Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Malia Rose-Seisa, Chemistry, Ventura College


Where I was:

Prior to 2020, I had never taken nor taught an online course. I honestly believed that online courses didn't and couldn't work with STEM disciplines such as chemistry. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world, my world, inverted. I had always relied tremendously on classroom presence and personal rapport with my students to forge connections and help convey academic material and learning. Moving online removed those abilities and interactions and, in my view, stifled those connections and learning. I myself had very little training and absolutely no experience in conveying myself as an instructor or the lessons I intended to teach in an online environment, and as a result, felt a keen sense of loss. I found it difficult to find ways to engage with students and began to perceive teaching online as little more than preparing videos and grading assignments and completely lacking in a personal connection. As a result, I and my students struggled.

Where I am:

The Humanizing STEM course has both educated and inspired me on what could and can be done in an online classroom. Presenting myself as a person and individual can be done online, through video, through assignment feedback, discussions, and other small pieces that present a real and imperfect picture of my students' instructor. Being open with my students in an online setting is not only valuable, but absolutely essential, to meet, encourage, and support them. A student feels a genuine connection with their instructor will be one that will better engage with the material and be more open to learning. That starts with me--something that I keenly realize now and have been provided inspiration, ideas, and tools to make into a reality.

Where I am going:

For the first time in my career, I am genuinely excited about the opportunities that teaching STEM online provides. I have already started implementing many aspects of this course in my current traditional classes, including focusing on student perspective, using more video, providing "stern demands", and providing more humanized feedback on assignments, and it has paid immediate dividends by creating better connection and, therefore, better learning engagement between myself and my students. I will continue to develop and utilize many other apsects of this course, including a complete Liquid Syllabus and use of small bumper videos and microlectures, to continue to enhance my teaching in the hopes that it reaches my students in more personal and humanized ways. I have picked up so many new ideas, inspirations, and tools throughout this course, and especially have enjoyed observing and learning from my peers. It makes me so enthusiastic and eager for what might come next in the future and what new things I can try!

Liquid Syllabus

My liquid syllabus provides students a mobile-friendly, accessible, and welcoming way to find important information about their instructor and the course. Having it publicly accessible outside of our school's LMS ensures that students can access it anywhere at any time. It also helps break down the "mystery" and "academic jargon" that so often plagues long, formally-written documents that can intimidate students unnecessarily. My goal for this liquid syllabus is to introduce students to myself: a person, with a variety of lived experiences and interests that may parallel or may be completely different than their own, but with the intention of being of help and support to them, rather than someone distant or unengaged, as well as provide them a quick and clear way to find essential information about the course that is always available to them.

Screenshot of Humanizing Sandbox Course Card

Course Card

When students log in to their Canvas account to navigate to our chemistry course, I want them to do so knowing that they're wanted, welcomed, and that they're a part of our larger community of learning chemists no matter if they are in person or online. I also want to remind them that what we study is our physical world, and that when we learn, we do so together: as peers, as mentors, and as an international and timeless community of scientists.

We were fortunate enough to have promotional photographs taken of our campus classrooms and students performing laboratory experiments in our department. I chose a photo that demonstrated a pair of students representing different demographics actively working on an experiment together to convey that this is us, all of us: this is our college, our campus, our classroom, our lab, our peers, our journey together, and we can take great pride in being a part of all of it.


I've been using Canva to create homepage headers for a while, but am now encouraged to continue to do so for modules introductions and other pages too to capture attention and break up too much text.

I received some very valuable feedback about the organization of my homepage, particularly by moving the assignments higher to make them more visible and accessible by students. I also worked to pare down the text overall to increase clarity. I have made a habit of continually updating my Canvas home pages for my courses and now have even more ideas to make it simpler and easier to follow for my students.

Getting to Know You Survey

Allowing students a nonthreatening, open opportunity to convey important information about themselves and how they learn to me at the very start of the class is so important in building connection and community. I intend to open this assignment before the term even starts and ask students to complete it before moving on to class materials so that we can introduce ourselves to one another.

The first few questions are a bit "boilerplate": preferred name, pronunciation (which is something I sympathize with students about!), and a little bit about how they feel in the class.

The later questions were more personal for me: a favorite meal to provide a casual way to explore a student's values, asking them to envison themselves in a lab to get a sense of how they might view themselves and their sense of belonging in a STEM lab, and advice that they would offer their past selves to encourage them to reflect on how much they've accomplished and how those skills and tools can be utilized in this course to help them continue to grow.

Ice Breaker

As difficult as it can be for students to view their instructor as human, I've found that students in online courses often feel just as disconnected from their peers, and myself from them. As such, my intention with this Ice Breaker Flip assignment is to eliminate, or at least minimize, that from the very start of the course.

For me, food is a way of social communication: its preparation, serving, and sharing is how I engage and build relationships with my loved ones and says a lot about who we are based on the sorts of favorite dishes that are on constant cycle at our house. I've also found that it's a nice, relatively neutral opener question that just about everyone has an opinion about and often leads to more frank and connective conversations that highlights an individual's values, perspectives, and backgrounds in a non-threatening way.

My hope is that my students see this ice breaker as an opportunity to let loose a little bit and share who they are as individuals and what they value without feeling too "put on the spot". I also hope that the prompt is generic and universal enough that every student will feel able and comfortable to contribute to build community from the very first day in class.

Wisdom Wall

It's easy to feel like you're alone. It's even easier to feel that way when encountering a challenge like an online STEM course, where you're not physically present with peers that are struggling with similar things. And it's even more isolating to not have any sense of where you're going, what the final climb to the goal looks like, and how to get there.

A Wisdom Wall allows students who have accomplished that final goal of course completion to reflect on everything they've done to encourage a sense of pride, and then leave tidbits of advice for students that come after them. For students just starting the course, seeing others just like them that have made it through can be a positive affirmation that they, too, can reach that height. My hope is that this assignment reinforces to students finishing the class to celebrate their learning successes and encourage students just starting that they can do it too.

Bumper Video

A regular point of confusion for students is differentiating between intermediates and catalysts in chemical reactions as both types of compounds show up in mechanisms. Since they have very different functions, it is an essential concept for students to understand before moving forward in their learning.

To help reinforce the subtle and yet essential difference between these two chemicals' functions, this one-minute bumper video serves as a quick reminder about the definitions of both and how they are similar and different. My intention is to provide students with very quick reinforcement in addition to a more "traditional" lesson to focus very specifically on an area of common misunderstanding.


Electrolysis is a notoriously difficult topic for many students in General Chemistry II. Starting with an example that has immediate real-world applications like splitting water into hydrogen gas for fuel cells engages students with information that can otherwise seem very intangible and hard to grasp.

In this lecture, the learning objective presented to students is identifying electrolysis reactions as nonspontaneous and using reduction potentials to determine their required voltage. Students are also expected to know how to predict the products at either electrode. This microlecture introduces the overarching concepts of electrolysis and then works through the specific example of water, showing how the use of a battery to complete a circuit can force a nonspontaneous reaction. Using smaller, more directed video lessons can help make the material less daunting and more approachable for students. Including a specific learning objective will also clarify expectations for students.

This site is by Malia Rose-Seisa 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