Moving away from the traditional style of teaching to an interactive classroom, Professor and Director of the School of Religion Richard Ascough is a firm believer in trial and error.
“We need to give people the room to experiment and even be willing to fail and admit failure. I want them to be able to be creative and try things, not just to be conventional,” Ascough told The Journal.
Usually receiving recognition from his students for these risks, Ascough has recently been recognized by the international community for his approach.
Ascough was one of five educators to be awarded the international D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning on May 30 for his diverse and collaborative teaching techniques.
The D2L Innovation Award was established in 2012 and recognizes five post-secondary educators from around the world annually. According to the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) website, the D2L Award is open to all instructors currently teaching at a post-secondary institution, regardless of discipline, level or term of appointment.
Award recipients receive a two-year membership to the STLHE.
Ascough is no stranger to being awarded for his inventive teaching styles. In 2002, he won the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching and in 2009 he received the Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award.
Ascough described his teaching techniques in terms of learning outcomes.
“I think students, like most of us, really like to engage in conversations. I think what I have done in my courses is created space for those conversations to take place, but around very specific outcomes. So each of my assignments are in-class activities, [and] they are designed for one, two or three very clear outcomes,” Ascough said.
Not only does Ascough bring students into the discussion, he acknowledges the necessity of trial and error in moving forward with these new kinds of teaching and learning styles.
According to Ascough, a shift towards more integrated teaching and learning styles is beneficial to all parties involved.
“I think it will help all of us — the students, faculty, administrators — better articulate some of the core skills that students are learning, even as they are wrestling with different content.”
Ascough takes full advantage of the university’s new active learning infrastructure — he was one of the first educators at Queen’s to pilot a course in the newly implemented active learning classrooms popping up on campus in recent years.
“We had the three in Ellis, now we have two more in Theological Hall, [now] they are doing Mac-Corry. It is great that whenever they think about renovating a teaching space they think about this kind of space. I say bring it on, we could use more of them,” Ascough said.
These classrooms abandon the standard lecture-oriented setup of fixed seats and tiered steps that face a lecturer in favour of a level floor and movable seating. The objective of these changes is to have less emphasis on standard lecturing and a greater emphasis on student participation and discussion.
“[The Center for Teaching and Learning] has these sessions where they showcase some of these things and it is just so exciting to see how people are thinking outside of the lecture hall-lab paradigm and saying what else can we do that would supplement that kind of teaching,” he said.
Ascough is also the incoming Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning at Queen’s. Here, he believes he can promote more active learning.
“I am excited to be in a position where I can see the bigger picture of what’s going on,” Ascough said.
Excited about the future of active learning at Queen’s, Ascough will be an active figure in the continued transition from lecture-dominant teaching to a more integrated learning environment for students.
“I want to be part of the ongoing conversations and promoting best practices as we find them, not only across the faculty of Arts and Sciences, but also across the whole university,” Ascough said.
“Right now I think [Queen’s] is a vibrant learning hub and I think it’s going to get even better as we embrace these kinds of innovative teaching practices.”
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