Dr. Celeste Leander is one of the recipients of this year's West Coast Teaching Excellence Awards

June 01, 2023

Dr. Celeste Leander, Professor of Teaching in the Departments of Botany and Zoology in the Faculty of Science, is the recipient of one of this year’s West Coast Teaching Excellence Awards.Through this awards program, the British Columbia Teaching and Learning Council (BCTLC) celebrates excellence in teaching in publicly funded colleges, institutes, and universities in British Columbia and the Yukon.

The Award recognizes Dr. Leander’s deep commitment to student-centered teaching. 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.

Dr. Leander was also the first to adopt “ungrading” in an upper-year biology course. Ungrading aims to shift 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.

Having received a service award for her contributions to teaching, Dr. Leander recognizes the value of nurturing a student community. She was the first “Professor in Residence”, hosting office hours, student discussions, and workshops in student residences, enabling students to connect with professors on their home turf.

She has authored several teaching case studies published in the National Science Teaching Association database. In his nomination letter for the West Coast Teaching Excellence Award, Dr. Simon Bates, Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Teaching and Learning, pro tem remarked, “Celeste makes brave choices in implementing new approaches in the service of supporting students, and in this 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.”

In their feedback to Celeste, the selection committee for the award noted, “We were particularly struck by your commitment and demonstrated work to situate yourself as a co-learner alongside your students by rethinking and dismantling, wherever possible, the inherent power dynamics in a university classroom.” In course evaluation feedback, Dr. Leander 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.

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