Celeste earns West Coast teaching award

Dr. Celeste Leander, Professor of Teaching in the Departments of Botany and Zoology, has received a 2023 West Coast Teaching Excellence Award. The honour, awarded to top post secondary teachers in British Columbia and the Yukon by the BC Teaching and Learning Council (BCTLC), recognizes Dr. Leander’s deep commitment to student-centred teaching.

“Celeste makes brave choices in implementing new approaches in the service of supporting students,” said Dr. Simon Bates, UBC’s Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Teaching and Learning, pro tem. “She is a role model for students to venture into uncertain territory, take risks, and to view the endeavour, regardless of the results, as a learning opportunity.”

A UBC Killam Teaching prize recipient, Dr. Leander was a pioneer in designing and implementing a flipped classroom in UBC’s first-year biology program. She was also the first in her field to establish and administer cooperative exams. Distinct from two-staged exams, which require students to first turn in their exams individually and then collaborate with their peers to answer the same questions again, cooperative exams encourage collaboration from the get-go. Dr. Leander designed questions that would lend themselves to teamwork through lively discussions, and in some cases, video-graphed answers.

“Celeste makes brave choices in implementing new approaches in the service of supporting students.” Dr. Leander was also the first to adopt “ungrading” in an upper-year biology course. Ungrading shifts the power dynamic between students and teachers by allowing students to submit a suggested letter grade for themselves along with documentation critically evaluating their own work. Her success in implementing ungrading has resulted in a request to deliver the same assessment practice in a large first-year biology course as well.

“We’re delighted to be shining a light on great teaching in B.C. and the Yukon,” said Maxwell Stevenson, chair of the 2023 BCTLC awards adjudication committee. “We received many outstanding nominations for individuals who are all doing inspiring work in our sector. Even though we could only make five awards, we were grateful for the opportunity to learn from each of the nominees.”

Dr. Leander has authored several teaching case studies in the National Science Teaching Association database and has been praised for her kindness and dedication to prioritizing student learning. She has also been credited for creating a welcoming and stress-free classroom environment, with students responding particularly positively to her adoption of the ungrading assessment practice.