Bakersfield College and Kern CCD Invests in Equity Infrastructure to Humanize Online STEM Courses

Humanizing Online STEM Logo with a heart

This piece was written by Michelle Pacansky-Brock. Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Ed.D., is an online faculty developer and thought leader in higher education. Her work helps faculty and instructional designers across the nation to craft relevant, humanized online learning experiences that support the diverse needs of college students. In her current role as Faculty Mentor for the California Community Colleges CVC-OEI/@ONE, she coordinates professional development across the state and with Foothill-DeAnza CCD is also leading an intersegmental California Learning Lab grant project that will examine the impact of humanized online instruction on diverse students in undergraduate online STEM courses in California. Michelle is also a keynote speaker and author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies.

Are you a KCCD STEM faculty? Sign up for the Academy by October 31, 2022!

For the past three years, Bakersfield College has partnered with Foothill-DeAnza (FHDA) District on an equity-focused Humanizing Online STEM grant project, which I have had the honor to lead. Through that effort, eight STEM faculty and two members of BC’s Academic Technology team completed an online professional development program, the Humanizing Online STEM Academy. As a result of an additional grant from the California Education Learning Lab, this partnership is expanding to include participation from Cerro Coso and Porterville Colleges. Over the next two years, humanized online teaching in STEM will scale across Kern District and fifteen additional institutions in the California Community College and California State University systems. 

Kern’s support for this project is an indication of the district’s investment in professional development as equity infrastructure, as well as a cue to the value that online courses bring to diverse students. In Spring 2023, 36 additional KCCD STEM faculty will complete the Humanizing Online STEM Academy and receive an $1,800 stipend for their efforts, funded by KCCD. The Academy prepares STEM faculty to design and teach culturally responsive online courses infused with eight humanized online teaching elements. Through this partnership, Kern will also participate in a research study that will further the knowledge about how humanized online teaching impacts equity gaps.


Racial and ethnic equity gaps are pervasive across all disciplines but they are worse in STEM than any other discipline cluster (Riegle-Crumb et al., 2019). The “sink or swim,” competitive culture of STEM is steeped in individualism, which cues students from collectivist cultures that they must change who they are to fit in. This is a dignity violation for culturally diverse students, like those served by KCCD, that undermines trust and signals to students that they do not belong. Transforming STEM from a “weed out” culture to a culture of care is integral to closing equity gaps and increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce in the United States. Fostering positive instructor-student relationships is at the heart of this change – face-to-face and online.

While diversity in STEM is a social justice issue, it is also vital to every person’s future generations. Research (Page, 2007) has shown that the diversity of a team is more important than intelligence to increasing its innovative outputs. With a global pandemic, chronic wildfires, and global warming upon us, future generations will have no shortage of wicked problems to solve. Diversifying STEM is vital to all of us.

Why Online Courses?

Online courses do a lot more than provide a stable backbone for higher education in times of crisis. They remove the barriers of space and time, which prevent millions of students from achieving their academic goals. This is why, prior to COVID, the California Community College system delivered more than 25% of its enrollments through asynchronous online courses. The pandemic made us more aware that online courses, just like face-to-face courses, need to be intentionally designed and taught to support the success of students.

Connection is “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship (Brown, 2010, p. 29). Connection fuels belonging, a basic human need that motivates students to achieve their full potential (Maslow, 1943). Belonging is not place-based – it can be fostered online. However, doing so requires faculty to develop competencies that are unique to online courses. 

The Humanizing Online STEM Academy – Sign Up Now!

“I received more instructor support, warm feedback and encouragement than I remember ever having in any previous class I have had online. Best professional development … in eleven years of higher ed teaching!”  -Gilbert Ayuk, Bakersfield College, Physics.

Humanized Online Teaching. Belonging is supported through equity mindset, psychologically inclusive design, culturally responsive teaching, and digital fluency

Download theoretical framework image.

In the six-week Academy, STEM faculty enter a supportive, community-based professional learning experience that is online and entirely asynchronous. They are immersed in a culturally responsive online course taught by “warm demander” (Kleinfeld, 1975; Berry, 2021) facilitators who blend care and push to hold all participants to the same high expectations. The journey includes developing an equity mindset, honing one’s digital fluency, becoming knowledgeable about culturally responsive teaching, and creating eight humanized online teaching elements to re-configure an existing online course with a psychologically inclusive design.

Preliminary research results validate the Academy as an effective change agent in STEM teaching. Our research has indicated that the Academy is increasing faculty confidence in online teaching, awareness of the role their teaching behaviors have on student achievement, and the flexibility of course policies. Longitudinal surveys and interviews conducted both prior to and after the Academy indicate that instructors had significantly higher confidence in their online teaching capacity, believed more in their own impact on closing equity gaps in online courses, and paid closer attention to supporting students from diverse backgrounds. Instructors also changed substantially in their instructional approaches post-Academy and reported being more actively engaged in promoting interpersonal interactions and more responsive to individual needs. These changes were echoed in surveys and interviews with students, who reported high levels of satisfaction with their learning experiences in the humanized online courses, with particularly positive experiences reported by Black, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander students.

STEM Instructors, sign up for the Academy by October 31, 2022! If you have any questions about the Academy, feel free to reach out to or contact me directly.

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Berry, R. Q., III, (2021, March 31). Three ways being a “warm demander” is culturally responsive and supports students’ mathematical identity and agency. Corwin.

Brown, B. (2010). Gifts of imperfection: 10th anniversary edition. Random House.

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

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.

Page, S. E. (2007). The difference: How the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools, and societies. Princeton.

Riegle-Crumb, C., King, B., & Irizarry, Y. (2019). Does STEM stand out? Examining racial/ethnic gaps in persistence across postsecondary fields. Educ. Res. (48), 133-144.

Published by brocansky

Committed to humanizing online learning and digital innovation in higher education. Author of @brocansky

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