Humanizing Online STEM Showcase

Sky Chafin, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Psychology, Grossmont 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 have been teaching online for almost two decades. You'd think that would make me an expert, but instead I think maybe it made me... [Google search for antonym of innovative].... COVID did force me out of my comfort zone, in that I didn't teach statistics before the pandemic online in any way (I didn't think it could be done successfully) to now I have a full library of content that I spent many, many, many hours developing (I think I have some PTSD from that, actually).

Where I am.

However, I know now that great content is great, but students don't see that as instructor presence -- and it's instructor presence that is the more important factor in student retention and success. I know now that my "professionalism" can read more as "aloofness", and that this can lead to alienation, especially for some populations of students.

Where I am going.

I am going to use the tools from this Academy in every course I teach. (And actually below you can see that I already started by doing some assignments to support my Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences course and other assignments to support my Introductory Psychology course.) I am going to embrace my imperfect human self and continue to put myself on video, even though I hate doing so -- and I am not going to make myself crazy by doing take after take to get it "right".

Liquid Syllabus

Of all the tools in this Academy, the liquid syllabus is my favorite. It is a warm and welcoming introduction before the semester starts. It is mobile-friendly. It gives important information without the dry "contractual" language that my institution requires of the syllabus on file (and that so many students don't read). And, it is super easy to update!

Course Card

I chose this image because statistics is about studying samples to make claims about larger populations -- and in the social sciences, those populations are PEOPLE. Also, this can be an opportunity to talk about the importance of a representative sample, one that "looks like" the population it is supposed to represent.

a screenshot of my humanized course card


This assignment helped me to see that I had a tendency to be somewhat formal and distant to my students. While my intention was to be "professional", it was probably instead seen as aloof. For example, it was hard for me to say "I am your instructor, Sky Chafin" -- I just wanted to put "Instructor: Sky Chafin, Ph.D.". Of course, the latter is old thinking and the former is new, humanized thinking.

Getting to Know You Survey

Often, students think they are not "math" people and because of this, they bring a lot of anxiety to a statistics course. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By knowing early on in the term who may feel this way, I can give extra support before the "math" actually gets hard.

This course does take a lot of time and effort. Students often have the incorrect assumption that taking this course remotely makes it easier, when it is the opposite. Asking students to reflect on their obligations outside of school may help them to anticipate, and preempt, some of these obstacles to success.

Ice Breaker

I ask students to answer the question, "I want to know why people _____." In a statistics class for the social sciences, the type of data we look at is all about trying to answer this question. Oftentimes, students have very similar questions, ("I want to know why people lie," is probably the most common.) I then ask students to reply to another student who asks a question they'd also like to know the answer to. This is an opportunity to find a similarity with a classmate and also to gain an appreciation for how hard it is to study human behavior (there are lots of questions without a lot of answers).

Wisdom Wall

Knowledge of oneself is the best kind of knowledge to have. By asking students to reflect on "if I knew then what I know now", students can see how much they have learned -- about the subject itself but also how they learn in general -- as well as reinforce the idea that mistakes are part of learning and that sometimes our failures -- actually, probably often our failures -- teach us our most important lessons.

Bumper Video

The concept of negative reinforcement is frequently listed by instructors as one of the hardest concepts for students to grasp in an introductory psychology course. This bumper video will go as an aid to a discussion question in which I ask students to give examples from their own life of each of the four types of operant conditioning. [BUT, after participating in this Academy, I think I am going to change this assignment and ask students to video themselves performing one of the four (as an example, giving a treat to a dog as an example of positive reinforcement).]


Students often struggle with identifying the independent variable and the dependent variable in an experiment, despite it being a concept that repeats in almost every course in psychology, including statistics. The learning objective is to identify the independent variable and dependent variable in an experiment. To recognize that an independent variable is also known as a factor in statistics and to be able to count the number of levels of each factor. I have many, many of these short instructional videos that I spent MANY, MANY, MANY hours developing over COVID, but it wasn't until this workshop that I used 3C Media Solutions for captioning.