Humanizing Online
STEM Showcase

Heather R. Roberts, Professor of Biology, Sierra 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.

I thought I had my online teaching fairly dialed in. I honestly could not have been more disillusioned by thinking that. I used a little bit of technology when creating the online portions of my course. But time was so short (especially during the pandemic, when the proverbial “stuff” hit the fan), that I kept putting off much-needed changes to my online approach. I was very strict about deadlines. I mean, THESE are the folx that will be taking care of me when I have a heart attack someday. Surely I couldn’t be lenient with them, right? I wanted my students to be professional and find reward in getting good grades. It was chilly.....I was not a warm demander, nor did I totally focus on creating trust. And as a faculty member in STEM, I never thought about opening up my personal life to my students. I kept my private life, well….private. I didn’t have a liquid syllabus (nor did I really know what one was), and I certainly didn’t have any social presence in my class. I gave kudos for good work, but could have elaborated more on how to improve. That being said, I do feel that I exhibited many kindness cues for my students, and that I had an above-average level of teaching presence.

Where I am.

Crazy excited!! I simply cannot explain how much benefit I have gleaned from taking this course. I am now a more warm demander, more empathetic, create a higher level of growth mindset in my students, and am more “real”....taking the chill out of my class. I will say that it is still difficult for me to dive into my students’ lives, but I anticipate becoming more comfortable with that as time moves on. I am now more empathetic with my students, while still maintaining the rigor in my class. And my technical skills are now much more advanced. I really enjoyed learning about the tools available to me to make my course more attractive and engaging for my students. I am really stoked to send out my liquid syllabus to students before next semester, and to instill a growth mindset for my students to be successful.

Where I am going.

I can’t wait to keep working! I have already started implementing some of the ideas presented in this course, and I am eager to revamp my entire course to make it more humanized. Obviously, this isn’t something that can be completed overnight. I imagine I will only be two steps ahead of my students during the next semester. But I anticipate having a much more amenable online class by Summer 2023. For the immediate future of this semester, I plan to send out video announcements each week which depict me in a more humanized element (previously, I was simply sending out Canvas announcements without audio or video). I also plan to be a bit more empathetic when it comes to late work from my students. And of course, I will be using my new-found knowledge of Adobe Express, YouTube Studio, and Flip to create a more warm and engaging class for the rest of the Fall semester. I am so thankful to have been a part of this cohort. My instructor, Alex, was extremely supportive and modeled the course ideas in her own presentation of the material each week. Thank you!!

Liquid Syllabus

A liquid syllabus is an web-based document that allows access to important information about the class, without requiring the students to log in to any particular learning system. It can instill a warm welcome to my students before the semester ever begins. This is a shorter version of my Canvas syllabus, but will present the most important information that students need to know before Day 1. It will be an excellent way to introduce myself to students (Welcome Video) without being under the intimidating guise of the Canvas course shell. It will also instill some kindness cues straight away. So hopefully my students will feel that my class will serve as a safe place for the entire semester.

I even anticipate inserting a link to the OpenStax online text that we use in my course. In this manner, students can feel welcome to begin reading ahead before the start of the semester, if they choose. Students will also readily have my contact information, so they can ask questions, or otherwise reach out if needed.

Canvas course card showing the title of the class as Human Anatomy and picturing 8 diverse medical professionals

Course Card

After the liquid syllabus, this Canvas course card will probably be the student's next exposure to my class. The vast majority of my students aim to go into Nursing. I selected this picture because it shows numerous medical professionals of different genders and races. In my community, it has been voiced that latinx and black patients wish to encounter more medical professionals of color. And that if there were a higher number of nurses, technicians, and doctors of color, they would be more apt to seek out medical care when needed. Hopefully this course card will provide a warm welcome and some front-facing encouragement for all students.


I feel that my Homepage is definitely a work in progress at the moment. So it still has a significant amount of improvement that needs to take place before it is ready for prime time. That being said, I hope my students will feel welcomed into the course with a bright, beachy banner at the top. I then follow that with a casual welcome video that shows them around the Homepage, and shows them how to access the Orientation Module.

I tried to keep my Homepage really simple, without too much clutter or items that can be clicked on (so students don't start going down the proverbial rabbit hole before even getting to the Orientation). But I did keep a few "clickable" key items - the Announcements link, the Modules link, and the Grades link. I finished off my Homepage with my contact information. So all of the critical info and links can be accessed directly from the Homepage, and students don't have to hunt and peck their way around.

Getting to Know You Survey

My Getting To Know You Survey will be one of the first assignments my students get to complete. My goal is to start building that trust in my students, and foster an atmosphere of warmth and care early on. After reading each question, my students will hopefully understand that I have a vested interest in their lives.

One question I ask is "What is one thing that is most likely to interfere with your success in this class?" This question serves two purposes. Not only does it allow me to better understand what may be going on in a student's life beyond class, but it will provide an opportunity for the student to reflect on their potential challenges before the class ramps up. Many times, it seems that students do not think about these challenges until we are deep into the semester. In looking at the student answers for this question, I can do early outreach to ensure students are on the right path.

A second question I ask is "Is there anything else you would like to share at this point?" I highly recommend that they use the Canvas tools to record an audio or video response to that question. Not only does this prompt provide another opportunity for a student to note any challenges for me, but it also provides an early experience in trying to use the Canvas recording tools - before they need to accomplish it for a graded assignment.

Ice Breaker

In my Ice Breaker assignment, I ask the students to reflect upon their life and think about their core values. I then ask them to select an object that is meaningful to them, and that represents one or more of those values in their life. Hopefully the students will like this "show and tell" and it will allow me to have another nugget to further develop those relationships with them.

I anticipate placing this assignment at the beginning of Week 3 in my course. My students will have just completed their first exam, and I would like to do a mental "reset" with them after that (the first exam is typically quite difficult for them).

Wisdom Wall

The Wisdom Wall will be placed in my Week 1 module, as I feel it's important for my new students to understand some of the key takeaways that past students have to offer. Even though I state that it's important to manage their time wisely and start the modules early each week, my current students will heed the advice of former students more readily than hearing it from myself.

When current students hear past students reflect on their struggles, it will foster metacognition. They can think about their individual situation and make any needed adjustments ahead of time to ensure their success. They will hopefully realize that past students have struggled with parts of the class in the past....and ultimately excelled! And then hopefully they'll realize that they have the same potential.

Bumper Video

Before taking the Humanizing Online STEM course, I typically sent out weekly introductions through a written announcement in Canvas. Now that I have Adobe Express knowledge at my disposal, I find that creating these quick introductory videos is easy, and they are more much effective. I am already receiving positive feedback from my current students about the fun videos with music. This particular bumper video serves the purpose of a general weekly module introduction related to the heart. Moving forward, I plan to use videos much like this for each weekly module. This is much more attractive than a boring written announcement.


I think making the Microlecture was my favorite assignment of the course. Perhaps it was because I had more tools in my toolkit, or perhaps I was still riding the high of enjoying the class so much. Either way, the Microlecture assignment instilled quite a bit of growth mindset for me. Given my new-found knowledge, I am excited to start revamping the learning materials in my class. I know it will take time, but it will be worth it.

The learning objective that I chose for this microlecture is "Distinguish between basic terms related to anatomical landmarks and anatomical position." This is a daunting task for all beginning anatomy students, as it involves memorization and learning words in another language. This would typically be the very first lab topic of the semester. So I want to capture their attention, give them confidence, instill a positive attitude, and let them know that we are in this together.

Currently, my presentations (lecture and lab) are 20-30 minutes in length. Moving forward, I plan to "chunk" those up into smaller segments during revision. The end products will all be less than 10 minutes.