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Students are used to interacting with their instructors face to face in a classroom but, for Mary Keller, the need to constantly find new ways to keep her students interested in her classes poses different challenges. That’s because she teaches online courses.
Keller, who lives in Cody, is the recipient of the Hollon Family Award for Teaching Excellence in Off-campus Programs.
She is an academic professional lecturer in the UW Department of Religious Studies and has taught at UW since 2002 when she began her career as an adjunct professor, both in religious studies and in the then-African American Studies Program.
She teaches primarily online -- usually four courses a semester -- with an occasional face-to-face summer field course at Heart Mountain, the Japanese-American internment camp, located between Powell and Cody.
“Keller tackles difficult topics in her teaching -- religion, race and politics -- and she does so almost exclusively in an environment where students and instructor interact asynchronously, without the usual cues of voice tone, facial expression and body language that usually help ease communication in hard discussions,” says Quincy Newell, head of the Department of Religious Studies. “Nevertheless, her students generally rate her highly for her interaction with students during the course, and for her presentation of material.”
Laracel D’Andrea took two courses from Keller, and says some professors in other online classes would simply make a PowerPoint document and would use that as a lecture.
“Professor Keller, however, took things to a higher level and went the extra mile by taking the time and effort to create video lectures,” D’Andrea says. “I really appreciated this because I tend to learn better when I am able to see the person who is teaching, rather than just reading what they have written.”
Some of Keller’s online students praised her teaching ability -- even though they didn’t have that face-to-face contact.
“Professor Keller's unique online teaching method has been very effective. The assignments can be tailored to each student's unique learning preferences. This is the first online class I have taken where there were so many options, and I could choose the route which was most effective for me instead of having to adjust my learning to the instructor's style,” one student commented.
“Mary Keller is truly one of the best professors I've had at the University of Wyoming. She's very involved in the course and is obviously passionate about what she does. She has been helpful to me all throughout the semester, and I've really enjoyed this course,” one student wrote. “She was responsive to emails and worked to make sure people understood the material as best as possible. She gives a lot of options for getting a good grade and was just an all-around great instructor.”
Another student also praised her teaching skills.
“I thought that Professor Keller's teaching style was very effective. She used a variety of styles of teaching -- discussions, video lectures, written lectures, Web projects, reading and online research -- which helped keep the class interesting, and helped me remember the information easier,” wrote the student. “I really appreciated Professor Keller's quick response to questions and all the feedback she gave on the discussion boards and grading comments.”
She received her Ph.D. and her M.A. degrees, both from Syracuse University, and her B.A. from Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.