Humanizing Online Learning – Version 2.0

Back in 2014, I wrote about an online faculty development course titled “How to Humanize Your Online Class,” which I designed for faculty at California State University (CSU) Channel Islands (CI)  And in 2015, I wrote about how the class was improving faculty attitudes about teaching online teaching. The class, now titled Humanizing Online Learning, has evolved quite a bit since then. This post captures some of the highlights from my experiences facilitating the class and lists how my team at CI is planning to nurture the interest the course has generated at campuses outside of our own.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the course, Humanizing Online Learning class is  a 2-week, fully online, asynchronous faculty development offering provided by Teaching and Learning Innovations  (T&LI) at CI.  I designed the class, building largely upon my past experiences as an online teacher and faculty developer, and facilitate it at least once per semester.  The class is part of  T&LI’s larger Online Teaching Preparation Program (OTPP).The concept of humanizing online learning is not new or even novel. It has been cited in many articles, posts, and is even the topic of a MOOC. But, based upon my interactions with faculty at other institutions, it is not widely used by faculty developers as a way to guide faculty into the process of growing into an effective online instructor.  At CI, we have developed a framework for humanizing online learning (see this infographic ) and apply it across all of our core faculty development offerings.

Supporting Cross-Institutional Interest in Humanizing

Since the class was launch in 2014, CI has received a growing number of requests from faculty outside of CI to take the humanizing class. My team at CI is agile and we make every effort to share and spread great ideas; however, we have  limited faculty support resources like most public institutions of higher education. Despite this, we have made a considerable effort to include a limited number of faculty from outside of CI in the humanizing class each time it is offered. To date, we have had faculty participate from Jacksonville University; SUNY Fredonia; Santa Barbara City College; American University in Cairo, Egypt; University of Southern California; Virginia Commonwealth University; CSU San Marcos; Ventura College; Shasta College; and Michigan State University.  This past semester, interest grew significantly at Santa Barbara City College and we now have a waitlist of more than 20 faculty from SBCC who have expressed interest in taking the class. As the only university serving the Ventura region, CI has a commitment to supporting collaborations with our local community colleges (SBCC, Ventura College, Moorpark College, Oxnard College), particularly efforts that increase the graduation success rates of under-represented students (racial/ethnic minorities, low-income, and/or first generation).

The interest in humanizing online learning is exciting, as it demonstrates that faculty want to understand how and why to cultivate their presence, develop instructor-student relationships,  develop a strong instructor presence, and foster a sense of belonging for students in an online class.  Research has shown that instructor-student relationships are key to supporting the success of community college and under-represented groups including first-generation college students, who, by the way, comprise more than 50% of the students who enroll at CSU Channel Islands.  Teaching presence and social presence are integral to the Community of Inquiry model and social presence is correlated with higher  perceptions of learning and satisfaction among online students (Richardson & Swan, 2003).

Keeping the size of the humanizing class small is important to ensuring that faculty step into the shoes of a student and experience what it feels like to learn in an online class that is facilitated by a real person who cares about them.  They need to experience this to understand the impact that empathy has on a student’s motivation to succeed. Here is a quote from a recent participant:

I almost wanted to quit the evening the short video … was due… The empathy shown by Michelle drove me to wanting [sic] to get it done, eventually. If nothing else, to let her know her believing in me did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I used to have the belief that I have very little to do with the success of my online students. … I was very wrong… I have forgotten what it was like to be a student, and I am glad to have seen it from the other side.

The problem at hand is that offering the humanizing class once or twice per semester is not a scalable model for CI to support interest from faculty outside of CI. On the other hand, the strong interest in the topic of humanizing is an opportunity to engage more faculty, instructional design-types, and administrators in conversations about what humanizing is, why it’s important, and how to do it.  The other thing my team is committed to  untethered faculty development, which ensures time and place are not barriers to participation. We believe if faculty want to learn, grow, and improve as teachers, they should be able to do so from any place at any time.

Thus, my team is pivoting and developing new strategies to promote increased adoption of humanizing practices in online classes.

How You Can Join In

At CSU Channel Islands, we are making two contributions to engage more educators in a community of practice about Humanizing Online Learning.

  1. T&LI has shared the curriculum (a Canvas export file) for Humanizing Online Learning with a CC-BY-NC license.  This means the curriculum may be adopted and facilitated by other institutions (provided there is no income generated from the course).  I am currently developing an adoption toolkit that will be made available to any participant at an institution outside of CI with a couple of stipulations. If you are interested in learning more, please subscribe to this blog to receive updates.
  2. T&LI is developing a Humanizing Network, which will launch this Spring 2017 with a podcast. The concept is still taking shape and will be expected to develop organically over time, but we are planning for the network to serve the following purposes:
    1. To share the teaching innovations of faculty (at CI and beyond) who are implementing principles of humanized online learning
    2. To develop an open archive of humanized online teaching practices
    3. To connect educators who share an interest in humanizing online learning
    4. To discuss research that links humanizing principles to increased student success online, especially for under-represented students

If you are interested in learning more about the above projects, please subscribe to this blog to receive updates. Questions and comments on this post are warmly welcomed.



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