Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Amber Toland Perry, Instructional Design Technology Specialist, Cuyamaca 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.

At the start of this academy I already had some experience thinking about humanizing my online presence through previous @ONE courses and professional development opportunities with Michelle Pacansky-Brock. I had been using a liquid syllabus for several semesters and incorporated short bumper videos into my course. However, I struggled with making my presence more obvious in assignments and sometimes hesitated doing so much video when conditions seemed less than ideal. I admit that the added workload of captioning for so many short videos seemed like a lot on top of the other work that comes with online teaching.

Where I am.

The course has renewed my commitment to humanizing my courses, and now that I am in a new role as a faculty support person, has invigorated me to suggest strategies to faculty. Some of my techniques were more reinforced, like in the liquid syllabus, and I learned some new tricks and strategies. Seeing examples of what other folks in the cohort were doing helped as much as the facilitator instructions. I discovered a more streamlined captioning process and realized how helpful it is to have lots of video options in assignment descriptions (especially on Flip, where the video instructions also make participants more comfortable showing their face). These techniques help balance the workload that can conflict with the desire to be more present.

Where I am going.

I think it can be easy to get lost in the tools and strategies introduced in a course like this, where the true significance is in recognizing (and remembering) the role that kindness and caring plays in promoting learning. Kindness is a practice, like teaching. We are continuously working at it, getting better, but never perfect. Sharing these strategies is of course also important, because translating that kindness to students online can be challenging. For me, I need to remember the big picture of what I want to offer my students. I'm definitely interested in helping students meet the learning outcomes and successfully complete the class, but more generally I want my students to feel like they have become more capable at something as a result of being in my class no matter their final grade, even if that's just knowing more about their own needs.

Liquid Syllabus

This liquid syllabus will be given to students before the semester begins in order to make them feel more comfortable going into the course, as in it they will get introduced to me in a friendly, personal way, get a sense of what the course is about, and see how approachable I will be with assistance. This will be especially helpful for students who may be having anxiety about the course or learning online.

Course Card

I choose this image as the background to my course card because Black men currently have one of the largest retention and success gaps in online courses, so I wanted to include an image that would make this demographic feel included. Also, as a white teacher, including a minoritized student in my course card seems especially important to signal inclusivity. This inclusion should be followed through within the course, with the use of other inclusive images and voices of BIPOC.


My humanized homepage welcomes students and signals that I am here to support them. The word welcome is repeated throughout and my welcome video echoes the sentiment. I present myself as accessible and kind, through the short video introducing myself to the many ways they can contact me for help. The home page is designed for clarity in what to to next and approachability.

Getting to Know You Survey

This survey is given to students during the first week of the course, as a part of us all getting to know each other and as a small way to ask students to reflect on their feelings and goals in relation to the course.

I always ask students for what they prefer I call them and if they want to give me any pronouns. I also direct them them to how they can change their display name and pronouns in Canvas if they wish. I usually ask them for pronunciation tips, though in this survey added a note suggesting they use the audio recording. This shows them that I want to make them comfortable in the course and make sure I refer to them as they wish, increasing their sense of being valued in my class. I always take not of this to make sure I address students correctly.

I also added a quotes about one word that describes how they feel coming into the course. The class I had in mind is a general education course that many students have negative feelings about. Asking them to reflect on this serves as metacognitive work and also shows their feelings will be valued. I will take these emotions and talk about trends with the class, perhaps with a word cloud, which increases students' sense of belonging as they see others also feel mixed. This will allow us to talk about negative feelings that might be the result of stereotype threat or imposter syndrome, which may reduce those negative feelings.

Ice Breaker

I was already using Flip for icebreakers because I realized the power of students hearing and seeing each other early on in the semester to humanize each other. However, I changed the prompt of this icebreaker to contain only self-affirming options whereas before I had a self-affirming option mixed into other choices. I realized that to emphasize the significance of self-reflection work, starting with an icebreaker with this kind of reflection work made sense and would also allow students to connect with each other beyond a surface-level, helping to create more sense of belonging.

Wisdom Wall

This assignment asks students to share what they have learned at the end of the course, imagining what they might tell their past self or a future student about what helped them be more successful. (This task could also work after a major assignment or midway through the semester.)

The benefits are two-fold. With students' permission, this can be shared to future students to provide them tips for success before they start the course work. Hearing past student voices may be more impactful than hearing advice from the instructor. Additionally, seeing that the instructor cares enough to solicit this personalized wisdom could further humanize the course for that future student.

However, this task also benefits the student sharing wisdom, as it guides them to do metacognitive work, reflecting on what they have learned and what strategies have an have not been successful. This not only reinforces their learning, but also helps them next time they practice the skills. This metacognitive step encourages viewing learning and a continuous process and their skills and knowledge as not fixed.

Bumper Video

This bumper video is a brief introduction to a module and would be part of a module overview page. It adds a touch of human to what could otherwise be a dry page (and in this case about a technical-feeling topic). Starting this way might make the content feel more accessible. This particular module is a part of a self-guided course for faculty, so adding bumper videos would also increase instructor presence, making the student feel more supported.


This micro lecture is intended for faculty as I am not currently teaching students, but the functionality of a mini lecture piece that can be a part in a series is on display. This is intended for instructors to learn how to deal with disruptive Zoom participants. It can stand alone for a just in time use or it could fit within a series of micro lectures about Zoom tools. Alone it is not enough to teach an unfamiliar Zoom user, but separated it becomes more useful than if it were part of a 20-30 minute long Zoom lecture session because it will be better retained in a smaller piece and is easier to rewatch for review.