feedback (including with video at times). Despite these intentions, I was at the beginning of learning how to present empathy, explicitly celebrating diversity, and be a warm demander. For example, I made a liquid syllabus I thought was a great tool for first contact with students, but I had this strong feeling it was overwhelming and students were not utilizing it much. The course was friendly, but my effort fell short of being accessible to my students. It needed to be refined. The 4 aspects above are aspects I have grown in through Humanizing STEM to improve in future semesters.

Where I am.

  • Improved skillset and appraoch: I am in a place now where I feel much better equipped to refine my course and integrate the humanizing components in ways that will communicate them to my students. I feel I have developed my teaching practice, pedagogical approach, and technological skills (like increasing comfort in using my phone and video platforms including youtube). I am excited to use these tools to better communicate that I believe in my students, celebrate diversity, myself as human, and encourage my students to share themselves more as well. I am making changes-based learning from the humanizing practices shared by my collogues and by reflecting on the structure of my course from assignment to semester scale. For example, my liquid syllabus has improved and is a more welcoming tool and less of my entire course expectations. I think this is less overwhelming.

  • Transferable: While this training specifically supports humanizing practices online, a context in which it may be harder to achieve, I feel it has strengthened my approach in ways that will translate to teaching in person as well. I feel more confident in my ability to be a warm demander and communicate empathy while also communicating high standards.

  • Supporting online learners: Lastly, I am excited about online teaching as an accessible way for students to work towards learning and career goals. The intersection between accessibility and technically setting up the course fluidly was demonstrated, and I have improved. Examples of this are embedding videos so they are easily viewed on a phone, using youtube (not just studio), and having apps on my phone to support my teaching. I appreciate this growth.

Where I am going.

  • Growing students' sense of belonging, community, and accesss: I will continue to develop materials that better support my students and improve the structure of my course to support students’ sense of belonging and my communicating empathy, and course accessibility. For example, I have many bumper video ideas I am excited to create that I think will improve my course. One of the clearest take aways is the reminder to reach out to students and how to give effective and supportive feedback. I want to restructure my course such that I utilize week-long small groups, so students get to know each other and foster more consistent community. This course invigorated me to continue to think critically about how to bring students into a learning community that celebrates their experiences.

Liquid Syllabus

Welcome! A first contact tool to welcome students before the semester begins. I approached my initial draft (developed the semester prior) as an entire course syllabus so students could poke around and use throughout the course. Guidance from the humanizing STEM short-course suggested that the liquid syllabus should just be a tool to welcome students and my reflections were that students were not using the site much (based on first video views). I realized my site needed to be more accessible and welcoming. My liquid syllabus improved with people-oriented images, a personable video introducing me, more explicit mention of the strength of diversity, and less information.

Course Card

Friendly humans welcome you to human biology class.

People: My course card has had an upgrade! Although I used a custom image I thought conveyed a cool biology topic (the brain!), I realized it was distant, cold, and not explicitly welcoming. It conveyed “science,” which although is the topic of our course, can also be exclusive and uninviting. I replaced this image with an image of people because we are learning about human biology! I think this is more welcoming.

Home Page

Inviting: My homepage also got an upgrade to include more images of people, warmer tones, and welcoming video.

Getting to Know You

Specific questions: I refined my student survey to have more specific questions about student 's preferred learning methods and communication methods for class feedback.

Some example questions:

  • In one word, describe how you are feeling about this class.

  • How do you like to receive class feedback from me? Is written, video, and/or voice ok?

  • What do you know about how you learn? What works for you? What doesn't?

Do you learn by: Video lectures? Taking notes? Drawing (to learn)? Verbally describing something? Teaching others (to learn)? Discussions? Review questions?Practice Quizzes?


Food of significance: I ask students to introduce a food that is significant to them and to explain why. I chose this because I plan to utilize time chunking more where students may introduce themselves throughout the semester within smaller groups. I think this may build stronger community around class activities that are interactive but may not foster a sense of knowing one another. This topic is related to the digestive system and offers a moment of personal connect to this common, shared, and value-based experience.

Wisdom Wall

Student voices and learning reflections: The wisdom wall highlights the power of student voices by asking students from previous semesters to pass on their experiences to current students. I will use it at the beginning of class to help ease student fears and throughout when it may benefit students to focus on growth throughout the semester.

Bumper Video

Increase engagement: Bumper videos are concise (under 2 minutes) and engaging introductions or highlights single challenging topic. My bumper video will introduce an assignment I adapted to my online course to promote an understanding that science is based on observations as evidence that support claims. However, that science is also tentative and revising claims based on more evidence or a new perspective is an important component of the process of science. I have ideas for other bumper videos in my class including RNA vs DNA, transport across a cell membrane, and hydrophobic/hydrophilic properties.


Area for growth: This microlecture is a component I am still developing more. The microlecture is 10 or under. So, the topic has to be focused. This microlecture is related to the course student learning objective that genetic information can be transferred through generations. It reviews Punnett Squares, which make offspring predictions based on inherited alleles.

I was excited to make a video that used drawings but this is a video type I had difficulty finding an online method that worked well for me. Of all my newly developed materials, this drawing microlecture took the most time. I feel drawing diagrams out for students can demonstrate note taking and emphasize keys points. Thus, this is a skill I would like to practice more and consider where it would really benefit my students.

This site is by Ruth MacNeille and is shared with a Creative Commons-Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 license. Creation of this content was made possible with funding from the California Education Learning Lab.

This site is by Ruth MacNeille and is shared with a Creative Commons-Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 license. Creation of this content was made possible with funding from the California Education Learning Lab.