Leading learning beyond classroom

Goat yoga, field trips, scavenger hunts and the ‘sparking joy’ approach to possessions are just some of the ways a University of Queensland senior lecturer captivates his students.

Dr Ryan Williams from UQ’s School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry thinks outside the box to foster curiosity in his Studies in Religion students while showing how the subject relates to their lives.

His approach has been recognised with a Commendation for Teaching Excellence as part of Teaching and Learning (T&L) Week.

Dr Williams said visits to prisons, places of worship, and public spaces, along with immersive, 360° degree religious site virtual tours developed in collaboration with local faith communities all help prepare students for careers in diverse workplaces.

“I’m trying to impart the type of knowledge that you can only get when you’re doing something,” Dr Williams said.

“Using the body as an empirical tool is helpful to get students to understand complex theory. Religion is about ritual, it’s about the body and you can’t know that by reading a textbook – you need to actually do it.

“Site visits enhance their learning because they engage their senses and feelings,” Dr Williams said.

Students are also given flexibility to choose their own sites, including their own homes where they can engage in the spiritual practices of Marie Kondo in tidying up, participate in UQ sport, or health and wellness initiatives involving yoga.

Dr Williams gained notoriety in 2020 for implementing a UQ course that used goat yoga to deepen students learning about identity, difference and humanity.

It’s a form of fitness that taps into the positive effects of bonding with animals, and Dr Williams said it added practical value to students’ learning.

“Enabling a greater appreciation of diversity and heightening their awareness and reflection on their own identities helps students as they enter careers where diversity is part of everyday life,” Dr Williams said.

“I want to enable critical and open-minded engagement with ‘hot topic’ issues and to nurture positive relationships.

“As educators we can do that by asking: ‘How do we teach students to engage with unique, sometimes confronting ideas, and with people different than themselves?'”

Feedback showed the course did inspire students to look deeper than what they read from a textbook.

Since joining the University in 2018, Dr Williams has redeveloped and led courses such as World Religions and Spiritualities, Islam and Society, and Religion, Peace and Violence, while also teaching other courses in the Bachelor of Arts and Honours programs and advising six PhD students.

UQ’s Teaching and Learning Week celebrates Learning for Life, and Dr Williams has been recognised for his commitment to extending students’ horizons of learning, transforming their thinking, and fostering the skills and identities necessary for an inclusive Australia.

You can hear more from Dr Ryan Williams on his teaching methods on UQ’s Higher Ed Heroes podcast or his HASS Researcher in Focus video.

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