Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

 Sue Kurnett, Chemistry Professor, 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 attended a Webinar with Michelle Pacansky-Brock a few years ago on how to create a liquid syllabus. I was truly inspired by this experience, and immediately started using the liquid syllabus format for my courses. I also had already made several videos using my phone, Camtasia and YouTube to humanize my courses before participating in the Humanizing STEM Academy.  I had icebreaker activities, a getting to know you survey, and  videos explaining more about me and my life to my students. And of course, we all  learned about captioning all my lectures since the start of the pandemic. I sometimes collected "words of wisdom" from my in-persons students and shared them. I had no prior knowledge of adobe express. Even though I was aware that there might be equity gaps in my STEM courses before this, I didn't know what they were or have a clear path to closing them.

Where I am.

This experience has been so valuable. I am now much more aware of the barriers that stand in the way of STEM students belonging to marginalized groups. The academy taught me that there are biases in the way that STEM subjects are traditionally taught and that they are not inclusive of many cultures. To account for these biases one of the best things an instructor can do is incorporate cues of kindness and acceptance into their course to warm the course climate, which will help combat the imposter syndrome and the lack of belonging that gets in the way of actual learning. I also learned how building trust is imperative if you want to be a warm demander. I now have eight elements that are designed to do just that, summarized below, that I will utilize in all of my courses going forward.

Where I am going.

The academy was a fantastic way to validate that my previous efforts to humanize my course are not only a good idea, but necessary to be inclusive for all of my STEM students. The experience was also a great motivation to keep improving and humanizing. As I begin to implement what I have learned from the academy into my courses, I hope to see some positive feedback in many forms; improvements in students' grades, performance, and a drop in their anxiety. I am also hoping to see a reduction in equity gaps of students in marginalized groups. I predict that these improvements will be successful, and going forward I will only continue to build upon the work I'ved done in this class. For example, I plan to make bumper videos to introduce each topic for next semester's class.

Liquid Syllabus

My liquid syllabus provides a simplified syllabus with information on how to be successful in the first week of class. It provides personal and professional information about myself and my teaching philosophy, so that my students can begin to establish trust. This syllabus contains a course pact and support links, which help demonstrate that I care about my students' learning before the course begins.

A group of happy, goggled students pretend to goof around.

Course Card

I chose this photo for my course card because it is a great group of students that were in my general chemistry course a few years back. It is a diverse group. And they are being (safely) silly. 

Home Page

Before this academy, my Home Page was filled with a wall of text. Now, my Home Page serves as a kindness cue by welcoming my students with a video catered to being inclusive. In less than 2 minutes, my students are able to get a feel for the presence and environment I bring to every lecture. There is even a fancy “Start Here” button that allows them to hop straight to the that week’s Module. In just two steps, my students will gain everything that the previous wall of text gave them, with an additional sense of belonging.

Getting to Know You Survey

As instructors, we know that the culture of our class varies section to section depending on the group of students we have enrolled. The Getting to Know You Survey plays a crucial role in seeing what type of students are this course this semester. This survey will be conducted within the first week’s module which serves as a Welcome/Orientation Week. Two examples of questions I will be asking are:

1. What is the one thing that is most likely to interfere with your success in this class?

2. What can I do to support you? 

Ice Breaker

In this ice breaker activity, students drop a pin on a Google map that I've set up for our class. They are given instructions on how to do this. And after they've share their "place in the world" are encouraged to respond to their peers. The pins and responses were priceless!

Wisdom Wall

One of the things that I enjoy most teaching chemistry is watching students grow in their confidence and ability to learn as the semester progresses. I offer opportunities for reflection and ideas about metacognition, or thinking about how we learn, throughout the course. But the students learn the most by watching and talking to other students. 

This Wisdom Wall gives students who contribute an opportunity to think about their growth and pay it forward to the next class. Students watching the Wisdom Wall get to see and hear from students that have been successful, giving them hope that they, too, can be successful!

Bumper Video

This video is an introduction to the sixth of eight chapters in our course.  Making this video and thinking about where it would be introduced (through Remind messaging app before the week begins and also on the homepage for the week) made me realize that this would really highlight the point of the chapter before we begin. For example, in this chapter, Electrochemistry, it would be great for the students to understand that the BIG concept is  batteries, before we dive into the weeds. Making this, it occurred to me that starting with the big idea would probably illuminate every chapter. Plus, it was fun to make!


This video explains the steps and gives an example of how to balancing a redox reaction. Balancing redox reactions is one of several important skills that students learn in chapter 20 of our course. Having this skill taught through video allows students to learn at their own pace, stop the video, and go back to previous steps as needed. It puts them in control of their pace of learning.

This site is by Sue Kurnett 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.