Keynote Speaker ‑ Sara Harris

Keynote Speaker

Sara Harris
Professor of Teaching, department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences
Associate Dean Academic, Faculty of Science
3M National Teaching Fellow
University of British Columbia

Finding Our Ways to Active Learning

We now have strong evidence that post-secondary students excel more (and fail less) with active learning opportunities. Experts become experts by deliberately practicing expert-like thinking in a discipline. Students similarly move toward expertise by engaging with a discipline in ways that challenge, extend, rearrange, and strengthen the connections in their thinking. Active pedagogies put students in situations that encourage development, coherence, and increasing complexity of their ideas.  Courses large and small, introductory to capstone, all have the potential to be student-focused and aligned with research on how people learn. 

As faculty members, how do we shift our teaching practices, habits, and cultural norms toward active learning for students?  How do we create situations in which our motivations to change outweigh barriers? How do we begin, and how do we continue? One good predictor for whether faculty choose to change teaching practices is how frequently we talk about teaching with others, including with fellow faculty, students, TAs, administrators, and/or educational specialists.  A conversation might be the catalyst for us to take one new step incorporating active learning in our classes. It might inspire us to design and try one new activity or teaching technique, to change one exam into a 2-stage learning experience, or to better align our goals, assessments, and learning opportunities for students. It might help a brand-new colleague start off their teaching career with an active-learning mindset. Depending on our settings, we can tap into, or build and strengthen, existing networks and formal structures supporting evidence-based, student-focused teaching. Over time, we can move toward active learning as standard practice in post-secondary education, for everyone’s benefit.


Sara Harris is a Professor of Teaching in the department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Associate Dean Academic for the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and a 3M National Teaching Fellow. From 2007-2017, she was a Departmental Director for the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at UBC, a major effort to improve undergraduate learning in science by implementing evidence-based, student-focused pedagogy. Sara's current research explores how people learn climate science.  She teaches a free course on called “Climate Change: The Science” and she is co-author of “Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Practice”.