Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Monique Kolster, Botany Instructor, 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.

When I began the Humanizing Online STEM Academy, I was already using a few of the tools introduced in this 6-week course. I developed humanized course cards, had a course homepage that was welcoming, had an ice breaker activity for the first week of class, and used a getting to know you survey. I had taken a number of online courses to understand how to be a better teacher in hybrid and online learning environments, but I always will have much more that I can do to humanize my courses. Additionally, I was curious about what humanizing for STEM courses, in particular, looked like.  That's why I attended!  

Where I am.

This academy reinforced many of the ideas and tools that I had learned in other online trainings, and it also introduced me to new approaches and tools.  Some of the tools we used I had learned before, but this was during the frenzy of COVID online days.  It was nice to re-learn some of these tools (Adobe Express) and to realize how simple they are to use.  Additionally, although I had used Flip before, I didn't know how to incorporate this app into my courses, so I now am much better equipped to do this.  Along with learning (and re-learning) some of the apps and tools, I also gained much more awareness for the barriers of some STEM students belonging to marginalized groups, and I am very thankful for this understanding moving forward.  

Where I am going.

We covered so much information in these six weeks, and did so on top of our regular workload and family obligations.  It was a hefty course, and I still will be absorbing the information for months to come.  I will be revisiting my liquid syllabus, editing it and adding more appealing visuals, so that I can use it for my fall course.  I'll also be developing more bumper videos.  I imagine I will be reviewing the information from this course for a long tome to come!

Liquid Syllabus

My Liquid Syllabus will be emailed to students before the course begins, so that they can understand the essential information of the course  before they log-in to the course for the first time.  It will allow them to meet me, review the course essentials (e.g., when the course begins, textbook details), and understand what they need to do the first week of class, and provides various resources for student support.  Since this is a first impression of me and the course, the liquid syllabus invites them to read about my teaching philosophy and lets them know that I am their guide and advocate on their learning journey.  I hope they feel welcome and supported in this course.

Humanizing STEM Course Card for a Botany class

Course Card

For my Botany course, I chose a photo of beautiful spring wildflowers blooming in the American River Canyon.  This photo is visually appealing, and shows flowers that bloom in our region.  These are plants (and places) that our community can enjoy together, and it invites anyone to share the beauty of our local ecosystem.  After the winter months, local wildflowers often bring much joy to our community.

Course Homepage

The course homepage is what the students see every time they log into the class on Canvas. I have a banner that welcomes them to my course and shows an image of various colors of hands surrounding a plant.  I follow this banner with a quick description of the course and let them know that we will discuss multicultural uses of plants as well.  Additionally, I include a smiling picture of me to welcome them to the class, and a quick video so they can briefly meet me.  Last, I provide a link to all kinds of important campus and off-campus resources for the students.  It's important for me that everyone feels welcome as soon as they land on the homepage, so I hope all these kindness cues achieve that.

Getting to Know You Survey

Students fill out the Getting to Know You Survey the first week of class.  A couple of question on the survey are:  (1) How do you learn best? What works for you? What doesn't?, and (2) What is the one thing that is most likely to interfere with your success in this class?   The first set of questions allow me to understand if there are things that I can do to support the class as a whole, and/or how I can support a student individually.  There may be suggestions that I had not thought about that I could now develop for the class.  As far as the second question, I really appreciate this question, because it allows me to understand what may be contributing if the student is struggling in class, so that the student and I can develop a plan if needed to be successful.  It also allows me to understand what resources I can suggest for the student.

Ice Breaker

For my Ice Breaker activity, students introduce themselves to each other using Flip.  They tell us their name, share a little bit about themselves (where they are from, what their major and career goals are, and any background with botany or experience with plants).  Additionally, they reflect on their life and identify a memory they have involving a special connection to a plant.  It can be a plant they love to drink (yummy teas!), a plant that they love to eat, a plant that makes them happy when they see it, a plant that they love the scent of....  There are no wrong answers; it can be anything!  They describe their memory involving a special plant and why they chose this plant.  They then need to find two people who they have something in common with and leave a video or voice reply for each of the two people and describe what it is that they have in common.

This is a simple activity.  It allows us to not only get to know each other, but it also helps people re-connect to plants as well through stories.  In the United States, we are experiencing "plant blindness," in which most people don't know much about the organisms in which they live with and depend on.  This activity is a first step in not only introducing ourselves to each other, but also introducing ourselves to plants in order to deepen our relationships with plants as well.  Often, people will share cultural uses of plants, and other people will get to bond on these connections.

Bumper Video

This bumper video is found on the first page of the module as part of an overview for the week.  For this particular week, the hybrid class will be going on an in-person field trip, and this video is a reminder of the details of the field trip.  I'm mainly hoping it generates excitement for the field trip and gets students prepared for a fulfilling experience.


This microlecture introduces our unit on ecology.  It comes near the end of an online Introduction to Biology course.  The learning objective is to define ecology and contrast between the different levels of ecology (organismal ecology, population ecology, community ecology, and ecosystem ecology).  It begins with a story of the famous photo, "Earthrise," taken by Apollo 8 astronauts, in which humans for the first time were able to see an image of earth and observe the fragility and beauty of our planet and its ecosystems.  With this video, I hope students simply get a deeper appreciation for the complexity of life on earth and all earth's ecosystems.


This site is by Monique Kolster 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.