Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Danielle Hicks, Instructor of Anatomy and Physiology, 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.

Entering this course, I considered my courses to be fairly humanized already. I have always tried to be intentional about creating a warm classroom environment and have made it a priority to reach out to students personally in the beginning of each semester. I was excited to take this course to learn more tools for creating more engaging assignments and activities - "big" changes. What I didn't expect to learn was the many "small" but impactful changes that can be made to humanize a course. I have learned that humanizing a course impacts every aspect of instructing a course, from the appearance of the course card to the tone and warmth with which you write emails.

Where I am.

This course has given me so much inspiration and so many ideas. Prior to this class, I had a lot of goals but never had the motivation to sit down and take the time to fully learn how to create video discussions or more engaging lecture videos. I now have so many resources available to me that I feel confident using, such as Flip, Adobe Express, Screencast-o-matic, and Google Sites. These no longer feel so overwhelming, so I will be able to utilize these tools to create more engaging resources and assignments for my classes.

Where I am going.

My biggest goal going forward is to create more projects that I can build into my course, to give students more opportunities to create. I have found this to be a particularly valuable aspect of this course, and I realized how much this is lacking in my own course design. I think because this can be more challenging to grade, I have avoided giving students projects that they can really take ownership of. I would like to provide students with opportunities to create short videos on a single concept and create art that demonstrates their mastery of a topic. My goal is to take the next few semesters to design some of these assignments and incorporate at least one each semester. I am hopeful that by asking students to engage the higher order thinking skills, they will reach a greater level of mastery over the concepts in this class. I think this will serve two purposes: first, they will develop a better understanding of the topics in physiology that will help them as they pursue careers in healthcare and science, and second, they will develop better study skills and know what is needed to really grasp complex content.

Screenshot of Danielle Hicks' Liquid Syllabus site

Liquid Syllabus

I have developed a liquid syllabus that I will share with my students a couple weeks before the start of each new semester. On this page, I introduce myself in a welcome video, where I share some about my personal and professional life. The goal of this video is to create a warm and positive first impression with my students, so they will see me as a real person who cares about their lives and success. The liquid syllabus also communicates to students that they will be well-supported in my class and that all people are welcome, through my teaching philosophy statement, our pact, and a complete list of student support resources at MJC. I also hope students will gain a sense of clarity about the class, as I share the course goals, how they can reach me, advice for success in general, and what they need to succeed in week 1.

Screenshot of humanized course card for Physiology

Course Card

I chose this image for my course card because it feels lighthearted, brings a sense of joy a tough science class, and of course features a black female scientist. I would hope that this image would make all races and genders feel welcome and like they truly belong in science and healthcare!


My goal for my week 1 homepage is to keep everything clear and only provide the most helpful information for students as they're trying to figure out what they need to see and do for the first week of my class. I also hope to establish warm and kind presence right away by having an inviting and clear homepage that students see when they log in.

I hope that by providing the first modules along with where to find announcements and ask questions, they will feel like they know where to start. I created the banner using Canva; I hope it makes students excited for all of the material they are about to learn in this physiology class!

Getting to Know You Survey

This survey will be due at the end of the first week. My goal is always to write a personal response to each student by about the end of the second week, setting the tone for providing warm, wise feedback.

This survey encourages metacognition by asking them to set goals for the semester and reflect on what typically "works" for their learning:

"How would you like to grow through completing this course? What goals do you have?"

I also ask students to identify what they are excited to learn about in the class. I want to encourage them to begin cultivating a sense of excitement towards their studies, which is something I really emphasize to my students:

"What are some things you are excited to learn about this semester?"

Finally, this survey also helps me to identify high opportunity and high context students who might need extra support and contact throughout the term. This is especially important to know at the beginning of the semester, when students are most likely to drop.

Ice Breaker

The goal of this ice breaker activity is to help my students get to know others in their section and begin building a supportive community, since this class is highly collaborative. To do this, students will be sharing a story using Flip within the first week of the semester. They will be asked to share a story about why they are going into their career or field of choice, or why they are taking this class. By sharing stories, student will establish a sense of belonging in the class and will be able to identify other students they might want to connect with further. It will also help establish a safe space where everyone feels valued when sharing in a more vulnerable way.

Wisdom Wall

The wisdom wall is an important humanized element that will serve two purposes in my courses. At the beginning of a course, it allows for incoming students to hear from their peers and be encouraged as they begin this new and challenging course. I hope that it will give new students ideas for how to plan and organize their time to succeed in this class. I also hope that it helps students see that even if they are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, they will be able to handle the challenges they face, just like so many others have already done.

Second, at the end of each term, this provides students with an opportunity to reflect on what has helped them successfully learn and grow throughout the semester. This should help students see how much they have accomplished throughout the term and recognize that they have overcome any feelings of anxiety and doubt they might have had at the start. The goal is to encourage students to adopt a growth-mindset by encouraging reflection on their learning experiences.

Bumper Video

This 3-minute video provides a focused explanation to a clinical application question on a lab assignment. The four points that I walk through in this video are all key parts of an important reflex mechanism that I want my students to know.


Microlectures are meant to be short and focused on covering only one learning objective or topic. This approach to lecturing helps students clearly understand the goals of each lecture and allows them to rewatch videos on specific topics. This microlecture provides an introduction to the reproductive system in physiology. This is meant to explain sexual reproduction and the role that gamete production plays in sexual reproduction in humans.

This site is by Danielle Hicks 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.