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Humanizing in Canvas

What is Humanizing?

Hand holding light bulb with the text new mindset in front of the bright sun

“Humanizing” means putting the people back into teaching. 

It means the instructor is comfortable being human, and imperfect. 

It means students are given a degree of flexibility because they lead complicated, human lives, and their education is only a part of it.

Online students often feel remote and isolated, disconnected from the teacher and peers, and uncertain about what is expected.  The instructor can add a variety of elements to help their students feel welcomed, safe, confident and supported.

Humanizing your course means:

  • building a safe and trusting relationship with your students.
  • communicating personally and regularly to the class, and individuals.
  • incorporating flexibility and empathy into course policies and assignments.
  • providing rich and meaningful feedback.
  • including ample instructor presence.
  • creating engaging and effective content.

Principles of Humanizing

The concept of “humanizing” is based on the following four principles:

Trust is crucial to foster trust and establish rapport with online learners by illustrating your “humanness” with snapshots of your life through storytelling, pictures, or experiences.  Let your personality come through!

You are the online learner’s main lifeline, and communication is vital. By providing frequent text, audio, or video presence, you are affirming your accessibility, engagement, and commitment to helping them succeed in your course.

Your ability as an instructor to discover and get to know your students and provide comprehensive support based on your students’ needs.

Be mindful of the online learner experience, and your perspective on the student’s feelings, perceptions, challenges, and/or needs.


Source: Michelle Pacansky-Brock (2020)

Humanizing Activities

There are MANY strategies for adding humanizing elements to your course! Instructors are encouraged to explore different options and experiment with activities to find what works best for their class.


“Welcome” Email
A brief introductory email sent to students prior to the first day of class.  It should include a basic introduction to the instructor and the course, as well as encouragement to reach out for assistance.

“Getting To Know You” Survey
A short ungraded survey with questions that will give you insight into each student and their context taking the course.  For example, questions about communication preferences, learning style, and challenges they may face.

Self-Affirming Icebreaker Discussion
An introductory class discussion with a personal element, designed to make students feel welcome, connected and safe.  Use a Canvas discussion, or a video platform such as Flip, to ask students to share a personal story, experience, photo or object related to the prompt.

Weekly Homepage
Use multiple Pages to update the course Home page at the beginning of each week with current information to keep the course experience fresh. 

Wise Feedback
Instructor feedback can be some of the most impactful communication we have with a student.  How it is conveyed can make the difference between inspiration and discouragement.  Using video or audio to record personal and meaningful comments to students creates deeper trust and greater value to your feedback.

Wisdom Wall
A “Wisdom Wall” creates an opportunity for students to share their experience with other students.  Current students record a short video of advice and hindsight for the benefit of incoming students.

Bumper Videos and Microlectures
Video is typically the most sophisticated content that faculty create, but it can also be the most effective.  Create short (2-3 min) “bumper videos” to explain important concepts.  Microlectures are longer (5-10 min), and more geared toward a larger concept, but still brief and contained for easy consumption.


Humanizing Resources

How and Why to Humanize Your Online Class
A complete guide to various elements of humanizing an online course, as well as more detail on examples and activities that can be applied by faculty to their own courses.



Humanizing Online STEM Academy

Humanizing Online STEM Academy logoThe Humanizing Online STEM Academy
“The Humanizing Online STEM Academy is a research-based online professional development program developed with a grant from the California Education Learning Lab, shared with an open license and available for institutions using Canvas to adopt.”

Humanizing Online STEM Video Playlist
A complete list of short videos on a wide range of humanizing concepts and activities.

Humanizing Showcases
A complete collection of examples from past participants in the Humanizing Online STEM Academy.  Browse the work of your colleagues for inspiration!


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