Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

A teaching and learning innovator

[Richard Ascough]
Richard Ascough, Director of the School of Religion, has won three teaching awards in less than a year, including, most recently, the D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. (University Communications) 

It has been a banner year for Richard Ascough in terms of teaching awards.

First, the director of the School of Religion received the Fall 2016 Frank Knox Teaching Award from the Alma Mater Society (AMS) for RELS 321 – Greek and Roman Religions, a course he taught in the fall semester. He then received an Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA).

Now, he has received a third prize: the D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Many studies have shown that developing innovative teaching and learning methods helps increase engagement and interaction for students. But as Dr. Ascough explains, “The challenge is always how do you get a humanities course, especially one focused on antiquity, to be interactive and problem based,” he says. “I came up with assignments that get students working at their group tables, get them interacting with each other in a smaller group, and then in some form in the larger classroom.”

One assignment had students debate which goddess is better, Cybele or Isis, after conducting research through pre-class readings and online resources. Another assignment had students recreate an initiation ritual for each of the seven grades in the cult of Mithras. Very little is known about the rituals. But that’s not the point, Dr. Ascough says.

“Who knows, one of them may have got it right!,” he says. “It’s more about the process of how the rituals form and what do rituals do. We debrief about that afterward. It’s the skill of how do you use disparate archeological and literary data to create and present a hypothesis.”

In winning the award Dr. Ascough will be attending the STLHE annual conference being held June 20-23 in Halifax along with a two-year membership. It’s an exciting prospect as he has long been involved in pedagogy, published on the subject and run workshops. He’s also sure that the opportunities will provide great experience as he takes on a new role at the university.

“Professionally I am becoming associate dean (teaching and learning) in the Faculty of Arts and Science as of July 1,” he says. “So to have affirmation about some of the innovative things I’ve tried as I am stepping into a role where I may be able to help facilitate this with others is very important.”

In nominating him for the various awards, students praised his ability to integrate lecture material, class discussions, and in-class assignments to create an engaging environment where they are able to learn from the instructor as well as each other. Other students added that they appreciated that he is always willing to make time for them.

That engagement is a key to long-lasting learning, Dr. Ascough explains.

“When students are excited about what they are doing then they are more engaged and by engaging more I think the learning is able to go more deep with them, particularly with the skills they are learning in my class: analysis of data, being able to formulate arguments and then articulating those arguments. That to me is what engaged learning does.”

On top of the recent recognition, Dr. Ascough has also received Queen’s top two university-wide teaching awards – the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching (2000) and the Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award (2009).