The Humanizing Online STEM Academy: a Pathway to Equity

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session Equity and Inclusion

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Brief Abstract

Learn how to adopt the openly-shared Humanizing Online STEM Academy curriculum (designed for Canvas) at your institution. We will explore the impact of this online faculty development program, designed to prepare STEM professors with the knowledge and digital fluency to teach inclusive, culturally relevant and responsive online courses.


Michelle Pacansky-Brock (@brocansky) has received two Sloan-C/OLC awards for her online teaching effectiveness and served as Chair of the 2015 Sloan-C/OLC Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium (ET4OL). She is the author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies, in its second edition with Routledge, and is currently serving the California Community Colleges as Faculty Mentor for Online Teaching and Learning with CVC-OEI/@ONE. Michelle is also researching the impact of humanized online instruction to improve equity gaps in online STEM courses with grant funding from the California Education Learning Lab.

Extended Abstract

By the end of this session, participants will:

  1. Identify the link between instructor-student relationships and achieving educational equity in STEM.
  2. Examine the model of humanized online teaching to scale systemic change in STEM.
  3. Explore the Humanizing Online STEM Academy, a 6-week online faculty development program, as a mechanism to influence institutional change.
  4. Receive access to adopt an openly shared and free version of the Humanizing Online STEM Academy, designed for Canvas.

This presentation will examine the impact of a 6-week asynchronous online faculty development program, The Humanizing Online STEM Academy, on faculty perceptions of teaching online and student experiences. The Academy was designed as part of a three year California Education Learning Lab grant to prepare STEM faculty to teach humanized online courses and prepare instructional designers to support the ongoing adoption of humanizing across the California Community College and California State University systems. With a focus on fostering trust, positive instructor-student relationships, and warm demander pedagogy (Kleinfeld, 1975), the Academy provides faculty with the knowledge and digital fluency to teach inclusive, culturally relevant and responsive online courses, suited to support the needs of Black, Latina/o/x, Indigenous students and women in STEM. In the session, you will be oriented to the program, consider participant feedback, preliminary research findings, and learn how you can adopt the openly-shared curriculum at your own institution (for free!).

In humanized online courses, positive instructor-student relationships are prioritized and serve "as the connective tissue between students, engagement, and rigor" (Pacansky-Brock et al., 2020, p. 2). In any learning modality, human connection is the antidote for the emotional disruption that prevents many students from performing to their full potential and in online courses, creating that connection is even more important (Jaggars & Xu, 2016). Humanizing leverages learning science and culturally responsive teaching to create an inclusive, equitable online class climate anchored in trust and connection. A humanized online course is intentionally designed and taught to center positive faculty-student relationships. Through small and frequent cues of social inclusion, faculty create identity safety and foster growth mindset to mitigate stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995; Cohen & Steele, 2002) and belongingness uncertainty (Walton & Cohen, 2007), cognitive underminers that block a student's ability to achieve their full potential (Verschelden, 2017). 

In the Academy, faculty engage in a facilitated online professional development experience in which they are in the role of a "student." Being immersed in a humanzed asynchronous online course fosters self-awareness of the ways validation (Rendón, 1994; Wood, Harris & White, 2015), care, and push (Kleinfeld, 1975) can operate together to motivate, encourage, and challenge a learner. As faculty increase their knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM and research about the social psychology of learning and culturally responsive teaching, they create eight humanizing elements for their online course. Through interactions with peers that include VoiceThread/Flipgrid discussions and peer review using video feedback, STEM faculty advance their professional learning and, ultimately, develop a digital ePortfolio of their eight humanizing elements. These include a Liquid Syllabus (Pacansky-Brock, 2014, 2017, 2020, 2021); humanized course card and homepage; a getting to know you survey; warm, wise feedback; self-affirming ice breaker; wisdom wall; bumper video; and a microlecture. The elements employ the use of an array of free and low cost digital technologies including Google Sites, Screencast-o-matic, Flipgrid or VoiceThread, and Adobe Spark.

The Humanizing Online STEM Academy will be shared publicly with an open license in the Spring of 2022. The related website, which includes a Humanizing STEM Toolkit, will be shared with participants.


Cohen, G. L., & Steele, C. M. (2002). A barrier of mistrust: How stereotypes affect cross-race mentoring. In J. Aronson (Ed.), Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education (pp. 205-331). Academic Press.

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Kleinfeld, J. (1975). Effective teachers of Eskimo and Indian students. School Review, 83, 301–344.

Pacansky-Brock, M. (2021). The Liquid Syllabus: An anti-racist teaching element. Colleague 2 Colleague Magazine, 1(15).

Pacansky-Brock, M., Smedshammer, M., & Vincent-Layton, K. (2020). Humanizing Online Teaching to Equitize Higher Education. Current Issues in Education, 21(2 ), 1-21.

Pacansky-Brock, M. (2017). Best practices for teaching with emerging technologies, (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Pacansky-Brock, M. (2014, August 13). The Liquid Syllabus: Are you ready? [blog post].  

Rendón, L. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Toward a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19, 33-51.

Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.

Verschelden, C. (2017). Bandwidth recovery: Helping students reclaim cognitive resources lost to poverty, racism, and social marginalization. Stylus & AACU.

Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2007). A question of belonging: Race, social fit, and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(1), 82.

Wood, J. L., Harris, F. III, & White, K. (2015). Teaching men of color in the community college: A guidebook. Lawndale Hill.