Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Nicholas Schooler | Part-time faculty* | 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.

*hired as Full-time Faculty fall 2023 


Where I was

My first time teaching as the primary instructor was as a graduate student in 2017. That quarter, the Thomas Fire shut down UC Santa Barbara the week before finals! I had to pivot to an online format for that final week and administer the final upon their return from winter break. Fast forward two years. The spring of 2020 was my first experience teaching as part-time faculty, and we all know what happened that semester - COVID! I was thrust into teaching online. While it was challenging to teach online with no formal training, I found it to be a remarkably important tool that had the potential to make higher education available to a wider audience. It was something I wanted to explore more. This is my second semester teaching a course designed (not forced) to be taught online. I thought I had it all figured out. I am attentive, I am friendly, I answer emails, I allow for flexibility, and I try to foster teacher-student and student-student engagement. I honestly did not think that this course would be transformative. I now realize that I had a lot of misconceptions about online learning in STEM that were never challenged before this course.

Where I am 

I can confidently say that I have a much more diverse teaching toolkit that I can use to improve my online course and presence to better serve a diverse student body. I am more aware of my teaching presence. I can better see where cultural mismatches occur. I use positive kindness cues that foster social inclusion and avoid negative cues that create social exclusion. I am working on being a warm demander. Rigor through empathy helps dependent learners succeed. My feedback is much more directed and supportive. Assignments build on each other and my feedback acts as a scaffolding, helping students progress down a path of learning. I honestly did not think discussions were an impactful tool in biology courses. I knew they helped build community, but I did not see them as an effective teaching aid. Through the use of Flip, I can now foster more engaging discussions that help students improve their cognition and metacognition through storytelling and listening. I am reworking all of my online courses to employ the teaching strategies I have learned in this course.

Where I am going

The number one goal in my personal pedagogy is to reduce equity gaps. I am eager to evaluate how these new teaching techniques improve the retention and success of students from minoritized groups in my courses. One reason I love teaching is that I am always learning. By taking this course, I have joined a community of instructors who can help me to grow and with which I can share knowledge aimed at improving access to higher education through quality online education, thus tackling the important issue of improving diversity in STEM. I am excited to incorporate this new knowledge into my teaching and continue growing as an instructor. 

Liquid syllabus

By using Google sites, I have created this web-based public liquid syllabus is student-centered and mobile-friendly. I am using my liquid syllabus to create a warm and inviting first impression, to be easy to read and digest, and to be a helpful guide for the course. I want students to know that I want them to succeed in the course and at the school. I expect to continue to update this syllabus as a grow as an instructor. I even use Google sites regularly for online and in-person courses.

Course card showing students planting in the lab

Course card

First impressions are important. This course is Principles of Biology and it is designed for non-biology majors.  Working from home can feel isolating, so I wanted them to feel like this is a collaborative course from the start. For one of the labs, students will design their own experiment where they grow plants under two different conditions. I wanted an image of students gardening, so that's what I found here.

Home page for principles of biology lab

Home page

I inherited a pretty friendly homepage with a welcome banner and instructor photo, but I had WAY too much information. I don't want my students lost, so I simplified it with a link to the current module, a few quick links to important resources, and my contact info. I noticed that students like to communicate via Canvas inbox, so I googled a way to create a link that takes them directly to their Canvas inbox and prepares them to send a message directly to me. 

I wanted to jazz it up a bit and make it more personal. I am a beach ecologist, so I like to feature beach-related things on my page. That's why I have a friendly banner with a photo taken from the channel islands and students hiking to the beach. The instructor photo is of me holding some Pismo clams. I don't take my students to these beaches, but I do get them out to a local beach, tide pools, or saltmarshes around Ventura.

"Getting to know you" survey

This is one of the first assignments students will submit. A getting to know you survey is a great way to...wait for it...get to know your students and show them that I care about them (which I do!). My questions are aimed at figuring out how to best serve my students. For example, I want to know how to pronounce their name and their pronouns. I want to know about any insecurities so I ask how many science classes they have taken. If they fall behind, I want to know why, so I ask whether they have commitments outside of school that I may need to consider such as children, jobs, volunteer work, or athletics. I want to know their career aspirations and majors. I take notes on their answers in the gradebook so I can easily reference this information. Because the survey has a lot of questions, which takes time, I make the survey worth 5 points. A lot of these questions are deeply personal, which is why I have options if students choose not to respond.


An icebreaker activity that involves sharing videos builds community and sets the tone for the course: everyone is going to interact. This helps build community early. It is also an opportunity to teach students how to use technology in a low-stakes assignment. 

For this icebreaker, I ask students to connect their first experiences with nature to how they experience it today. Since this course is designed to teach students about experiencing biology around the home, I want them to make that connection early.

Upon completion of this course, my favorite activity was watching the "Who is your instructor" videos. I did not feel like a part of the community until I watched all of those videos. I hope to alter this activity to a "Who are your classmates" assignment in the future.

Wisdom wall

For my wisdom wall, I ask students to share advice for future students. I want to to be things that they wish they knew before taking this class. This reflective practice will foster their growth mindset and help build connections with future participants.  Future participants will benefit from hearing advice from others who have succeeded. 

Bumper video

Evolution is the unifying principle of biology. It is typically challenging for students to grasp, so I feel like I regularly have to remind students about the processes of evolution and discuss misconceptions. So this video will pop up over and over again throughout my course to help students tap into past knowledge and hammer home one of the most important principles of biology. This will be important when we cover genetics, when we cover plant or animal diversity, and when we cover evolution! My students should basically have it bookmarked. I also taught invertebrate zoology online and we always talk about different organ systems and how those systems have evolved and differ between phyla. If I teach that course again, in-person or online, I would put together bumper videos for each organ system for students to review as we walk the tree of life.


Microlectures help build my instructor presence in a course. As a marine scientist, I relish the opportunity to share my love for the ocean. Teaching through my passion humanizes me and the course.

This microlecture fits into the ecology portion of my course and teaches students about primary production in the ocean. After this microlecture, I expect students to be able to evaluate the types of primary producers that might be found in an environment based on its abiotic conditions. Everyone loves the ocean, so this is a great way to learn about the trophic transfer of energy, food webs, and ecology. The microlecture is followed up by a 5-question quiz with 1-2 of those questions describing the abiotic conditions and students have to choose the primary producer that would likely be present in those conditions.


This site is by Nick Schooler 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.