NAGT > Divisions > Geoscience Education Research Division > February 2018 Spotlight: Sara Harris

February 2018 Spotlight: Sara Harris

The February 2018 GER Spotlight is Dr. Sara Harris, Associate Dean-Academic for the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC). In her profile, Dr. Harris discusses her current research in understanding how people learn climate science, provides advice for aspiring geoscience education researchers, and describes the ecosystem for discipline-based education researchers at UBC.

What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?
I'm interested in how people learn climate science. What ideas do students have about climate science concepts, and what learning opportunities can we provide to help people move toward more expert-like ideas? I've enjoyed working with Anne Gold to elicit and evaluate student ideas through interviews and concept sketches. We've used pre-post assessments and drawings to learn about how effective particular activities are for changing student representations of their ideas (and maybe even what they think). Recently, Julie Libarkin, Karen McNeal, Anne Gold and I developed a validated climate science concept inventory which I hope will be useful to this community.

What has been the best tool or resource you've found for developing as a geoscience education researcher?
The Earth Educators' Rendezvous (EER) has been a terrific venue to meet new and old colleagues and to learn practical GER skills. Like many people in GER, I came to this field from geology/oceanography, not from education research. The workshops at EER have helped me develop as a scholar and make connections with others. I am super grateful to the leading organizers in the community for creating and sustaining EER. The conference is such a welcoming and open place, for people involved in all aspects of geoscience education, not only GER.

What is your advice for someone who is interested in starting out in geoscience education research or the scholarship of teaching and learning?
Go to the Earth Educators' Rendezvous. Meet people who are active GER researchers doing work that interests you. See if you can collaborate with people at other institutions. Implement one small GER/SoTL project in one of your classes. Find at least one other person at your institution who is interested in discipline-based education research (it doesn't have to be geoscience), and have coffee with them weekly. Set aside 15 minutes daily to write and think about GER projects.

What does GER look like at your institution, in your position?
Since 2007, we've been lucky at UBC to have had amazing support for improving teaching and learning in science, thanks to the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative followed by a long-term commitment by the Dean of Science to fund "embedded experts" in departments to help faculty implement evidence-based teaching practices. Part of this effort has been discipline–based education research to contribute to the GER community. In the department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences there is a core group of "educational leadership" faculty who are involved in GER to varying degrees, plus 2-4 "embedded experts." We have had a handful of undergraduate honors theses focus on GER, and one graduate student is currently incorporating GER into her dissertation. We are hoping to find ways to provide GER opportunities to more graduate students in the future.

A few months ago, I started in a new-to-me role of Associate Dean–Academic for the Faculty of Science at UBC. In this position, I'm gaining a broader view of DBER work across Science and am looking for additional ways to support faculty interested in DBER.

Recent Publication of Interest:
Harris, Sara E. and Gold, Anne U. (2017) . "Learning molecular behaviour may improve student explanatory models of the greenhouse effect." Environmental Education Research. DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2017.1280448

Learn more about Sara's work on her website,