Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Kammy Algiers, Professor of Biology, 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.

When I began this course, I had already taken courses that helped me become a better online instructor and had learned some skills to help students succeed. However, I had not seen specific STEM data, and the immediate need to make a change became apparent to me. I needed to take a step back and reflect. There's a misconception that STEM students are too busy learning content to building community and trust with their faculty. This is far from the truth. STEM students have higher equity gaps than non-STEM students, and we need to act quickly to address this.

Where I am.

I have now realized the immediate need for faculty in STEM to take action in humanizing their course. I realize how much little things like adding an image or a 2 minute video can mean for a student. For some, it could be a difference between finishing the course or dropping. I see that STEM students are struggling with the organization of their course, are feeling isolated and struggle with a lack of instructor communication. Content can be difficult in STEM, but course design and communication should not be. I'm now more aware that I need to step back and really consider how I come across to my students. I hope I come across kind, caring, and present. I realize that no matter how good I make my class content, they are less likely to succeed if I am not a humanized instructor.

Where I am going.

I plan to be present and kind to students and help them build trust and community with me and their classmates. I plan to engage students with video and audio feedback more on assignments. I plan to encourage video interactions in group activities between students. I plan to be more present and always consider what it feels like to be a student in an online class who may have come in already feeling isolated. I want to be the one that breaks that cycle and welcomes them into STEM. And in my professional development role, I'd like to help other STEM faculty see the importance of a humanized course.

Liquid Syllabus

I plan to email my students the liquid syllabus before the semester begins, in hopes that it will make them more excited and less nervous about starting the course. I hope the various student services links help students reach out early on if there are services they could benefit from. I also hope they can see that I'm here to help them succeed.

Principles of Biology Fall 2022 Course Card with gecko licking its eyes.

Course Card

For my course card, I used an image of a gecko licking its eyes. This is actually a movable gif, but I did a screen shot so you can't see it 'move'. I found this humanizing because its a cute animal (and this is a biology class), because I studied herpetology and I talk about that in my course and let them know I'll be using lots of lizard examples, and because the gecko licking its eyes is actually an adaptation. Geckos don't have eyelids so its their way of keeping their eyes moist!


I tried to create a welcoming homepage that gives my students some quick bits of information they need:

1. How to navigate the course &

2. How to communicate with me.

And I hope this is done in a humanized way, and students feel welcomed and connected.

Getting to Know You Survey

This course can be found on my orientation module (week 1) and is often due the first week of the semester. I use this survey is several ways. When I first read through, anything that needs to be addressed right away, I address with the student.

I also leave little notes for myself in the 'notes' section of the gradebook. For example, I have a question about what name they'd like me to use. If student goes by a different name, I write it in the gradebook notes. I also have a question about other obligations students may have outside of class. If they are significant, I can refer to this as I see their progress and communicate with them, especially I began to see that they are struggling in class.

Ice Breaker

For my ice breaker, I want to use a term used by biologists, biophilia, the love for nature, to have student share something about them. I ask them to think about their biophilia and share it with their classmates. This could be their love for hiking, for a pet they have, for plants they like to care for in their house, or the nature documentary shows they enjoy to watch. This allows them to share something personal with classmates and also think about how they connect with nature.

Wisdom Wall

For my wisdom wall, I ask my students at the end of the semester to share some wisdom (tips) to future students. I have them think about how far they've come and what they've learned, and tell others what they've done right to help them get here today.

In the beginning of the following semester, the new students get a chance to listen to, read, or watch what their classmates from the previous class have left for them.

Bumper Video

This wasn't the best bumper video because I did not have music or additional images in there. I think I would re-record this using Adobe Spark. However, it is a start!

The purpose of this video is to give students instructions on how to use padlet for their canvas assignment. The padlet assignment allows me to give them to option to share examples of interesting organisms, rather than me sharing examples with them. It gives them choice, a voice, and allows them to be creative a bit. It also allows them to share why they chose the organism they did, so there is some personal connection with the assignment.


For this micro-lecture, I introduce students to ecology, and the various types of ecologists that exist. This introduction is used prior to them going on a field trip of their choice to visit a specific biome and learn about different organisms and their adaptations. This is an assignment for my online non-majors biology course.