Richard Scanlan

“He was a legendary teacher. For years and years undergraduates at the UI felt they had to take his course. the UI experience wasn’t complete without taking Scanlan’s course.”

– (David Sansone: Head of the Classics Department (2008 – 2010) quoted in Mitchell, 2009)

Scanlan in a red shirt with an A and wreath around head

It’s the first day of a new semester in 1975. You are only taking Roman Civilization at 9 AM because your friends will not stop talking about this professor, Scallops or something. You lift your tired eyes and notice there’s someone on the quad riding a horse! You think about how you are going to tell this story to your friends later. Then the horseman from the quad transforms into the Greek god Apollo and predicts a UI football win. “My name is Professor Richard Scanlan.” The name sticks.

We all know that one teacher whose class left a permanent impression on us. If we don’t know Richard Scanlan however, we don’t really know that one teacher at Illinois. Remembered for his in-class theatrics, Scanlan was a pioneer in using new technologies to teach the classics. His early adoption of Computer-Assisted Instruction in his popular Latin classes uncovered useful insights for PLATO development.

Teaching Latin language, grammar, and literature courses, Scanlan experimented with how TUTOR-based lessons affected learning outcomes. His findings were that TUTOR lessons were most beneficial due to their ability to adjust to each user’s particular learning style and speed.

“The computer reminds us of the realities we are facing each day: one student may take twenty minutes to complete a lesson which another will take two to three hours to complete” (Scanlan, 1971, 226).

He also came to understand how crucial it was for lessons to create good “wrong answer” messaging. This helped students conceptualize the TUTOR lesson as a “kind” teacher. Further, it could identify and immediately address gaps of knowledge that caused the student to provide the wrong answer.

Scanlan consistently received high approval rates from student surveys  over his 30 year tenure in the Classics Department. In other words, his Rate My Professor page would have been impressive.

Today, the Richard R. Scanlan Teaching Assistant Fellowship recognizes Scanlan’s impact on his 50,000 students by annually giving financial assistance to “a graduate teacher who demonstrates a similar sense of commitment and energy toward making the classics come alive” (“Richard T. Scanlan Teaching Assistant Fellowship”, 2018).

Scanlan passed away in 2009, but his more than 30 years of service to the Classics Department continues to provide inspiration for innovative teaching.  


Foellinger Auditorium – the 1200 capacity classroom that routinely turned down requests for entry into Scanlan’s courses


Scanlan, Richard (1986). The Myths of Greece and Rome. Edine, MN: Bellwether Press. (Available at the Literature and Languages Library at the U of I)


38 Things We Love About Illinois No. 7. (January 2016). Retrieved from

Mitchell, T. (2009, June) Life Remembered: Popular Classics Prof was ‘Legendary’. News Gazette, retrieved from

Richard T. Scanlan Teaching Assistant Fellowship (2018). Retrieved from

Scanlan, R. (1971). Computer-Assisted Instruction in Latin. The Classical Journal 66(3), 223 – 227. Retrieved from

Scanlan, R. (1980). Computer-Assisted Instruction in Latin. The Classical Outlook, 58(2), 44 – 45. Retrieved from 

Contributors: Donte Winslow