Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Angela Madsen, MS

Life Science Instructor at 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


Syllabus presented as just text on a screen

Where I was

Before this Humanizing STEM course, I did spend a lot of time thinking through my course design and trying to make myself appear as open and approachable as possible. However, all of my attempts to convey this were given entirely through email and Canvas announcements

Syllabus presented with text and colorful images

Where I am

This course helped me format the course itself in a way to show my personality and approachability. My liquid syllabus, homepage, and welcome video now greet students with emojis, pictures, colors, and spunk. And as a bonus, I've learned several new technological tools and lecture techniques I can incorporate to make better lecture videos and easier-to-follow content

Confetti on a sky blue background

Where I am going

In 6 months time, I am going to reevaluate to see what worked and what didn't work. I hope to have better student retention and more student engagement as compared to this semester. My in-person classes tend to do more video submissions and email me more frequently. I hope to even that out by being more "present" in my online classes!

Liquid Syllabus

I had heard the name Liquid Syllabus previously, but this is my first experience really working with it. A liquid syllabus is very different from a regular syllabus - in fact, you should probably have both in your class. They do two separate functions

A liquid syllabus is for giving students a positive first look at the course. This way, they know what to expect before they even enroll. They get to know who you are as an instructor through text, images, a welcome video, and your teaching philosophy. And they get to see a preview of the class itself through a basic course overview, a Week 1 Success Kit section (where you describe how they can be successful during week 1 of the class), and a section outlining advice for success

Course Card

A course card is the image that shows up on a student's Canvas page as the "cover photo" for the class. Any image will work, but ideally your course card will show students that they are welcome. Good course cards (and all images within the course, as well) should be representative of all genders and races, especially for those who are typically excluded from the field

I really like this image, because anatomy tends to be viewed as a difficult, un-fun, and generally awful class. This image shows the opposite. We have fun in anatomy, too! I think this course card says to students, "If you enroll in my class, don't expect it to be dull and dreary :)"

Two students laughing while studying anatomy


This is the first page your students see when the click into Canvas (if they are on a desktop). This course taught us to make the homepage welcoming, so it's important to include a personal photo of yourself, not a professional headshot. And an introduction to yourself and a way to contact you

Also important, at the bottom there is an encouraging message to students and a link to take them directly to the start of the course (the Modules page, in my case)

Getting to Know You Survey

These surveys are a way to get to know your online students more personally, right from the first week of the course. I've used them previously, and had a lot of great experiences with them. You are not only getting to know them, but it also helps identify if you have any students who might need a bit of extra support, such as imposter syndrome or busy lives outside of school

If you want to see what questions I used in mine, check out the video to the right :)

Ice Breaker

This ice breaker assignment is for students to start to open up with other students. For this first ice breaker assignment, it's vital to have it be through video or voice recording. The reason is that voice conveys so much more information than text, and it helps the students be human and real to each other

This assignment also included sharing personal values with each other, which should help foster more empathy and connection than the classic sharing of one "fun fact" about each other

Wisdom Wall

A wisdom wall is where the students at the end of one semester share what they wish they knew at the start of the semester. You play these videos for the beginning of the following semester

For me, I think this will help a lot. Anatomy has a steep learning curve because memorizing 750 structures in 18 weeks takes a lot more than just hard work. There are techniques that work, and there are some that don't. And it varies from student to student. The first several weeks of the semester, students are figuring out what works for them. I think including this assignment in my classes will help mitigate some of that learning curve and give students new ideas on how to succeed

Bumper Video

A bumper video comes before the material and gives the students an idea of what to expect. It can be before an assignment or before or inside lecture material to help clarify. It is there to help explain the point of the assignment or what to focus on in lecture material

For mine, I did an overview of cell division. I think having a broad, complicated topic explained in just a few minutes, with visual images and the key points highlighted helps students know what to study and what they are expected to know


We are all guilty of finding an interesting video online, but changing our minds about watching it because... it's 45 minutes long!

This microlecture is a way of breaking that same material down into bite-sized chunks. It's easier for the student to stay focused, easier to fit the course around busy lives, and it gives them the freedom to rewatch certain segments that they want to review. It's tricky from the teacher perspective, because a lot of concepts build on top of each other and get complicated, so it requires that we rethink the format of a lot of these in order to keep each video brief, yet still build the concepts together. But if it helps the students, it's worth the effort :)