Robert W. Tait - Implementing Teaching Excellence Award

Established in 2007, this lecture is recognition of the pivotal role Dr. Robert Tait has played in enhancing the profile of teaching and learning at UNBC. As Chair of the Teaching and Learning Committee, he sought action and not just discussion. This committee, under his leadership, was central to the expansion of teaching and learning activities at UNBC. He created opportunities in-house for practicing our pedagogy. As well, Dean Tait was always inclusive and understood that it was not just the faculty who were central to the students’ learning experience, but also the staff. Perhaps more significantly, Dr. Tait had a vision for teaching excellence that was beyond UNBC. He encouraged faculty to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning at a provincial and national level, and supported it out of his budget at times. Robert Tait has also mentored many junior faculty members who have since gone on to win UNBC and 3M teaching awards.

Be on the look out for the call for nominations so you don't miss any important award timelines!

Nomination Form:

Award Winners

2020 Dr. Angèle Smith                              

What the pandemic taught me:  Reflections on teaching & learning in the midst of COVID

The process of teaching/learning is scary. It lays bare what we don’t know and what we haven’t (yet) grasped or understood. It lays bare our vulnerabilities.  We cannot hide from that feeling of being exposed. Teaching and learning can challenge what we think we know and believe – perhaps it always should. I was confronted with that scariness and sense of vulnerability this year as a teacher when UNBC was required to pivot to online teaching in the matter of days. I remember back in March 2020 feeling that I had no idea how to teach anymore. All that I knew and all that I thought I had done well over the last 20+ years of teaching was thrown out the window. I didn’t have any idea how to shift to an online world.

But I soon realized that while it was important to learn the pragmatics of online teaching, I couldn’t let that alone drive my “pandemic teaching”. I had to go back to the basics of my philosophy about good teaching and learning experiences, and be driven by my pedagogy. I reflected and was buoyed by some core concepts that guide my ideas about teaching and learning: community, trust, compassion, flexibility, collaboration, and inclusion.

2019 Dr. Sean Maurice

Teaching and Learning as Adventure: Across Silos and in Community

The Northern Medical Program (NMP) is a UBC program run collaboratively with UNBC. The NMP has a significant social accountability mandate to improve the supply of physicians for northern and rural BC; as a result the local communities are highly invested in the success of the program. My work in this program involves collaborating extensively across different groups at UNBC and UBC, as well as engagement with the community.

I consider teaching to be the hardest and most important thing we do. My practice is influenced by the philosophy of the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) which values student-centered, peer based, and participatory learning. Sustaining a culture that values teaching requires that we commit time to reflecting on our practice, and talking to colleagues about our challenges and triumphs. I find teaching and learning to be adventures. Outdoor adventures involve a motivation to get somewhere, a curiosity to see what’s around the next corner, learning skills to stay safe, and making decisions that have consequences. Similarly, our learners are typically curious, but to really engage in the adventure they need to feel safe, and if we help them apply what they learn the reward is greater. I will discuss how these philosophical perspectives have influenced my teaching: in small groups and large group settings, and in a couple of community engagement initiatives.

2018 Kealin McCabe

Student-centred Information Literacy

Kealin McCabe has been the Research and Learning Services Librarian at the Geoffrey R. Weller Library since 2008. Kealin completed her Master of Library and Information Science at Western University in 2008 and is currently pursuing an EdD in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of British Columbia. Her work reflects her belief that a student-centred approach to teaching and learning enhances and reinvigorates the educational system. Kealin’s teaching philosophy is informed by her desire to enhance the educational, intellectual, professional and social growth of all students through the continuous exploration, implementation, and evaluation of new and innovative services in the promotion of lifelong learning.  Recognizing that the work of librarians’ is generally misunderstood, this lecture will highlight new and innovative ways Kealin has sought to enhance student learning experiences, while creating collaborative working relationships with faculty including; embedded librarianship, high school outreach programs, reference, the creation of online learning modules and more.

2017 Dr. Keith Egger

Teaching Generation Z: Integrating Active Learning into Medium to Large Classes

Generation Z (1995 – 2010) started entering university in 2013 and are the dominant cohort enrolling today. They prefer learning at their own pace, active “hands-on” engagement, and are comfortable consulting YouTube to see how things should be done before trying things themselves[i]1. What techniques can we bring to the classroom that will be effective for this cohort? I will discuss how I have implemented active learning using a student polling system (i>Clicker) in my medium to large biology classes, including collaborative quizzes, online question systems and flipped classroom techniques.

While generational concepts are useful for developing and choosing pedagogical techniques for the average student, what is less apparent is the enormous variance around the average, including diversity of backgrounds, different skill levels, and variations in personal resources to meet the challenges of university. I will discuss the variety of assessment methods I use in my first-year biology class to allow different groups of students to demonstrate their learning, including collaborative in-class quizzes, traditional exams, and an online question system called Aplia. I will also present the results of an analysis of a reflective assignment called the Exam Performance Analysis where students assess barriers to their learning in the general categories of study skills, exam-writing strategies and test anxiety. Not surprisingly students who self-report different types of issues do better with some assessment methods than others.

I will finish the talk by suggesting ways that we can engage and retain Generation Z students and sub-groups that have different kinds of obstacles to their success. We may need to tailor programs to particular sub-groups to provide them with the tools to succeed.

[i] Seemuller C and Grace M. 2017. Generation Z: Educating and engaging the next generation of students. About Campus. DOI: 10.1002/abc.21293.

2016 Dr. Alex Aravind

Don’t Lecture Me: Guide Me for Active Learning

I have been teaching for seventeen years; like most university professors, the majority of my instructional time has been spent lecturing.  It has been my experience that students are kind enough to not complain about this approach, and in fact often let me feel as if I was doing a great job.  As time progressed and I reflected more on this lecture dominated teaching approach, that feeling has faded.  My teaching paradigm has now evolved to include more experiential learning components in order to engage the students and enhance the learning experience.  In the 2016 Tait lecture, I will highlight some of the active learning techniques I have employed in my courses over the last five years and discuss the experiences, challenge, rewards and implications therein.

2015 Lisa Scheck

We are in this Together: Innovations, Collaborations and Promising Practices that Enhance the Student Experience at UNBC

The Student Life department at UNBC works together with a variety of on and off campus partners to provide opportunities and experiences that enrich the growth of the whole student-academically, socially, and personally. Join Lisa as she shares her framework for extra-curricular program development that includes a strong focus on student-centered approaches, co-creation of programming with students and campus and community partnerships. Based on her experiences, Lisa will reflect on what it takes to engage students effectively and help them develop personally and professionally. The lecture will highlight three key program initiatives in the areas of undergraduate orientation, first year experience and student leadership showcasing the positive impacts that these programs have had on student learning outside the classroom.  The lecture will conclude with a discussion on ways to further enhance the student experience through partnerships between faculty, student services, community groups and of course students!

2014 Dr. Dezene Huber

Learning to Notice Nature

Trombulak and Fleischner write:

We now live in a world where it matters more whether it is Friday or Saturday than if it is autumn or winter, a world where ageless cycles of migration and hibernation, germination and seed dispersal too often go unnoticed.1

Or in the words of T.S. Eliot in Burnt Norton, we have become “distracted from distraction by distraction.”2

Technology and other contemporary distractions have reduced our awareness of the wonder of nature - at all scales - in our literal and metaphorical back yards. While conservation concerns wax in the current biodiversity crisis, deep engagement with the natural world wanes. Although one might generally support conservation goals, authentic and engaged conservationism requires authentic engagement with the subjects of conservation. One of my goals in teaching biology is to take part in reawakening wonder within students and to encourage a lifelong conservationist mindset.


1. Trombulak, S.C. and Fleischner, T.L. 2007. Natural history renaissance.  The Journal of Natural History Education 1:1-4.

     2.   Eliot, T.S. 1936. Collected Poems 1909–1935. Harcourt, Brace and Company.

2013 Grant Potter

Connections, Community and Open Educational Practice

The term “open”, in traditional terms means, positively, being open to ideas, experience, evidence, argument, discussion, persuasion, method and reason. In a more contemporary way, it has meant shared, free of copyright, or with a copyright model that allows sharing, it has meant collaborative and free to modify, and/or distribute.  In educational institutions the idea of "open" starts with two things: visibility and persistence. What you do must be visible, with no constraints. And some part of it must produce artifacts that are persistent - they can be found over time. But to me open also implies a philosophy or value system - a belief that having activity out in the open yields multiple positive benefits and a commitment to continually work on becoming more accessible and inclusive. The people I know who continue to experiment with open learning and open resources have this philosophy as their underlying motivation: society benefits from sharing ideas and data but there remains a good deal of work to be done to find ways to put this vision into operation. This presentation will explore innovative, impactful examples of open educational practice and pathways to adoption for educators.

2012 Dr. Dana Wessell Lightfoot

Teaching as Conversation: Building Connections amongst Undergraduates, Graduate Students and Faculty

To me, teaching is a conversation. To that end, my central goal as an educator is to develop that conversation, both within the classroom and outside of it. A key aspect of my career therefore is to create such discussions in a variety of formats: through promoting active learning and engagement in my classes, through mentoring teaching assistants, through facilitating and attending workshops on teaching methods and ideas and through involvement in organizing conferences for educators and graduate students. In the 2012 Tait lecture, I will explore my experiences in creating such connections from graduate school to my current position as a faculty member at UNBC. My aim is to emphasize the importance of teaching as a conversation, one that takes places between students—both undergraduate and graduate, between students and faculty as well as between faculty themselves.

2011 Dr. Tracy Summerville

  “Getting Out of the Box: Thinking About Teaching 15 Years on…”

Little boxes on the hill side, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
         Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes all the same.
         There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,
         And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same.

         And the people in the houses all go to the university
         Where they all get put in boxes, little boxes, all the same…

                                 (an excerpt from “Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds)

This poem by Malvina Reynolds, and immortalized in song by Pete Seger, put Tracy in mind of her 15 year journey as a teacher and as a scholar. Over the years Tracy has come to realize that she was trying to teach using a model that did not suit a 21st century classroom or a 21st century student. In fact, the model did not suit her 21st century self. The little boxes may include: the perceived need to deliver a specific amount of content; the shape and design of our classrooms; and even the curriculum vitae where we report our teaching activities. Tracy’s presentation will look at how “little boxes” can restrict our ability to try new techniques and innovations in the classroom. Tracy will ask the question, “What boxes restrict us from becoming the teachers we might want to be?” And, she will offer some practical advice on “getting out of the box”. 

2010 Dr. Patrick Maher

The Tip of the Iceberg: The Role of Taking Risks in Implementing Teaching Excellence

Pat is an Assistant Professor in the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management Program. Since joining UNBC in 2005 Pat has consistently been a highly-rated and innovative instructor and as a result he won a UNBC Teaching Excellence Award in 2008.

Pat is perhaps best known for his work on field schools, of which he has run four since arriving at UNBC: one to the Stikine River, one to the North Coast and Northern Vancouver Island, one to the Antarctic Peninsula, and one to Haida Gwaii. Beyond these, Pat has also been instrumental in creating teaching-related academic partnerships with organizations such as the National Outdoor Leadership School, and the University of the Arctic’s Advanced Emphasis program. The latter is linked to one of Pat’s more recent endeavours: online teaching.

During Pat’s time at UNBC he has also been heavily involved in building connections between teaching and learning at the university and the community-at-large; whether that means taking students out of the classroom and into the community to learn, or bringing the community into the classroom to teach. All of Pat’s courses engage the community to some degree or another.

Pat has also been actively involved in the administrative side of teaching and learning at UNBC. He has served on the conference organizing committee for the annual teaching and learning conference, co-coordinated the monthly ‘Teaching in Progress’ seminar series, sat on the advisory committee for the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, sat on the Provost’s Committee on Pedagogical Practice, spearheaded the ORTM Program’s engagement with the Learning Outcomes initiative, and has been involved with a variety of other one-off tasks related to raising the profile of teaching and learning at UNBC. Externally Pat also serves his field in roles such as being the book review editor for the Journal of Experiential Education, and being a founding member of the University of the Arctic’s Thematic Network on Northern Tourism, which is striving to create a cross-discipline, circumpolar graduate curriculum.

Pat recognizes that we need to step outside our comfort zone to truly be innovative in our desire to implement teaching excellence. Teaching excellence requires that we strive to reach the tip of the iceberg, breaking free from the stability of the everyday. While we may flip, slip, fumble, and fall, we need not get discouraged as this exercise will eventually lead us to a more ‘grounded’ future.

2009 Dr. Heather Smith

From the Classroom to the Boardroom:  Implementing Teaching Excellence from Multiple Locations

Heather Smith is an Associate Professor in International Studies, and former Chair of the Program.  From the outset of her position at UNBC (1994) she has been a top-rated teacher. She is a winner of the UNBC Teaching Excellence Award and winner of the 3M National Teaching Fellowship in 2006. 

Since 2005 she has held three different roles related to teaching and learning: Coordinator of Professional Development (2005-2007); Acting Dean of Teaching, Learning and Technology (2007) an Acting Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning (2007-2008). 

During this time, she played a central role in capacity building that enhanced excellence in teaching and promoting teaching excellence. Her innovations supported the work of faculty with the aim of enhancing the learning experience of students. 

She was a founding member of the Northern Educational Developers Network which brought together UNBC and its northern college partners to promote and share educational development strategies in the North. With the support of the teaching committee, she changed the structure of the CTLT advisory committee with an end of building bridges between faculty and staff. She chaired the AVI Pedagogy committee and with the support of this committee, provided the foundation for current initiatives such as the learning outcomes initiative. All of these initiatives, and others undertaken while she was Dean and Director, were designed to raise the profile and level of teaching and learning at UNBC, and to enhance UNBC's profile provincially and nationally. 

Heather understands the implementing teaching excellence is a multi-leveled task. From inside the classroom to inside our programs to inside meetings of deans and directors, we all play a role in the promotion and implementation of teaching excellence. the Classroom to the Boardroom: Implementing Teaching Excellence from Multiple Locations"