Humanizing Your Online Course
Part 2 of the Inclusive Pedagogy Series
I started teaching online in 2003 for a for-profit institution. It was two years after receiving my M.Ed. in Research and Collaboration at TCU where my focus was on online asynchronous learning. I was anxious to apply my research to my own classroom!
The realities of teaching online soon became very apparent. At that time the institution did not have an LMS. I taught the course through discussion forums. My students were lines of text on the screen, as I was to them. We didn’t have Zoom or any other video meeting software so we were confined to interacting through the discussions and email.
I realized quickly that I needed to somehow become a real person to my students; a person who cared about their experience and success. So I set about recording video introductions, using video and recorded screencasts to help them learn HTML, web design and multimedia. Soon I was asking them to post an audio or video introduction instead of text, encouraging them to share photos of pets and places they loved to travel. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was humanizing my online course.
What is humanizing?
If you google this topic, you will see quite a few results. We’ve been working on this for a couple of decades, so that doesn’t surprise me. I particularly appreciate the work of Michelle Pacansky-Brock, a community college faculty member turned faculty developer who started teaching online in 2004. She created a wonderful infographic on this topic.
“Humanizing leverages learning science and culturally responsive teaching to create an inclusive, equitable online class climate for today’s diverse students.” Brock, 2020.
Humanizing your course is how you bring equity into your course design and teaching.
It also brings decades of research on instructor presence and student persistence to bear on course design and instruction. Being an excellent instructor in both the physical and online classroom in higher ed is a skill that anyone can learn. So these steps can apply to in-person courses as well.
Steps to Take to Humanize Your Course
Brock offers eight elements to use in humanizing your course:
The Liquid Syllabus: A public, mobile-friendly website that has your brief welcome video and includes “warm, non-verbal cues and hopeful language” to ease anxieties about your course and how to be successful in week one (Brock, 2020, pp107-108).
Humanized Homepage: the homepage provides a clear and friendly welcome to the course and tells the student how the course works and has a clear Start Here link to the syllabus and/or the course information module in Canvas (this is also a Quality Matters and Online Learning Consortium quality standard). Here is an example
Getting to Know You Survey: In week one, ask the students to complete a confidential survey that provides additional information about each student and helps you identify which students are going to be ‘high touch’ requiring more of your time that other students. In Canvas, you can create a survey for this purpose. If you are logged into Canvas, go to https://westerncarolina.instructure.com/accounts/1/external_tools/43?launch_type=global_navigation to see an example of questions to include.
Warm, Wise Feedback: I love this and always attempt to convey support and encouragement in my feedback to students. Brock states, “Your feedback is critical to your students’ continuous growth. But how you deliver your feedback really makes a difference, especially in an online course. To support your students’ continued development and mitigate the effects of social and psychological threats, follow the Wise feedback model (Cohen & Steele, 2002) that also supports growth mindset (Dweck, 2007). Support effort + ability + action. And deliver your message in voice or video to include verbal or nonverbal cues and minimize misinterpretation.
Self-affirming Ice Breaker: Week one of a course is full of anxiety for students and can impede their ability to start the course. Try an ice breaker that invites them to share a part of their identity. One example from the infographic is to ask them to reflect on a value that is important to them and then choose an object from their life that represents that value.
Wisdom Wall: sharing the ‘wisdom’ or advice from students who have previously taken your class. You can use a collaborative tool such as a Word file in OneDrive that students can access, or Flipgrid, which can be enabled in Canvas. You can also have studente email their success advice to you that you would add to the file, or empower students to create their own by having a link to a shared Word document by changing the edit settings to ‘Anyone with the link’. Post this link in your course to share it with your current students and then they can also add their own advice. Here is Michelle’s example of a Wisdom Wall.
Bumper Video: Short videos used throughout the course to introduce a new module or clarify a sticky concept.
Microlectures: laser-focused short videos (5 – 10 minute) that walk the students through the comprehension of complex concepts. Before you record, identify the one or two ideas you want your students to take from the video. Write a script to make sure that you are saying exactly what you want to say in the short video. Also, remember to produce closed captions for all videos. If you need help with closed captioning in Panopto, please contact the help desk firstname.lastname@example.org
All of these suggested steps are part of the best practices in online course design and teaching. They are also steps that you can take at any time during the semester.
These elements will be included in the CFC’s Online Course Design Institute offered totally online this summer. If you’d like more information about the OCDI, please contact us.
Pacansky-Brock, M. 2017. Best practices for teaching with emerging technologies. Routledge, New York, NY.
Pacansky-Brock, M. Liquid syllabus. https://brocansky.com/humanizing/liquidsyllabus
Pacansky-Brock, M. (2020). How to humanize your online class, version 2.0 [Infographic]. https://brocansky.com/humanizing/infographic2