So, you see the potential of humanizing but you don’t know how to get started. No problem. This page will help! No matter what point in the term it is right now, it is the perfect time to get started on humanizing your online course. If you are mid-term, begin with adopting an equity mindset or learning about warm demander pedagogy. If the start of a new term is around the corner, focus on creating your humanizing elements.

An Equity Mindset

Humanizing requires more than attention to course design and teaching. It requires you to adopt a particular mindset about your students and the impact you and your online course will have upon them. This means acquiring an asset-based mindset about your students and online courses. While it is true that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students are less likely to succeed in college courses and it is also true that these equity gaps are exacerbated when students learn online, it is not accurate or acceptable to assume that students are the problem. The way you approach your role as an online instructor has the potential to change everything – for better or worse.

If you are a first-generation equity practitioner (Bensimon & Gray, 2020) like me, you must also make intentional efforts to improve your cultural competency by learning about the experiences of today’s real college students. This includes students who are racially minoritized; those who are LGBTQIA; those with disabilities; and those who live in poverty. This will simultaneously guide you to see the privileges you have been afforded in your own life and recognize how race is operationalized in your course through language, policies, curriculum, and routines that we generally assume to be neutral. Without this critical lens, we are unable to see the ways that our teaching and learning environments perpetuate racial inequities. Here are some resources to help you get started on this important journey.

Humanizing Elements

Course design is a critical part of every online course. But just because a course is easy to navigate and aligned with principles of backwards design, it doesn’t mean students will feel welcomed, supported, and valued. You should make your course your own, but sometimes it’s helpful to have some building blocks to help get going. The resources below will get you started with creating humanizing elements for your online course. They will help you cultivate cues of social inclusion and demystify what students must do to be successful in your course.

Warm Demander Pedagogy

Human connections are at the heart of all transformative life experiences and this does not change when students learn online. For many students, knowing there is someone on the other side of the screen that cares and believes in their ability restores cognitive resources that are undermined by the effects of racism and social marginalization (Vershelden, 2017). For other students, a positive instructor-student relationship is an important cultural cue that fosters belonging. For all students, connecting with you before they connect with course content will establish a supportive and welcoming course climate that will also cultivate community.

Warm demander pedagogy (Kleinfeld, 1975) uses the relationships you establish with your high opportunity students as a foundation to build upon. Through care and push, you will hold them to the same high standards to which you hold all students, and challenge them to do what they are capable of doing.

Being a warm demander online means being both assertive and caring. When teaching online, it requires you to intentionally ensure your communications are infused with personal warmth. Connecting with students (as a group and at an individual level) with casual, brief video or voice recordings will enable you to convey your verbal and non-verbal cues. Without this important context, students are more likely to misinterpret your tone or miss the energy and emotion conveyed through your voice, facial expressions, and body gestures.


Bensimon, E. M. & Gray, J. (2020). First-generation equity practitioners: Are they part of the problem? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 52(2), 69-73.

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

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