Don’t be alarmed if you walk past Richard Ascough’s classroom and see him standing on his desk. He is most likely demonstrating his point about scholars’ theories of ‘walking on water’ miracles and submerged sandbanks.
That’s just one example of the inventive teaching style that has earned Dr. Ascough several awards and the praise of countless students.
The School of Religion professor nearly missed his calling. He went to Bible College with the thought of becoming a minister. During his studies, though, he decided to pursue an academic career.
As a young graduate researcher, Dr. Ascough quickly discovered a passion for teaching. Interacting with students inspired him to investigate new areas in his research.
Teaching is not something Dr. Ascough takes lightly. He learned a great deal about the scholarship and craft of teaching by participating in and leading workshops at the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion in Indiana.
“The scholarship of teaching is when you think about what you are doing and what it means to be a teacher,” he says. “The craft of teaching is linked to scholarship but it is the hands-on, practical side.”
The winner of the prestigious Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award in 2009 wants students to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions about religion. He guides them based on his knowledge and research, but the students are free to wander off and make their own discoveries and arguments.
“I want to destabilize my authority. I also want the students to know that difference of opinions can be expressed and won’t be laughed at,” he says.
Former student Joseph Gagliano praised Dr. Ascough for using practical tools to help students examine texts in a critical manner. One time Dr. Ascough asked students to decipher a mysterious email he received. The exercise demonstrated how New Testament scholars draw useful data from ancient texts.
“While the Queen’s School of Religion is lucky to have him, the most fortunate ones are the students who have been inspired by his passion,” Mr. Gagliano says.
Dr. Ascough doesn’t spend the entire class lecturing; he believes dialogue is essential to the learning process.
“Rather than simply ‘unloading’ information to fill some imagined empty vessel, I view teaching as the walking of a pathway toward deeper understanding,” he says.