Offering more STEM gateway courses in an asynchronous online modality holds significant potential to improve access to STEM education among students from minoritized groups. Prior to COVID-19, student demand for asynchronous online courses increased enormously because of their flexibility. They give students the option to continue to meet their personal and work responsibilities while making progress towards a degree. However, online courses exacerbate the problematic equity gaps that exist in face-to-face courses. Common responses to this problem have been to shepherd Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other students of color away from online courses. That approach is based on deficit-based thinking about students.
The culture of STEM education, in general, offers a microcosm of inequity. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students leave STEM fields at greater rates than their White peers, and this problem is worse in STEM than other discipline clusters (Riegle-Crumb et al., 2019). Traditional deficit-based instructional paradigms have created a “weed out” culture in undergraduate STEM courses. An overwhelming majority of students who switch out of STEM majors cite poor teaching (96%) and competitive course climate (81%) as problems that contributed to their decision (Seymour & Hunter, 2019). Humanizing online STEM courses is not a fix for every problem in STEM, but it is a start to creating more inclusive learning environments that will also expand opportunities for students who do not have the privilege to be on campus.
This 3-year project is designed with an asset-based mindset about students. The focus is to improve the teaching and learning in online undergraduate STEM courses by developing a model for humanized online teaching and designing an online professional development program, the Humanized Online STEM Academy. This research-based faculty professional development is central to supporting the improvement of instruction in STEM, fostering relationships among STEM faculty and faculty support peers, and propelling greater adoption of humanizing across higher education.
Humanizing acknowledges that the isolation inherent in asynchronous online courses is a barrier for all students, especially those who are affected by the toxic barrage of stress caused by racism, poverty, and marginalization. To mitigate this, humanized online courses are anchored in positive instructor-student relationships. Faculty intentionally integrate kindness cues of social inclusion (Estrada et al., 2018) into their course to diminish belongingness uncertainty (Walton & Cohen, 2007) and validate students (Rendón, 1994; Wood et al., 2015) then leverage relationships to hold all students to a high standard and empower learners to achieve their full potential (Hammond, 2015).
The humanizing model developed through this grant is based on more than ten years of grassroots online teaching and decades of research about culturally responsive teaching. To date, there has been no formalized effort to apply culturally responsive teaching to asynchronous online courses. This project fills that void.
The project is designed using a process of continuous improvement throughout three phases: pilot, scale-up, and share. The Co-PIs are faculty development specialists, STEM faculty, and an educational researcher. This intentionally diverse set of roles bridges common gaps between research and practice and connects all three sectors of California public higher education (CCC, CSU, and UC systems).
In the pilot phase, faculty development Co-PIs developed the six week Humanizing Online STEM Academy and facilitated it for three STEM faculty Co-PI participants. Data was collected to explore the effects of the Academy on faculty attitudes and teaching practices, as well as student performance.
In the scale-up phase, the Humanizing Online STEM Academy will be completed by 90 CCC and CSU participants, composed of faculty support specialists and STEM faculty. The participants will develop and apply humanizing elements to their online course and commit to teaching it with warm demander pedagogy. A research study will be conducted to explore the impact of humanizing on faculty and students, particularly students from racially and ethnically minoritized groups and women.
The Academy is designed to increase shared open educational resources (OER) to inspire greater adoption of humanizing. The curriculum for the Academy will be shared with a CC-BY-NC license, making it easily adoptable by any institution for local facilitation. Participants of the Academy will share a humanizing showcase of their teaching practices that will also be shared with an open license. Events will be coordinated to share the findings and resources from the project.
Estrada, M., Eroy-Reveles, A., & Matsui, J. (2018). The influence of affirming kindness and community on broadening participation in STEM career pathways. Social issues and policy review, 12(1), 258–297.
Hammond, Z. L. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Corwin Publishers.
Rendón, L. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Toward a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19, 33-51.
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. Wood, J. L. (2019). Black minds matter: Realizing the brilliance, dignity, and morality of black males in education. Montezuma Publishing.