UVM’s Online Bachelor of Arts Degree: An Interview with Instructors Teresa Mares, Ph.D. and Scott Van Keuren, Ph.D.

By Kate Whitney

This fall, the University of Vermont is unveiling its new Online Bachelor of Arts Degree Completion Program. The new online program will provide students who have left college before graduation (or those who have completed their associate degree) the opportunity to finish their bachelor degree. The learning will happen outside of the traditional four-year undergraduate model and will help students achieve their personal and professional goals through a flexible, convenient and affordable program.

UVM’s fully online program provides the final 60 credits toward the Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology major requirements paired with the minor requirements in English or Writing, allowing students to gain a high-quality education from a world-renowned university while balancing the demands of education, work and family.

What makes UVM’s program particularly remarkable is in its exact mirroring of the residential B.A. program, with students taking the same courses—from the same instructors—as the students learning on campus, the only difference being in its online delivery.

Online Course Provides Rich Interactions

We caught up with two participating faculty members from the Anthropology Department, Teresa Mares, Ph.D. and Scott Van Keuren, Ph.D. to learn more about their experience as online instructors, potential career paths for graduates with a degree in Anthropology, and why they’re looking forward to working with nontraditional students across the region.

“Our department has been involved with the program from its earliest conception,” Van Keuren stated. “As a faculty, we have always embraced alternative teaching formats, namely online courses. Given that, we’ve all been positive about using the program to expand our reach and expose new audiences to the broader study of anthropology.”

Van Keuren, who will be leading the introductory archaeology course (ANTH 024 Prehistoric Archaeology), has been a member of the Anthropology faculty since 2007 and teaching in the online format for over 10 years. He remarked that those experiences rank among his favorites as an instructor. “There are certainly differences between online and in-class courses, but, ironically, sometimes the discussions and overall interactions are richer in the online format.”

Mares was in agreement.

“One thing that I really appreciate about online classes is it gives people equal opportunity and equal expectation to contribute and participate,” she stated. “In a large lecture class or even in a small in-person class that isn’t always the case. And I think for people who might be timid or less willing to speak up in an in-person class, participating in an online class often gives them the platform to be more actively engaged.”

Mares, who has been on the Anthropology faculty since 2011, and whose research focuses on the intersection of food and migration studies,will be teaching the Intro to Cultural Anthropology course (ANTH 021), using fieldwork-based concepts and methods to study diverse cultural views and practices, varied forms of social organization, and contemporary global issues.

Students will attend courses through Blackboard, an online learning system that facilitates course delivery and management, often set up as self-paced modules with readings, images, short films, and other content. Blackboard alsoallows students to directly communicate with their professors and engage with fellow classmates through online discussion boards.

“The online courses encourage deep discussions and conversations that create a connection between the prof and student,” Van Keuren said. “Typically, if you take my introductory course at UVM, you are sitting with 180 other students in a massive classroom. With the online format, the numbers are small, and connections are more immediate.”

However, for students who are new to online learning, the lack of face-to-face interaction with professors and fellow learners might seem different, or even intimidating at first. In order to foster and manage communication within the online classroom, both Mares and Van Keuren offer online office hours through FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom video conferencing meetings with their online students. Additionally, Mares and Van Keuren noted that they often break their online classrooms into smaller groups for projects, allowing for the peer interaction and relationship-building that you would typically find on campus.

Both Mares and Van Keuren are looking forward to what the Online Degree Completion program can mean for both the university and the community.

“I think one of the things I’m really excited about is having nontraditional students and people that are working full time or people that have been out of school for a long time in the classroom. I’m really excited about having people in the class with really diverse life experiences,” Mares said. “It’s going to let those who are working full-time—or people with kids—access that last class or two they need and open up a number of opportunities that people who can’t get onto campus during the day can have.”

Opportunities for Anthropology Graduates are Endless.

“You name it,” Van Keuren said. “Anthropology graduates from our department follow a range of career pathways, including education, health sciences, non-profit work, and, of course, graduate training for anthropology careers.”

“I think people who have a concern for others, or how people think, or work, are drawn into this field,” Mares added. “We’re asking questions about humans and human culture, and that’s something that’s relevant in anything from business to psychology to agriculture. I think the questions we ask are important no matter what people are individually drawn to studying. A liberal arts education is about training people widely and giving them the tools that they need for a number of different fields. The interdisciplinary thinking and the good, rounded, background in a number of topics is just incredibly important.”


Learn how you can finish your degree online at UVM today.


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