The Teaching & Learning Center at Mountain View College seeks to share teaching practices across the entire institution. The following article showcases a faculty member, provides insight into the environment they’ve created for MVC students, and demonstrates effective teaching practices.
This month we showcase Professor Shahnaz Sokhansanj.
What is one element about MVC that makes it the “best college on earth?”
I have heard many times from other people that once they start working at MVC, they do not want to leave. For me, Mountain View is just my home. I feel relaxed and comfortable here. I have learned that if you show that you really strive to do your best and you work hard for your students’ and the institution’s success, you will get all the help you need from every person here. I do not mean only the current administration, staff, or faculty. During my 21 years of part-time and full-time teaching at MVC, I have experienced the support of co-workers in every position.
MVC is a very friendly and warm environment not only for employees, but for the students as well; there are many dedicated people who help support the students in all aspects of their lives. I have seen that many students do not want to leave MVC because they feel welcome, secure, and safe here. Our experienced and dedicated faculty brings out the best in our students.
How would your students describe you or your teaching style?
I think that my students would describe me as caring and helpful. They know well that I use all available methods to help them learn at their best, and to help them become active, inquisitive learners.
What teaching strategies do you find most successful in your courses?
A lively class with interactive teaching and learning has proven to be the most fruitful approach. After only a few minutes of lecturing, students seem about to fall asleep. Students should therefore be fully engaged during every minute of the class time.
Working in small groups is one of the best ways for students to be active learners. For example, when groups of students work together on a project, this gives them a sense of purpose and motivates them to go beyond the minimum requirements of the class, and to be creative and innovative. They build, write, use mathematics, present their results, and record and upload a video to share it with their classmates. This experience expands the students’ knowledge and skills in many areas.
In addition, my students engage in activities with the MVC Astrophysics Club, both on and off campus. Students help organize and execute Star Parties for the community; they also travel to observatories to learn about astronomy and physics. At the same time, they enjoy the company of other students, have fun, and experience new adventures. These experiences help convince them that science is interesting and enjoyable.
What do your students love most about your courses?
Students appreciate the fact that physics is about life—all of life. In the Information Age, students’ lives are entangled with physics. Every single electronic device: cameras, computers, iPad, cell phones–all their magic comes from physics. Spaceships, airplanes, cars, submarines, and other vehicles are all work by the laws of physics. Musical instruments sports and their rules, medical devices and many more things and experiences that touch people’s lives, fall under the umbrella of physics.
Astronomy, which is also based on physics, can reveal to every person the beauty and wonder of the cosmos. Physics and astronomy touch upon the great mysteries of the universe. Does the universe have a beginning and an end? Why do human beings exist? We all want to know where we come from and where we are destined to go. We want to learn about the smallest particle (or string in case of string theory) in this world, as much as we want to know what may lie at the edge of the universe (or multiverse). In sum, physics and astronomy help us to understand who we are—morally, mentally and physically; where we come from; and where we are destined to go.
What is one creative solution you’ve implemented to address a specific challenge in your courses?
Physics concepts are hard to understand as long as they can be found only in books, but once they emerge from the textbook, in the form of 3-D simulations, animations, videos, and interactive activities, all the seemingly difficult concepts can become tangible, and their roles in everyday life become much clearer to students. I have therefore fully embraced advanced educational technologies—indeed, the very latest technologies, not just PowerPoint—as a way of activating students’ dormant interest in science.
I have long accepted that my students belong to a new era. Learning and teaching is happening in a different world than it did when I was a student. Writing began with carving on stones, then on leather, then on fabric, then on paper; today, can touch a screen and write or speak and see it in writing. Today, students are able to type so fast and read so fast. Their minds are open to many more worlds compare to my time: they read about art, politics, war, and advances in science and technology all day long.
What has been your most positive or rewarding teaching experience?
I love to see students, who have moved on with their lives, stop by my office after many years to say hello and tell me what they have been doing during the intervening years.
What advice would you give to a new faculty member at MVC?
Do not try to dominate the class. Do not fear the students taking the control of class. Do not take yourself or your course too seriously. Be relaxed so that your students can feel relaxed.
Understand that what even though you are an expert in whatever you teach, for your students it is like learning a new language. As you would with a child who has just begun learning to walk, walk with them, and let them go when they are ready. Respect them and try to distinguish them from each other as individuals. Every single of them has their own unique identity and self. Make them feel welcome and respected. And feed them as often as possible.
Who is one person at MVC who has been instrumental to your success (and why)?
I cannot name only one person. Every person at MVC has somehow participated in my success.