Astrophysics Club Field Trip

This series is part of an effort to showcase the many great employees who contribute to teaching and learning efforts at MVC.

Posted on behalf of Shahnaz Sokhansanj.

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What teaching and learning opportunity recently occurred at Mountain View College (MVC)?

The Astrophysics Club took three van loads of students on a field trip to the Three Rivers Foundation (3RF) Observatory in Crowell, Texas. This was a continuation of a club tradition that began more than 15 years ago. The astrophysics club has been active for many years at Mountain View College and has been trying to engage students outside of the classroom by inviting experts in the field of physics and astronomy to campus. We encourage students to research various topics related to physics and astronomy, and to later present their research to the class. We also travel to places such as the Very Large Array telescopes in New Mexico; NASA Mission Control in Houston; Cape Canaveral in Florida; the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas; the meteor crater in Odessa, Texas; and the Three Rivers Foundation in northwest Texas. We have done each of these trips a few times. We also have monthly star parties on campus for students, MVC employees, and their families, and for the community as well.

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What about this topic are you most excited about?

Physics and astronomy open the door to the beauty and order of the universe. They also can make science come alive, so that anyone can enjoy it. Science is often misunderstood by the public and is rarely as appreciated as, for example, music or the performing arts. So astronomy is a form of science that people can “relate” to and connect with, and that is what is most exciting to me as a teacher. 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. In sum, physics and astronomy help us understand who we are—morally, mentally and physically.

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Why is this topic so important to everyone at MVC?

Astronomy is inherently appealing to almost everyone, both within the MVC community and outside of it, from young children to older adults. Its appeal to a wide range of people is shown by its millenia-old history in cultures from around the world. Aside from that, there are legions of dedicated amateur astronomers of all ages, from many professions, ethnic groups and genders. Astronomy brings everyone together and creates a common bond among all these people, and also creates a bond from each of these people to science itself.

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What did participants learn or take away from this experience?

Because the conditions for sky observation during this trip were less than ideal, the students had to be patient and resourceful. These are traits that are absolutely necessary for any scientist and for many engineers as well. We were able to do many indoor activities, and also were able to watch the sky whenever there was a break in the weather. We were able to see the Milky Way stretched across the sky full of stars in the middle of the night, while coyotes were making noise a short distance away, probably fighting over scant prey. We visited and learned about a variety of telescopes on the 3RF campus. The trip allowed students to learn how to cope with other people in close quarters while having fun and learning at the same time. They also were able to experience a very rural area far from the urban environs of Dallas, which expanded their educational and social horizons.

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What is some of the feedback you received regarding this event?

The students were very appreciative of this opportunity. They mentioned that the trip was unforgettable to them, not only from an educational standpoint. While this field trip allowed them to have fun with a group of their peers and classmates, it was also a spiritually enriching experience, as it allowed them to see all the beauty of the sky above us.

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If people would like to learn more about this topic, where would you point them towards?

There are many web sites available on the field of astronomy. For example:

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There are very good documentary or films on science-themed channels such as Nova and National Geographic and many others. The resources above are only a few among many. While there are many astronomy-oriented web sites, please be sure to avoid the astrology sites, because that is not what we would consider astronomy.

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Establishing a Human Connection in Online Courses

There is something magical about the first day of class. Everyone arrives excited about the semester ahead, there’s a buzz that can be felt around all parts of campus, and it is truly the first time you, a faculty member, are able to connect with your students. That connection, one which signals credibility, provides insight into the subject matter as a whole, and, perhaps most importantly, establishes a human connection for the entire semester, ensures that students feel connected to their learning environment. Instructors are human after all and instructor presence is an important aspect of teaching and learning.

Credibility, Insight, Connection

As I began to strategize for the first day of delivery, I wanted to ensure that I achieved all three elements stated above (credibility, insight, and connection). Teaching an online course, the challenge I face would be never actually getting to see my students in front of me. I could of course write an award winning essay that addressed these same elements, but reading alone might not be the best method to achieve the results I seek. I want each student to feel a personal connection and I believe video to be the most effective format for that purpose.

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That Horrible Blinking Record Icon

As it turns out being in front of the camera is an entirely different experience than being in front of a classroom full of students. In the classroom you don’t have time to worry about your hair, if you tend to say the word “um” a few times, the pitch of your voice, or how often you tend to blink. In front of the camera however, that’s all you tend to worry about as you transition from looking at your students to looking at yourself for the duration of the video. The funny thing is, even faculty who have spent years in front of a classroom may turn camera-shy as soon as soon as that little red record light comes on. There is no escaping or ignoring that blinking red light.

Beep. Recording. Beep. Recording. Beep. Eek!

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Something Magical Happens

Once you realize that you’re no longer auditioning for a lead role in the next summer blockbuster, you let your guard down just enough to appear to be a normal human being. Then something truly magical happens…you begin to smile…your sense of humor becomes apparent…and you end with a video that (although it won’t win any awards) isn’t that bad after all. Heck, you could do this every week! Kidding of course.

The end result is that, by simply creating an introductory video for your online course,  you will have established an instructional relationship with your students that encompasses all aspects of a “Community of Inquiry” model (image below). Such a video, in whatever method you use to create it, helps students feel a sense of belonging in their course (even if they’ll never actually see you in person since this is an online class after all).

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Garrison, Anderson, and Archer Community of Inquiry Model

Last Steps

The last step I needed to accomplish was simply sharing the video with my students. I did this by uploading the video to YouTube publicly (I know that’s a scary idea for some instructors, but unlisting the video on YouTube or utilizing Vimeo with privacy settings fully enabled would have been other options). Once uploaded I made sure to create closed captioning (subtitles), before embedding the video in my first official welcome message within Blackboard (image below).

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Additional Resources

Share Your Process

Please feel free to add your comments or suggestions in the comment box below. I’d love to learn what other instructors are doing and in turn share great ideas even further.

Teaching & Learning: Nepantla

This series is part of an effort to showcase the many great employees who contribute to teaching and learning efforts at MVC.

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Posted on behalf of Professor Tina Medina.

What teaching and learning opportunity recently occurred at Mountain View College (MVC)?

Currently a solo exhibition by MVC faculty Tina Medina is on view at Mountain View College in the Cliff Gallery from the dates March 6 until April 7, 2017. A workshop based on the art techniques will occur on March 29, 10:10am until 11:00am in the Cliff Gallery. In connection with the Nepantla exhibition, Dallas artist Tina Medina will demonstrate portrait drawing related to visual heritage. Participants will experience mixed media drawing techniques and be guided on how to draw portraiture. Participants are encouraged to bring a copy of a photo of a face or work from those provided. The workshop is free and art materials will be provided. Space is Limited, the workshop is limited to 15 people, thus, the first 15 who show up to the workshop will be given a seat. However we welcome onlookers and questions from those individuals that do not get to directly participate in the workshop activities.

What about this topic are you most excited about?

The exhibit relates specifically to the student population and community demographic. Through various themes about family, ancestry and US history, the art is portrayed from the viewpoint of people from various ethnic backgrounds and immigrants. The themes relate also to the current events and political topics. Through this art exhibition I am hoping to open avenues of communication, dialogue and discussion for all students and members of the community. These artworks are meant to create critical thinking situations for students in classes of all disciplines.

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Why is this topic so important to everyone at MVC?

These topics are so important to everyone at MVC because these viewpoints are the viewpoints of our students, faculty and staff. Various individuals from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds come together at the community college in order to better their lives, whether that be through working or taking classes there. The diversity of our campus is the strength and beauty of our college.

What did participants learn or take away from this experience?

Participants who view the art exhibit and/or participate in the workshop will learn about various art methods including installation art, mixed media techniques, as well as themes in art regarding ancestry, politics, social protest, affirmation, race, gender and class. Those who view the art will hopefully take away questions about history and the viewpoints of others.

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What is some of the feedback you received regarding this event?

Some of the feedback so far has been that many who have seen the art comment on how the topics are powerful and meaningful. Faculty have requested to view the exhibit with their classes, the Culture of Writing Festival will feature the exhibit as part of a presentation during the festival. A local news channel has contacted MVC media about interviewing the artist.

If people would like to learn more about this topic, where would you point them towards?

Interested people who want to learn more about the art exhibit or the workshop can visit or contact the Cliff art gallery or contact the ARCO division office. Regarding learning more about the topics in the art exhibition people will find more information in libraries and literature and history books written from the viewpoints of people of varying racial ethnicities and cultures.

Teaching & Learning: Mechatronics

The following article showcases teaching and learning efforts at Mountain View College. This series is part of an effort to showcase faculty, students, and innovative class work across the institution.

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What teaching and learning opportunity exists or recently occurred at Mountain View College (MVC)?

The Mechatronics program which featured many job opportunities, internships, research opportunities, and 18 recipients of Advanced Manufacturer’s Certification in the Spring, Summer, and Fall of 2016. The Mechatronics Program consists of four classes in order to earn an Advanced Manufacturing/Mechatronics Technology Certification.

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What about this topic are you most excited about?

I am very excited to announce the program was a success. Taking college students and getting them permanent jobs. Then We took 18 rising 9th graders and introduced a rigorous summer program. It was a vision to change the North Texas Drop-Out rate, by introducing Dual Credit classes to them early on where their culture would be formed in the hallways of Mountain View College. We partnered with Kimball and Duncanville High School to try and make a direct difference on student outcome. By taking the two summer courses, the students were able to achieve the certification within one year. Plus, allowing them to gain 16 college hours. The students will continue on with their Associate Degree in Applied Science in Engineering, Electronics or a STEM related field.

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Why is this topic so important to everyone at MVC?

In empowers students to become innovative, creative, and gives the qualifications and skills to accomplish a job. We involve tough critical thinking projects, a hands-on-approach to manufacturing by subtraction or addition. Through CNC concepts to 3-D Printing, we produce products from initial conceptual beginning.

What will/did participants learn or take away from this experience?

We took the students to compete at Hack-a-Thon competition sponsored by ATT&T, Ericson, Texas Instruments, Raytheon where they had to answer Engineering questions through Coding/Programming and building circuits. Well we competed against Sophomore’s in college and one group placed 2nd in the competition. The Sponsor from UTA informed me he could not believe these guys are freshman and Juniors in High School, we would accept all of them and the transfers.

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What is some of the feedback you received regarding this topic?

Very hands on. Able to understand science concepts and convert them to practical automated, autonomous processes. Ability to identify IEEE standards and codes. Fun and exciting, “I was able to take technology and create something,”

If people would like to learn more about this topic, where would you point them towards?

The DCCCD website. Search Big Fish in Big Pond story of MVC students interning at Los Alamos and doing well. Mechatronics in DCCCD home page.

Space Week 2016 at MVC

Posted on behalf of Robert Stallmann.

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Early in October, Mountain View College briefly became the hub of astrophysics education in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The college presented a series of educational events called Space Week 2016, organized by Shahnaz Sokhansanj, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and the MVC Astrophysics Club. This event was timed to coincide with World Space Week, established by the United Nations in 1999. The week begins each year on or about 4 October, the anniversary of the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the first human-made satellite.

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At MVC, Space Week 2016 began on Tuesday 4 October with a presentation by MVC physics students, “Why Doesn’t the Moon Fall Down?” This presentation was followed by an outdoor workshop during which Dr. Boudreaux and her students from Trini Garza Early College High School constructed rockets, sundials, and star finders.

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On Wednesday, MVC physics and astronomy students led another presentation, “Why the Earth is a Magnet.” Once again, this presentation was followed up with outdoor activities, wherein Trini Garza High School students, led by Garza’s Mr. Smith, made rockets, conducted solar observations, and generated electricity using Earth’s magnetic field. The day also marked the opening of the Out of This World Art Show in the Kiva Gallery, featuring the work of Prof. James Behan’s students.

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On Thursday, Space Week activities resumed in the evening, with a presentation by Prof. Shahnaz Sokhansanj called “Why Do We Have Seasons?” The next presentation, given by Prof. Jonathan York, focused on the detrimental effect of urban light pollution on stargazing. Finally, at 6:00 PM, Levent Gurdemir gave a presentation on the constellations and the night sky. Mr. Gurdermir is director of the UT Arlington Planetarium, and is also a doctoral student in physics and astronomy at UTA.

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The outdoor Star Party began immediately after Mr. Gurdemir’s presentation. At the Star Party, students and community members of all ages examined various planets and the moon, using telescopes set up by MVC Professors Jonathan York and Jay Bhalerao; and by Ian Grey, an MVC physics student and science museum educator. Meanwhile, Dr. Victor Soto and his students gave an outdoor musical performance, “Spacing Out with Music Under the Stars.”

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Space Week concluded on Friday with a public lecture in the Treetop Lounge by Richard Bonde, a doctoral student in space physics at UT Arlington. Mr. Bonde’s presentation focused on sunspots, solar flares, and other solar phenomena, and their effect on the Earth’s magnetic field—including visible effects such as the aurora borealis or “northern lights.”

MVC Teaching & Learning Center

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BEFORE: The previous self-support lab in W162.

What if faculty and staff could go to a single place on campus to receive one‐on‐one support, learn about new and emerging technologies, and begin the process of professional development?

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It’s surprising what paint can do to breath life into an underutilized space!

The Challenge

The support model and organizational structure for Distance Education and Professional Development at Mountain View College has changed. On campus these services have been spread out across multiple locations and even multiple floors. There is some confusion, partly because of new hires within these departments, previous support roles provided, and servicing locations, as to where faculty and staff go for one‐on‐one support, what technology is currently available, and who provides support.

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The first shipment of updated furniture arrives!

Proposed Solution

By consolidating existing staff into a single location (W162), we can begin to provide the institution with a consistent presence and drop‐in support related to the new scope of services under eLearning and Professional Development. Lack of presence and drop‐in support has been a missing element, as noted by faculty during previous return weeks.

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The redesign now support three full-time staff within the space (as well as all of the previous computer equipment).

A Staffed Center

By transitioning three full‐time employees to the space, support levels, expectations, and space utilization will drastically improve. We’d like to see the space become known as a “Teaching and Learning Center” instead of a self-support lab. Within a teaching and learning center meaningful dialogue is exchanged, instructional strategies are proposed, and curiosity is paired with the right hardware or software (that can in turn even be checked out to interested individuals).

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IT helped ensure that all PCs were reconnected, that the two new Macs worked perfectly, and that all computers now share a network printer.

Questions and Answers

What’s happening to this space?

W162 is being upgraded to support teaching and learning efforts at Mountain View College. We’re preparing to support eLearning and Professional Development across the institution.

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AFTER: The redesign now includes the same number of PCs, two new Macs, and three staff workstations!

What’s changed?

We’ve kept the same four PCs, added two new Macintosh computers, and brought in three staff members into the space. We’ve upgraded hardware and software across the board and aim to eventually provide one-on-one support for teaching and learning efforts. The major difference is that W162 is now a staffed Teaching and Learning Center (instead of a self-support lab).

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We hope that employees drop by for a quick tour of the new space.

Can I still use the space?

Of course! We’d like to invite every employee to utilize the new hardware and software, ask questions of the staff in the space, or simply drop by to take a quick tour! You are the reason why we’ve invested in the space improvements and we’d love to keep supporting you.

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These two Macs are ready to handle all of your multimedia needs!

When will the space be finished?

We’re currently working with IT and facilities to finish up installation and configuration of all computer equipment and printers. We should be fully operational during the month of November. In the meantime, you are completely welcome to use the space as we are working through completion.

Of course everyone’s invited for an official open house in the month of December! Stay tuned for more details as we continue to enhance the space.

Teaching and Learning – Outdoor Nation

We’d like to take time to learn more about a teaching and learning opportunity and why it matters to the Mountain View College (MVC) family.

By Lori De La Cruz.

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What teaching and learning opportunity recently occurred at Mountain View College (MVC)?

MVC recently participated in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge. For six weeks we encouraged students, faculty, staff and community members to “get outside.” Participants earned points by taking selfies while doing outdoor activities and then posting the photos to the Outdoor Nation app. It was so easy! Every week was a new challenge and a chance to win great prizes like backpacks from Osprey or North Face, a really nice hammock from Grand Trunk, a $75 gift card from Adidas, and tote bags and water bottles from REI. All you had to do was hike, stargaze, camp, walk, fish, skateboard, garden, birdwatch…even hammock! Eighty-eight people participated and posted 583 activities over six weeks – it was a tremendous campaign!

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What about this topic are you most excited about?

I’m most excited about people experiencing the outdoors. You don’t need to climb mountains or kayak a treacherous river to enjoy being outside. Lots of the posted activities were just people walking their dog or enjoying a picnic lunch at the park. Sure, the campaign celebrated those who did the most or used the right hashtag during the right week, but it all boiled down to people spending time outside. Every participant I talked to mentioned how much fun they were having and many made their children get involved – outdoor family time!

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Why is this topic so important to everyone at MVC?

At the most basic level, this challenge offered opportunities to be in nature and appreciate it. Nature isn’t just going to the Arboretum or the park; it’s all around us, everywhere we go. Even a stray weed poking up through a crack in a concrete parking lot is nature. It is both persistent and beautiful. We need to slow down and appreciate the nature that surrounds us, especially on our college campus! Our urban forest is a gem in Oak Cliff that hosts an abundance of biodiversity and we shouldn’t take it for granted.

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What did participants learn or take away from this experience?

I can’t speak for others, but I learned that we have the most fun when we’re with our friends and classmates, and we’re celebrating nature without even realizing it. I have a great photo of two ECHS students roasting marshmallows around the grill with Dr. Davis. All around them students were laughing, trying out the hiking meals, checking out the solar ovens or just taking a break from class. They’re all just taking a few minutes to enjoy the sunshine and the camaraderie.

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We also did a nighttime activity hosted by the Astrophysics Club: Tents and Telescopes. Around dusk we roasted marshmallows and hot dogs and hung out talking until it got dark enough to use the telescopes. I’ve never used a really nice telescope before, so imagine my delight when I saw Saturn and its rings just a clear as if it were a few feet away! And did you know that the sunrise/sunset on Mars is blue, not red/orange like ours? We got to see it and it was awe-inspiring! And the best part was that students participated who have never been and didn’t know what to expect. (BTW: the Astrophysics Club hosts star parties every month and the experience is stunning!)

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What is some of the feedback you received regarding this event?

The feedback has all been positive. People have been purposefully getting off the couch and heading outdoors. Even at work, participants were taking time to walk during their lunch hour. And they have been really surprised this week as I’ve been delivering prizes; many folks were having so much fun that they forgot they were competing for prizes!

A special congratulations goes out to Lorena Faz as officially being “MVC’s Most Outdoorsy Person!”

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If people would like to learn more about this topic, where would you point them towards?

Classes:

Trails:

Just Get Outdoors: