Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Jennifer Garner, Biology Professor, Ventura 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 beginning of the course, I had mostly used video and peer-to-peer assignments as content delivery and to meet state requirements for regular and substantive interaction in my online courses. I taught a hybrid Biology lecture before the pandemic, back when Flip was FlipGrid. I was fortunate enough to stumble across it as one of the embedded apps in Canvas at Ventura College and I was looking for a way to have students practice explaining chapter topics before coming to our in person meetings each week. I expected perfunctory responses from the students and was delighted when they used creativity and sincerity to share ideas and respond to each other. It was the start of my belief that an online learning space can create a sense of intimacy that some students will never experience in an in person class with 30 other people in the room, sitting in rows, facing a white board.

Where I am.

I am excited to bring these humanizing strategies and the new tools into my Spring courses. By starting students off with an ice breaker and a welcome survey, to name just a couple new activities, they will be brought into a learning community where they can expect to feel valued and included. It is an important precedent to set because learning works better when each learner is actively involved and confident that they can succeed. This is an important reason to encourage student buy-in early in the class, especially in STEM courses where so many students have erroneously been sent the message that they aren't "good at science".

Where I am going.

I plan to make some foundational changes in the course that will make it more human at our college. I am revising the course outcomes and student learning outcomes in the curriculum to be student centered and measurable, but also to make them more readable and applicable from a student perspective. I also plan to collect objectives from each of the programs that microbiology students tend to want to attend to make the objectives for microbiology more aligned with career skills. This will humanize the course because students will be able to see that the activities are aligned to course outcomes that are aligned with skills they need to succeed in their chosen career. This way, students will feel more internal motivation to put in the effort and time needed to engage with classmates to learn course concepts in a way that will allow them to solve problems and make important decisions related to microbiology.

Liquid Syllabus

I have, to this point, been using a public Canvas syllabus page linked from the CRN notes in the schedule of classes. It is a pretty standard syllabus, except that I've tried to make it more palatable by using a warm tone and inviting rather than commanding language. However, this new liquid syllabus will give students a better feel of what to expect in the online microbiology course.

I will use the liquid syllabus to share with students in the CRN notes and in the email I send during the registration period to make sure students know what to expect from the class. One important item that I included in my liquid syllabus is the cost of the lab materials. Because the cost for the kits we use in distance ed labs is so high, I want students to know well in advance of the start of class so they have a chance to enroll in a different section if the cost is more than they can afford. Until the college decides it is it's responsibility to cover the materials costs for all microbiology lab students, not just the in person lab students, I will need to be proactive about shairng this information.

Three lab students

Course Card

I selected this image because it shows real excitement about science. These are students who are working with DNA for the first time in a lab at Ventura College. I am especially fond of this image because it comes from a high school science camp we hosted at the college. The student on the right is one of my microbiology students who served as a mentor for the high school students and the delight in the experiment is genuine. I would like my courses to inspire curiosity and provide learning through discovery .


I created a homepage with a module navigation video I created for my 100% DE class this semester. When students log into the course for the first time, I want them to see bright and cheerful colors. Orange is also a Ventura College color. I also like the photo that shows a person of color using the microscope. Too often students do not see themselves as scientists. I am also hoping that the brightly colored depiction of bacterial cells will make microbiology seem fun.

Getting to Know You Survey

This survey is to help me get to know my students better as individuals. I want to get a sense of the skills each person brings to our learning community and needs of our class as a whole. I also want students to know that their thoughts are important to me. Students will compete this survey in the first week of class and it will set the pattern for the reflections we will complete at the end of each learning unit in the course.

    1. You may have noticed that people are sharing their pronouns in introductions, on name tags, and at the beginning of meetings. This gives everyone in the room the opportunity to self identify instead of assuming someone's identity or which pronouns they use. The pronouns I use are she, her, and hers. If you would like, please share your pronouns that you would like me to use, below. You may select more than one answer choice if that is your preference. If you prefer not to share this information, there is an answer choice for that too. I will offer the pronoun options in alphabetical order of the first word.

    2. What is your biggest fear about taking a class 100% online?

I will refer back to the survey questions frequently. When I reach out to students, I will first check for their preferred pronouns, and also for their work and courseload demands, as well as their career goals. It helps me suggest a customized strategy for approaching whatever task is in question and align the microbiology objectives to career skills that will resonate with each individual student.

Ice Breaker

My ice breaker assignment will serve two purposes. First, it will give students the chance to share a value and item that represent something personal and important to them. It is human nature to have more positive feelings about a group activity/product when there is personal input. The second purpose of the ice breaker is to guide students through the reflection process that we will use throughout the semester. According to John Dewey, we do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. I use reflection activities after each unit to ask students to consider how well they learned content, what strategies for learning are working/not working for them, and how they contribute to and benefit from peer learning.

Wisdom Wall

As my students share the ways that they learn that they could overcome obstacles, that it's going to help new students see that they can do the same. So, this is the Canvas page that students will see at the end of the semester to complete this activity as a complete-incomplete scoring system. I want them to know that I believe they have the ability to grow in their own learning skills and that I'm really interested in collecting their ideas. They will need to complete this to move on to the final graded activities for the semester. By completing this activity, I want my students to see how far they've come in their science learning and share the belief that anyone can improve their skills for learning new ideas with incoming students.

Bumper Video

This bumper video is used like bumpers would be used at a bowling alley, to keep students from angling too far from the target to the point where they would get stuck in the gutter and not able to change direction. Students are asked to write a mini-report at the end of each unit to apply topics from the chapter lessons to situations they identify from the case study they discussed as part of the unit activities. I will use this video to redirect student attention back to resources already embedded in the unit module, but perhaps the students haven't imagined putting them together for this purpose. The most imporant outcome for this video is to help students develop skills for making the most of available resources to analyze and apply course concepts.


This microlecture is about the microorganisms that are present, for good or ill, at Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. The learning objective is that students will identify pathways for transmission of pathogens and epidemiological patterns. It is one thing to identify microbe characteristics and transmission pathways in course assignments and completely different to view situations that are familiar from real life and recognize the impact that microbes have been having long before one becomes aware of them. How many of us have blamed a bout of food poisoning on the food that just came back up? Students should recognize that different pathogens have different mechanisms of causing signs and symptoms and vary in their incubation periods.Students also need to recognize that not all microorganisms are pathogens. This will improve student learning experiences by applying lessons from course content to fun topics, because what is more fun than talking about vomit and diarrhea?

This site is by Jennifer Garner 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.