Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

 Susan Russell, MA

Saddleback College

Economics Department

Mission Viejo, CA

Econ 4: Principles of Micoreconomics

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.

Before this course I considered myself a pretty good online instructor as I have been working on my online courses for the past three years. I have always focused on getting content across in a straightforward and efficient manner. My due dates were clear and there was little deviation from the "rules". I felt equality equaled equity, albeit in a chilly course climate. 

I have always provided online lecture videos but my first priority was getting the course content across. I spent hours, days, and weeks editing out filler words- ahs, ums, likes and other silly mistakes- with the end goal of appearing close to perfect...and robotic. It never occured to me that students actually like seeing the "human" in their instructors. 

In addition I expected students to think like me and learn like me.  I had never distinguished dependent vs. independent learners. Aren't we all independent? 

I basically did my best to avoid any and all emotions in my teaching. If I came across as warm in my videos, great, but if not, that is okay because it was never on my radar to attempt to do so.

Where I am.

After this course I find myself visualizing students in a manner other than merely brains ready to ingest information. I have become more understanding and empathetic to students' situations. I am more flexible in due dates and no longer view efficiency as the most important factor in online teaching. Viewing the videos in this course, as a student, has made me realize than connecting on a human level, not just academically is essential for widespread success with different types of groups. I'm striving to become more of a warm-demander than a cold one.

Where I am going.

I am working on changing my course to make it more inviting. I am doing this by creating more short personalized storytelling videos before and after tough lessons. I also intend to offer more alternatives to assignments to work towards closing the inequity gap amongst students who come from cultures different than my own. I will encourage more student-student interactions by retrofitting my current Discussion Boards to include prompts that promote their own storytelling and highlight differences and similarities between students. I will make supplying warm feedback as more of a priority and use video when appropriate.

Liquid Syllabus

This liquid syllabus was created to serve as a "Welcome to the course! I am delighted you are here!" for students.

 A printed syllabus is provided on my Course Canvas Page that covers the class in more detail but this liquid syllabus gives students an overall view of the class.

I always include the statement "I hope you are as excited as I am to begin our journey through the land of economics!" so students know we are in this together.

Microeconomics course card with student studying.

Course Card

My image shows a minoritized woman working at a computer, much like an economics student. 

More men major in economics and I always have a lot more male students, so this image is shown to combat the stereotype notion that only men can be good with graphs and numbers. Everyone can be successful and is welcome in this course.


By adding humanizing touches to my homepage I hope to give students  a sense of belonging. I want to unintimidate the class- as in, make it feel softer (as some students feel intimidated by the subject).

I include a lot of personalized information about myself to show that I am human and even include a picture of my cat (who doesn't like a cute orange cat?).  

By including information that goes beyond my credentials I hope to encourage students to feel comfortable and trusting enough to share parts of their life with me and their classmates.

Getting to Know You Survey

This Online Survey fits in along with my Meet and Greet Discussion Board in the first week of the course. This will help me identify those students who may have added challenges at home and/or anxiety about the class.

 One question I ask, "How do you learn best?" allows me to understand which students rely more on video vs. reading vs. more hands on activities. I can then adapt my content and assignments as needed.

Another question, "What is the one thing that is most likely to interfere with your success in this class?" allows me to understand students' situations better and provide support and resources where needed.

Ice Breaker 

This ice breaker assignment fosters a sense of belonging by allowing students to share the core values that are important to them. 

When students show an object from their home, it creates an opportunity for others to also relate to the item and in turn, relate to each other.

Reading and replying to each others posts allows student to bridge connections with one another.

Bumper Video

Opportunity costs are the cornerstone to which modern economics is built. This topic is revisited repeatedly in both my economics courses.

In addition, it is a topic that can help anyone and everyone make better choices about how they spend their time, money and energy.

This video was created to explain opportunity costs at the most basic level so that those maybe not so familiar with it's relation to economics, can understand how these costs affect everyone all of the time (they just might not be aware of them). 


Within the subject of microeconomics there is a topic titled "Game Theory".  Game theory is how we analyze decision making amongst big companies that are considered oligopolies. Sometimes these companies make decisions at the same time (simultaneously) and sometimes one at a time (sequentially).

With the help of this video, the learner should be able to understand how to analyze a game tree and in effect, successfully evaluate how one player's actions affect another in sequential-move games.