Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Scott Stambach, Professor of Physics, 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.

I was cocky. During the pandemic, I felt inspired and I built two really cool online courses with over 250 learning glass videos that taught every concept in physics 130 and 131 in a scaffolded step-by step fashion. I had a cool liquid syllabus with lots of welcoming pictures and tips and friendly language. I had a fun inviting course card, which was a gif of propelling jellyfish—a nod all my life science students who struggle to see the connections between physics and the biological world. I spent tons of time training myself to be culturally sensitive and welcoming. I spent years plucking my remaining microagression weeds. This year, I won the teacher excellence award. After all this, I wasn't sure how much there was still to learn. As it would turn out, the execution of Humanizing STEM would push me farther and deeper until I realized just how much better the online experience could be.

Where I am.

I am processing. This course was a six-week firehose of strategies and consciousness and I am exploring how I can integrate it into my course to create an even better experience for my students. Which leads me to...

Where I am going.

I will be revolutionizing. I have so many ideas about how to create an even stronger set of courses that I want to make a sabbatical project out of it. Here are just a few of the ideas that such a project would entail: Creating clearer rubrics and guidelines for exams, labs, and assignments; going back and cleaning up the captioning for all 250 of my learning glass videos, taking more time for specific, kind, and empowering feedback; adding more inviting pictures to module pages; checking in with the class through random flip videos; creating a course discord so that students can share ideas, ask questions, and exchange ideas; experiment with mastery-based grading structures; this and much more.

One final note: I sign up for just about every equity and course development workshop I can get my hands on. I also run my own workshops on equity and active learning. And with this wealth of experience, I can safely say that Humanizing Online STEM is one of the most effective and rigorous professional development experiences I've ever been a part of.

Liquid Syllabus

College syllabi are often dense and draconian documents that seem designed to pack in as many words and rules into a couple of pages as possible. But does it need to be this way?

With my liquid syllabus, I aim to make the syllabus perusing experience almost enjoyable. I want there to be this feeling of, "Oh dang, what happens when I click on this page?" I want it to be warm and inviting. I also want it to be a one stop shop where students can find anything they need for the whole course all in one place.

This is an image of my physics 130 course card.

Course Card

For years and years, students entering a life-science-based career like biology, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, or pharmacology have been baffled about why they have to take physics. I know this because students in my classes have expressed that bafflement for many many semesters.

A few years ago, we solved this problem by building a physics course tailored specifically to life science majors. As such, the content focuses on the many fascinating connections between physics and the life sciences. Making these connections has increased buy-in and reduced anxiety around physics. This course card, a beautiful gif showing the movement of bioluminescent jellyfish, is a way of expressly stating that I plan to make this course relevant to your intended field of study.


This homepage serves as kindness cue in my course because it conveys A) a sense of warmth, color, fun, and B) the notion that I care about making this course simple and easy to navigate for you. Essentially the homepage contains an easy map of the entire course, beginning with a welcome module that includes everything they need to get them started in the course.

Getting to Know You Survey

The "Getting to Know You Survey" serves two essential purposes in a humanized online STEM class. First, it signals to students that their instructor cares about them as human beings and has a sincere desire to get to know them more deeply. Second, it provides us instructors with important information we can use to better teach each student and intervene if students are struggling. Questions like "What might interfere with your success this semester?" and "What have you always wondered about the universe?" are great tools to personalize STEM instruction.

Ice Breaker

This icebreaker also serves two functions in my physics 130 class. First, it begins the process of building community and a sense of belonging by having each student share a bit of themselves (a movie, show, or book they love, and a question about the universe they always wanted answered. Second, it opens the doors to students finding lab partners despite the online format of the class. When students comment on the videos of students they have something in common with, they are encouraged to reach out and invite them to be lab partners. I have found that this signficantly increases the number of students who work with a partner and not in isolation.

Wisdom Wall

What I love about a Wisdom Wall: Not only does it foster metacognition by asking students to reflect on what went well and what didn't work so well, but it also lets students feel more invested and empowered in the course and community because they suddenly get to be the mentors!

Bumper Video

The function of this Bumper Video is to offer some clarity to what I look for when I grade, so students can feel confident and prepared when they take an exam. I've come to learn that the things that I expect from students because of my own education may not even occur to them. This can create a mismatch of expectations. This bumper video is my way of clarifying those expectations upfront, which is only fair to students.


The learning objective for this microlecture is: After this video, students will be able to outline the Principle of Conservation of Momentum before and after collisions and how it is analogous to Principle of Conservation of Energy, which they previously learned.

The video uses a fun technique called the Learning Glass that allows me to write on the screen while students are still able to see me teaching, just as they would in an online lecture. I have also included visual titles as well as pictures of the slide(s) that pertain to this lecture material.