how to help faculty
Humanize the Online Teaching &
Learning Experience
by Michelle Pacansky-Brock


Can you see it?

Images are a valuable opportunity to improve learning, as well as create a more aesthetically pleasing course design that improves motivation in learners (David & Glore, 2010).

Can you hear it?

Voice and video enriches online learning with nuances and emotional cues that are not present in text. This can reduce hurt feelings and improve social presence (Ice, Curtis, Phillips, & Wells, 2007; Borup, West, & Graham, 2012).

Can you feel it?

Educators are familiar with the cognitive domain of Bloom's Taxonomy, but are you familiar with the affective domain? The affective domain concerns the construction of attitudes, values, attitudes, and perceptions.

An Online Faculty Development Experience

"How to Humanize Your Online Class" is a 2-week, online faculty development learning experience I was hired to develop and teach for CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo, CA. The course was designed with the objectives to model how to effectively use web 2.0 tools inside an LMS to humanize an effectively designed online course, introduce faculty to research findings that validate the impact of instructor and social presence on online student learning, and foster both a culture and value of experimentation in teaching.

Throughout the 2-week course, faculty engage readings and videos, participate in two asynchronous VoiceThread conversations, post topics for synchronous discussions on an interactive Padlet bulletin board, experiment with new tools on their own to create a 5-minute online course introduction video using a tool from the Tool Buffet, participate in two Google+ Hangouts with course participants, and share a reflective Humanized Course Design Action Plan (in video or writing) that integrates key behaviors and strategies learned from the course in a metacognitive, professional growth activity.

Course Promo Video

This 2-minute video was included in an email invitation that encouraged faculty to register for "How to Humanize Your Online Class." 


What: A web-based tool for creating asynchronous conversations in voice, video or text. Flash-based, free mobile app available for iOS only. Free accounts include ability to create up to 3 VoiceThreads, unlimited voice and text commenting, up to 30 minutes of webcam commenting.

Uses:  Discussions, guest speakers, student-generated projects, mini-modules (upload a brief video followed by slides with prompts)


  1. Sharing  through a VoiceThread Group which students have joined provides a secure asynchronous, rich media learning environment.
  2. VoiceThread offers site licenses with LMS and student information integration.
  3. Research (Pacansky-Brock, in press) shows that anxiety prevents community college students from trying the voice or video commenting in VoiceThread.
  4. To improve the percentage of voluntary voice comments: 
  • Ensure all students have access to a microphone, webcam, iPhone/iPad, or are set up with additional phone commenting minutes on VoiceThread (included with all instructor premium accounts).
  • Demonstrate to students why voice participation matters in an online class. This relevancy is critical to buy-in. Consider sharing a VoiceThread in which students from past classes have left feedback for future students reflecting on their experiences.
  • The first VoiceThread should be a low stake, social ice breaker in which the instructor leaves feedback for all students in either voice or video. In this VoiceThread, all students are required to comment in either voice or video (unless an accommodation has been made).
  • In the VoiceThreads that follow, students should be granted the option to comment in voice, video, or text. 
  • This course design and facilitation strategy challenges students to try something new and dramatically decreases their anxiety by providing the opportunity experience voice commenting with all their peers and a supportive instructor.


What: Canva is an online graphic design tool that gets you started with free, editable templates. Once you design an image on Canvas, you may download it and/or send a link to others that give them access to edit the image.

Uses: Banners for online courses and learning modules, avatars, infographics, custom thumbnails for YouTube videos.


  • An instructional design team could use Canva to create a set of custom course design graphics for all online courses offered in particular department/school/campus.  The set may include a welcome banner, a banner for each learning module, and a custom thumbnail for the instructor to upload into YouTube for each microlecture/video announcement. Once a template is created in Canva, it may easily be customized, downloaded, and sent to the instructor.
  • For a course banner, start with a custom canvas size of 600x150; for a thumbnail for YouTube video canvas size should be 1280x720.

Sample Unit Banner Set

Sample Thumbnail Set

These images may be uploaded into YouTube and used as thumbnail images for a video recorded from a simple webcam. This eliminates the frozen and unpleasant appearances generated by YouTube's thumbnails.

What: A robust, easy-to-use micro-publishing tool that offers free Pro educator accounts. With Populr, you can create a webpage about anything in five minutes.  Extra cool bonus features in the free Pro educator account include:

  • no branding
  • embed videos, html code, and images too
  • record video directly into the page from a webcam (no captioning option yet)
  •  password protection
  • "enable following" (Click on "Options") gives viewers the option to sign up via email each time site is updated
  • collaborate setting (click on "Publish Changes") gives others ability to edit your page
  • optional clone-able setting

Uses:  You name it! Create a humanized syllabus, a workshop resource page (like the one you are looking at!), a faculty website,  beautiful guides to campus resources, gorgeous announcements for events!


  • Support faculty by creating a template for a syllabus, course site, or faculty page that includes your campus logo and other critical institutional information. Make this site clone-able (using the clone feature) and share the link with faculty. This gives them a solid and consistent footing to start with and will result in more consistency across content.
  • Click the button below to view Populr's fabulous Professor Bundle, which includes clone-able sites ready for instructor use!

Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies, by Michelle Pacansky-Brock


How to Humanize Your Online Class with VoiceThread, by Michelle Pacansky-Brock

Creative Commons License
How to Help Faculty Humanize Online Teaching & Learning by Michelle Pacansky-Brock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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