The Friday 5 – ISSS Interviews Weingarten

Wednesday, April 8, 2020
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International students are facing some unique challenges during this period, including relocating back to their home countries and dealing with significant time zones differences. Some students are also seeing an increase in assignments and workloads. Others miss linguistic cues and support in the forms of body language or the ability to check comprehension with a classmate. To address these challenges, Julianne Reynolds, Associate Director of the Office of Learning Resources and Learning Instructor for International Students, recently sat down with Ryan Villanueva, Assistant Director for Integration & Community Engagement at International Student and Scholar Services, for a Q&A session focused on tips for international student success with the transition to remote instruction.

Check out the full conversation in this video or read the summary below:

What services is the Weingarten Office of Learning Resources offering that can be helpful to international students?

We are offering virtual appointments, drop-in sessions, and workshops via BlueJeans. By using the screen share feature, students can share their assignments or calendars with us for feedback. We’re happy to talk about specific assignments or adjusting to remote instruction in general. Appointments are up to 50 minutes and can be scheduled days or weeks in advance. Drop-in sessions are 25 minutes and can only be scheduled the day of. To schedule an appointment or a drop-in session, students can call our main number at 215-573-9235 during regular business hours EST Monday to Friday. Students can also leave a voicemail if they are unable to call us during our business hours. Check out the OLR website for more information on scheduling, upcoming workshops, and special drop-in hours for graduate students.

What advice would you give to someone who has not done online classes before?

This is a sudden and unexpected transition for everybody and many classes were not originally conceptualized to be online classes, so I think we all need to be patient with ourselves and others as we adjust. One tip to smooth the transition is to take the time to sit down and organize your classes. Consider using a chart to keep track of the changes you’re seeing in each class. I recommend using an Excel spreadsheet or even pencil and paper and, for each class, keeping track of the following: What has changed in the syllabus? What are the new deadlines to be aware of? What links are important for this class (e.g., links to pre-recorded lectures, synchronous sessions, online textbooks)? Who can support me in this class (e.g., email addresses for professors, TAs, learning instructors, tutors, study partners). And finally, What questions do I still have about this class? This organization is especially important when the information may be coming from multiple places, including Canvas, emails, and synchronous sessions.

Generally speaking, it’s important to think about where and when you can do your online work. Ideally, I would recommend working in a quiet, distraction-free environment during the times of the day when you are best able to focus on your work. However, the reality is that not everyone is going to have that so you need to figure out what will be “good enough” for now. This might involve some boundary setting with the people you live with. Additionally, I think it’s important to create a daily routine for yourself that includes time for your online coursework as well as time to focus on physical, mental, and social needs.

What advice do you have about staying motivated and engaged with course materials through remote instruction?

On-campus classes may seem like a distant memory right now, but I think it’s a good time to remember your big picture goals like graduating with a Penn degree. To get that degree, you have to finish the assignments to pass your courses. When you sit down to work, try to identify and limit distractions by closing unnecessary browser windows, turning off notifications on your phone, and setting boundaries with family members and roommates. Also, treat online classes like real classes. Get out of bed. Change out of your pajamas. Take notes during class. The advantage of pre-recorded lectures is that you can pause them and rewind them as needed. Most importantly, think about how you can participate actively in your classes. Some classes may have synchronous components where you can ask still ask questions face-to-face. If not, look for online discussion boards, virtual office hours, and opportunities to form virtual study groups. And, of course, you can still meet virtually with learning instructors and tutors to discuss your classes and approaches to learning.

What recommendations would you give to students doing final exams and final projects from their homes?

Pay attention to how your syllabus is changing. We’re seeing a range of possibilities in terms of what final assessments are going to look like. Some exams will still be administered online and timed with exam software. Other in-class exams are changing to open-book take-home exams. Some courses are changing the format entirely, for instance assigning papers instead of exams. And some courses are doing away with the final exam altogether and putting more weight on other assignments instead. Make sure you’re clear on what the final assessment is going to look like for each of your courses. Once you know this, you can start gathering and organizing your study materials such as textbooks, notes, PowerPoint slides, study guides, and practice exams. Then schedule a study plan for yourself in advance, recognizing that it may make sense to break up studying into chunks of time spread over days, if not weeks, rather than marathon study sessions. Give yourself little things to do every day. When the exam day rolls around, make sure you have the best space possible to work – ideally in a room where you can close the door and focus.

What advice do you have about setting academic priorities and expectations for the rest of the semester?

I think it’s important to acknowledge that these are extraordinary times and we can’t expect ourselves to be as productive as we usually are. We have to cut ourselves some slack. There’s a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear right now. We’re easily distracted. Our attention spans are shorter. We may feel less motivated. It’s important to be kind to ourselves and to each other. We first have to attend to our basic needs – food, housing, friends, family, exercise. These are things we need for our physical and mental well-being. We also need to make sure we have the tools we need to do our academic work such as computers, internet access, and special software. Once everything is in place and we feel secure, then we can start to focus on work. Even then, I would recommend starting small. Something is better than nothing. Writing one page is better than writing none. Doing three problems out of ten is better than doing none. It helps to set small, specific, achievable daily goals.

The next ISSS Friday 5 interview on Friday, April 10 will feature CAPS. Register here.

By Staff Writer: Julianne Reynolds, Associate Director of the Office of Learning Resources and Learning Instructor for International Students

5 Things You Might Not Know About the Weingarten Center

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

You may already know that the Weingarten Center is a great place to get help with time management or exam prep but here are a few things that you might not know about us.

1.    We can help you set and meet study goals
Although many students aim to get good grades in their courses, a general goal such as “I study-skillswant to get an A in this course” might be too abstract to be helpful. Setting more specific study goals is a great way to increase motivation and stay focused. For example, your goal might be to solve five econ problems per study session or to write three pages of an essay by Monday. Meeting these specific and more manageable goals will keep you moving along. We can help you identify realistic study goals and stay accountable for the goals you set. So, if you set a goal to write three pages of that paper by Monday, we can set up an appointment to meet on Monday or Tuesday to review your draft together or just have a check-in meeting.  Many students find that a scheduled meeting gives them an extra push to get that draft done.

Study-Partners-FTR-TS-1494018362-340x3402.    You can come to an appointment with a study or project partner
Not all studying or projects are done alone. You may be assigned a partner for a class project, or have a regular study partner for a specific course. You are more than welcome to bring these classmates with you when you come in. We can discuss strategies for group work or group study. Or maybe you and a classmate just happen to have the same question and want to come in together. We’re happy to help you both at the same time. As a bonus, you can then help each other remember what was said at the appointment.
3.    You can rehearse a presentation for us and get feedbackrehearsal.jpg
When it comes to giving a class presentation, practice is key. You never want just to wing it. Rehearsing your presentation not only helps you get your timing down, but it also helps you increase your overall confidence. Rehearsing on your own is good. Rehearsing in front of another person is even better. A live audience can give you feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of your presentation, particularly regarding clarity, organization, and delivery. If your roommates or friends aren’t willing to sit and listen to your presentation, know that you can always rehearse it for us. Bring your laptop and run through your slides. Ask us questions. We’ll give you feedback. Or we’ll ask you questions to help you prepare for a Q&A session.

4.    You can use our whiteboards
Have you been looking for a place to study with access to a whiteboard? Well, look no further. We have a large whiteboard in our study lounge and a smaller one in our computer lab for your use. All our learning instruction rooms have whiteboards too. We’ve seen students use the whiteboards to create concept maps, outline topics, and talk through ideas or problems. What’s more, a great study strategy is to teach what you’re learning to someone else. This strategy helps you pinpoint what you know and what you don’t know. So, stand in front of the whiteboard and teach us something when you come in for an appointment. We’re always happy to learn new things.Whiteboard.png
5.    Our walk-in hours are held at three locations on campus
For those days when a walk over to the Weingarten Center seems like too much, it’s good to know you have options. In addition to our walk-in hours at the Weingarten Center (12 noon – 3 pm, Monday to Friday and also 4-7 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), we also have walk-ins at the Arch and the Graduate Student Center. Walk-ins at the Arch are on select Fridays only from 12 noon – 2 pm. Upcoming Arch walk-ins will be held on April 15 and April 22. Our walk-in hours at the Graduate Student Center focus on graduate-level writing. They are held on Mondays from 1-4 pm, and you can sign up in advance here.

Staff Writer: Julianne Reynolds

Keep English Switched On: Go to Office Hours

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.


Go to office hours. You can ask questions about the course material, get help with a particular assignment, and build a relationship with an expert. Not only do you benefit by learning more about subject areas that interest you, you are also demonstrating to your instructor that you care about that subject. And you get more practice speaking English! It’s important to start building these relationships early on in your academic career. Down the road, you might turn to your instructors for career advice.

But don’t just take it from us:

““I visited four professors during office hours for a total of 6 times in the past academic year and each time I received tremendous support academically and emotionally. Among these meetings, there was one in particular that meant a lot to me. At the beginning of my master’s program, I talked to one professor about one challenging assignment, as I felt that I could never achieve what he expected us to. To my surprise, he not only explained the requirements in detail, but more importantly, relieved me from being overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect. We ended up discussing our understanding about academic success for graduate study, and came to an agreement that what mattered most was the knowledge and experience we could take way with us for years rather than GPA. That meeting was a turning point for me, as I was able to actually enjoy learning and experiencing my study life without the burden of becominYue Shig a 4.0 student.” – Yue Shi, Counseling and Mental Health Services, GSE `15.

Keep English Switched On: Get to Know Your Classmates

Friday, September 25, 2015

In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.


Get to know the other students in your classes, especially ones who aren’t native speakers of your first language. One way to do this is to get to class early and make small talk with someone sitting next to you. Good topics for small talk include difficult assignments, the weather (seriously – especially if there’s a storm brewing), and current events on campus.

But don’t just take it from us:


“Small talk is a relatively easy way to start a conversation with others and doing it more often will gradually build up your confidence. However, one important thing to keep in mind is to try not to think of the person you are talking with as a tool for practicing English. Friendship is cultivated by a genuine mutual interest in each other, so try not to pretend to be someone else and talk about things that you literally have no interest in. Be yourself and try to talk with people you want to get to know more. Also, don’t be afraid to ask if other people say something you don’t understand. People usually understand that you are not a native speaker and are usually happy to teach you (and you need to acknowledge to yourself that you have a lot to learn!). You can also ask people to correct you if they found that you’ve made a language mistake.”– Amelie Chang, Professional Counseling and Mental Health Services, GSE, `16.


Monday, September 14, 2015

In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.

strategy2finalSeek out university clubs or groups where you share a common interest with other members. Check out the Office of Student Affairs’ website for a complete list of student organizations and budget time into your schedule to attend regular meetings. You might also be interested in attending social events sponsored by student groups or your academic department or school. When you go to these events, go by yourself or with one other person. If you go in a large group, you’re more likely to stay with your group and less likely to mingle with new people.

But don’t just take it from us:

ILP Final Presentations cropped

“When first moving to the US to study, I never actually thought that the language would be a major hindrance. After all, I have been studying English since I was 3, and all of the books I used for my undergrad were in English due to the lack of translations. But what I found out is that even though I did OK in class, it was much more difficult to accurately communicate in everyday situations: having lunch with your classmates, etc. It was in those moments that it was more difficult for me to find the words I needed to convey my ideas. I decided, then, to look for activities that would involve meeting people outside of those that speak my own language. I signed up for intercultural programs such as ILP (Intercultural Leadership Program) and Intercultural Buddies at GSC and started organizing activities with my U.S. classmates, like going out for dinner. After all, if I wanted to be surrounded by people from my own country, I would have stayed home. It’s so rewarding when you are able to speak to anyone right from the top of your mind. It takes time, and above all, it takes practice, but it’s totally worth it.” – Fernando Gama, Electrical and Systems Engineering, SEAS ’20.

Keep English Switched On: An International Student Blog Series

Monday, August 31, 2015

In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.


In September, Weingarten Learning Resources will host a series called Academics Plus for international students who would like to learn more about proven study strategies that work in U.S. classrooms. These hour and a half workshops are an ideal space to discuss academic, language, and cultural topics with the facilitators and with other international students who have similar concerns.

Since the workshops are open to students from all 12 Penn schools, this is a great way to meet people from other academic disciplines and backgrounds.

But don’t just take it from us:

wang“I found talking to WLRC instructors very useful in fitting into the academic and social life at Penn. Also, sharing experiences with other international students gave me the sense that I’m not alone in feeling all these pressures and hardships. These workshops helped me build my confidence, so that I can better figure out my own way of study.” – Saier Wang, Social Policy, SP2 ’16

Yue Shi“I participated in two Academic Plus workshops at Weingarten in the past year, one for reading strategies and the other for student conduct. Both workshops were very interactive and practical. For the reading workshop with 30+ participants, we were randomly assigned to 4-5 groups, and were asked to read an article before the instructor started the seminar, and to redo the reading after the strategies were introduced. That task enabled us to immediately apply new skills and see the effect. For the student conduct workshop, we were given some really tricky scenarios and were asked to decide whether or not the behaviors in the scenarios were plagiarism. Before the workshop, I thought I knew what cheating and plagiarism were for sure, but after that, I realized that there were some grey areas that I, as an international student, had misunderstandings in. I felt fortunate that I went to both workshops, as they helped to improve my efficiency and ensured that I was on the right track in an unfamiliar campus culture.”  -Yue Shi, Counseling and Mental Health Services, GSE ‘15

Spaces fill quickly! Click below to reserve your spot in the Academics Plus workshops today!:

Academics Plus