Bigger Pictures: Make a Note
“I don’t know what I think until I’ve written about it.” ~ Various Attributions
Of all the things I talk about here at your learning center, the one I always feel a little bit guilty about is notetaking. I always feel like the subject is like a benignly neglected child in a big family, the kid who basically raises herself in a household that is far too stretched and busy to worry about someone who is more or less okay. That’s notetaking.
Academic notetaking has been largely conscribed by one thing: the lecture. And historically, this makes sense. Back in the mists of time, professors would intone and, well, profess, and students would scratch away, trying to get down every word. It wasn’t uncommon for “serious” students to learn how to take shorthand in order to get down every word. This technique can be described as truly Mediaeval, with its roots planted firmly in the monastic scriptorium, where sacred text was read aloud while Brother Scribes took down copy. What a gig.
Academia has embraced a few technological advances since the Monastic era, most notably the slide deck. Ah, yes. PowerPoint. Our frenemy. No matter where you come down on the ubiquitous deployment of PowerPoint in the higher ed classroom, there is one undeniable plus: the mad rush to get down every word has been alleviated, at least somewhat. So long as the slides are made available, you don’t have to worry about copying out the entire slide during class. All you really have to worry about is what is said off slide.
But there is another part of notes that gets routinely neglected, and that is the notes you make to yourself, and if you don’t do that now, I’d encourage you to give it a go, especially if you are currently in the type of humanities or social science courses that require you to come up with your own paper topics. These notes capture what you think about the lecture topics or reading material. Think of these kinds of notes as the record of what you think.
And one more thing: these types of notes don’t have to be declarative. Solid questions arising from the reading material count as notes too.
Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor
Bigger Pictures: Keep It Classy, Quakers
“Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers” ~ Sana, Weston & Cepeda
Is it even possible to run a spoiler alert before the title of an academic paper? Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Talk about ruining the ending.
In any case, I’m not planning to rehash the paper – I trust you can read that for yourself, and I hope you do. What I am going to talk about is something far more basic.
So, first, a question: how many times have you yourself watched another student “multitasking” during class? I’m not talking about watching someone type lecture notes, I mean watching somebody respond to their email, update their Facebook status, check out 21 Adorable Child Stars Who Grew Up Sooo Ugly?
Okay, now how many times has that been you?
Yeah, I know. But don’t worry. It’ll be our secret. Not that you and I keeping our mouths shut about these multitasking indiscretions matters, because someone else knows, too. Do you know who that is?
That’s right, your professor. More than likely, your TA as well. Don’t think for one minute that the person tasked with operating the front of the house is somehow clueless about what’s going on out there in the rest of the room. They see. They know. Some of them even keep tabs.
But even that’s not the bigger issue here. Sure, it is bad if you don’t get the full 10% for class participation. That piece of the final grade might make the difference between a B+ or an A-, and I always advise students to never leave points on the table. The bigger issue here is that “multitasking” during class is, quite simply, rude. Your actions tell your teacher that what’s going on in the front of the room is far less interesting and of far less import than what’s going on in social media. So don’t do it. It’s not nice to passively insult these people.
Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor
Resolutions for a Fresh Start
“And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught
For auld lang syne.”
~ Robert Burns
Have you ever wondered why, when the ball drops at midnight, nobody seems to know all the words to the song, other than the pressing question of whether or not the auld acquaintance should be forgot, and that bit about the auld lang syne? Well, now you know. Above is the 5th verse (yes, really, there are five verses) in all of its Scots glory, which now allows you to feel better about New Year’s Eve, and which now allows me to type the phrase “right gude-willie waught” one more time and drive spell check into wiggly red underscore frenzy.
Go ahead: sing the 5th verse. You know the melody. Give it spin. I’ll wait here.
Anyway, now that we got the melody looping in your head for the rest of the day, let’s talk Resolutions.
The problem with most resolutions, especially those of the improving-my-academic-performance variety, is that our planning can be overly ambitious. It’s like resolving to whip yourself into shape by adopting a plan where you work out three hours a day, seven days a week and, falling short of the lofty goal, abandon the initial resolution for yet another shameful period of slothful anti-health. It’s supposed to be a resolution, not a guise for self-punishment.
If you’re looking to post better grades and/or learn more, start with small, simple strategies. Let’s get back to basics:
- Review your lecture notes after class within 24 hours. This needn’t require a massive amount of time; 20 to 30 minutes max. Couldn’t get to the notes in 24 hours? Don’t abandon the resolution, adjust the plan and get to them in 48.
- Go to class. Even if you think you don’t get anything out of lecture because A) I hate the professor B) The lecture makes no sense and I just get more confused C) Life is so much better in bed – lecture is still three hours a week with the course material. At the very least, if you’re not replacing missed class time with study time, you’re falling further behind.
- Read more, especially if it seems like you don’t read at all. I’m not saying read everything. Remember the whip yourself into shape thing earlier? Same principle. Start with Power Point slides, or chapter summaries. And don’t just read for the sake of reading, think about what you’re reading.
- Come to Weingarten. Our friendly learning instructors know their way around all kinds of academics-related resolutions. At least one of us knows what a right gude-willie waught is.
Now sing the fifth verse of Auld Lang Syne one more time.
Senior Learning Instructor
Pre-finals week planning = The calm before the storm
The final weekend in November was a long one that left us all feeling a bit more relaxed, but, for many of us, our stress returned the minute December 1st arrived. The last day of classes and Reading Days are right around the corner, which is hard to believe since many of you still have midterms to think about. With only three weeks left in the semester, now is a great time to create a plan to get everything done!
Here’s what you can do to make the most of your pre-finals time:
- Attend our Reading Days Study Hacks workshop
Wednesday, December 7, 5:00-6:00 p.m.
Thursday, December 8, 4:00-5:00 p.m.
Weingarten Center Lounge
Register here: goo.gl/3mEMzQ
Staff members from the Weingarten Center will walk you through how to create a realistic study schedule, analyze your professors’ expectations and study actively during Reading Days.
- Make an appointment with a Learning Instructor
If you want more personalized study tips, stop by or call us at (215)573-9235 to make a 50-minute appointment with a Learning Instructor. It’s never too late to come see us! Many of our appointments at this time of the semester focus on planning ahead and preparing for finals week. Making an appointment also helps you get things done earlier. If you have a presentation to do, we can be a practice audience. We can help you brainstorm for an upcoming final paper, days or weeks, in advance or connect you to other resources that may also be able to assist you in the final days of the semester.
- Stop by our extended walk-in hours
In addition to regular appointments, we are offering extended walk-in hours through December 22. These appointments are 25 minutes long and are usually best for a specific question. In addition to hours offered at the Weingarten Center, there are also hours at the ARCH and Grad Student Center.
- Create a master calendar with due dates
While all of your assignment due dates and exam dates are on Canvas or your course syllabi, it is best to put everything in one place so you can have a clear picture of what to expect before the end of the semester. With all of the social events happening in the next few weeks, it is important to put those in as well to create a more realistic schedule for studying. Stop by our office to pick up a December calendar or fill one out with a Learning Instructor!
Staff writer: Cassie Lo
Tech Tuesday: Duolingo
A great app that’s been deemed “fun and addictive” when it comes to learning a new language would be Duolingo. Here is a quick breakdown of the app:
If you have any experinces with this app, let us know your thoughts on it in the comment section below!
Staff Writer: Victoria Gill
Getting Started on Final Papers
So it’s that time of the semester that we all forgot about-final papers/project season. You know, because we were surviving it week by week, midterm by midterm, page by page of mostly monotonous readings? It can be daunting to begin tackling a huge and cumulative assignment when you have no idea where to even begin. Here are some strategies to get started:
- Chunking: Ever get this feeling that you are so overwhelmed by the task that no matter how much time you devote to sitting down at your desk, you just are too paralyzed to start? Don’t start off thinking you are going to do it all in one sitting. Begin by breaking down the assignment into different stages and assign yourself goals. Perhaps start off with re-reading major concepts of the course since that might inspire a certain topic or focus for your paper. Then, on another day or week, move on to researching and making connections to texts covered in the class. The point is to establish tasks that are realistic bite-sized chunks.
- Concept Mapping: Having a whiteboard (or blank paper) and some different colored markers (different color= different theme/connection) help to get all your ideas out there without the pressure of writing full on paragraphs or pages. Brainstorm with drawing if you have to! Jot down ideas and key concepts and this way, you can also work towards clarifying your arguments.
- Come into Weingarten: Learning instructors here at Weingarten have various academic backgrounds including and ranging from doctoral students, research assistants, social scientists, and academics. Having another person to help you “talk through” your scholarly ideas is a great way to learn. What it comes down to is really cliche but hey, it works: “Two heads are better than one!”
Staff writer: Victoria Gill
Working with Penn Tutoring
The Tutoring Center at the University of Pennsylvania offers undergraduate students a variety of options to supplement their learning experiences. As the tutors employed by the Center demonstrate a diverse array of knowledge and skills, they are also continually looking for ways to maximize the impact of their engagement with students in terms of learning outcomes for tutees. As part of that effort, Donna Brown, the Center’s director, has developed an ongoing working relationship with the Weingarten Learning Resources Center to facilitate collaboration across fields and areas of expertise, particularly in helping tutors to appreciate students’ learning styles and how to respond to them accordingly. She recently contacted Dr. Rashmi Kumar and James Arrington for a workshop for the tutors to help deepen their understandings for tutoring in the STEM fields.
Dr. Rashmi Kumar asks the tutors about their learning styles
The workshop was designed to engage the tutors’ knowledge of learning the STEM subjects. After recalling various experiences and challenges encountered by students and tutors, Dr. Kumar connected these narratives to Bloom’s Taxonomy of knowledge, focusing in particular on instances of declarative, procedural, and critical knowledge work. This demonstrated what one tutor described as moving “from basic understanding to higher level understanding.” The two WLRC staff then reviewed what one tutor called a “variety of strategies that can be used to help students,” including concept mapping, constructing hypothetical test questions, and syllabus analysis. Overall, the tutors found the workshop “engaging and useful” for their work, and the activity further deepened the ongoing collaboration between the Tutoring Center and the WLRC.
Staff Writers/STEM Workshop Facilitators: Dr. Rashmi Kumar and James Arrington
Sleep and Success, Part 1: Productive Sleep
One of the more pertinent results of productive sleep is consolidation of memories. Let’s unpack, shall we?
Without delving too deeply into the specialized vocabulary and evolving hypotheses in sleep research, we can, for the sake of simplicity, concern ourselves with a few basic concepts: Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) rapid eye movement (REM) and sleep cycles. To go any deeper would lead us into a clash of competing scholarship, where researchers have it out with each other Hunger Games style in a battle for academic and intellectual supremacy. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but only a little.) For now we’ll just focus on what the experts agree upon, but by all means hit Google Scholar and look up the work of your favorite sleep researcher.
Productive sleep, in order to be productive, has to include the right amounts of both NREM and REM state sleep, and in the right order. We commonly associate REM with dreaming, the last stage in a sleep cycle. A full sleep cycle takes roughly about 90 minutes, with REM taking up about 20 to 30 minutes.
NREM and REM seem to have different functions in the memory consolidation process during sleep. Learning that involves motor skills or procedures – think of practicing a piece of music or learning some type of protocol that involves steps – seems to be strongly linked to NREM, even though test subjects do better in procedural tasks if they’ve been allowed REM sleep. In other words, memories don’t really get consolidated until we finally sink into REM state. Oh, and by the way, going through the whole cycle five or six or seven times is necessary for sleep to be productive.
So think of it this way, we do not actually fully learn a procedure or fully analyze anything until we’ve had the opportunity to sleep on it.
Sleep deprivation has become a grotesque badge of honor. How many people have you met who brag about how they need only three or four hours of sleep a night in order to be truly awesome, tacitly implying you should be deeply ashamed of yourself if you sleep more? This is based on a fallacy not supported by research, and that fallacy states that sleep time is time wasted. Decades of sleep research refute this notion. From a purely physical point of view, sleep time is certainly down time. From the standpoint of learning and sharpening mental processes, for long term problem solving as well as critical and creative thinking, sleep time is production time, if you allow it to be.
For more sleep tips and wellness consulting, visit Student Health Services:
Senior Learning Instructor
Bigger Pictures: The Problem With Problems
“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.”
~ Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel Prize winner in physics
My Weingarten colleague, Rashmi Kumar, knowing my deep affection for epigrams, aphorisms and anything even remotely quotable, gave me this one while we were prepping for a STEM related workshop. Good one, isn’t it?
Wilczek won his Nobel Prize (along with David Gross and H. David Politzer) for his discovery of asymptotic freedom, which deals with the distance between quarks and the effect on strong interaction. If you’re looking for a better explanation and you’re not rooming with Sheldon Cooper, you can read this instead [SPOILER ALERT: the closer the quarks, the less the strong interaction.]
But back to the quote. I like this one because, for me, it encapsulates a useful piece of metacognitive wisdom: you can learn more from getting something wrong than by getting it right. To put a finer point on it, you deepen your understanding by searching out why something is wrong, why you can’t see it, and along the way maybe discover whatever blind spot in the mind’s eye that prevents you from seeing everything whole. It’s a wondrous moment when you finally see why some particular something or other is a mistake, and that feeling of exhilaration can last you quite a while, right up until the next mistake, usually on the very next problem. But it’s best not to dwell on that. Making mistakes is not just a part of any successful process, but the inextricable part.
On a more pragmatic level, the quote also implies a strategic realization: plug and chug gets you only so far. All those formulas and equations and numbers mean something, and if you’re not actively looking for the deeper meaning and the bigger picture, you’ll never find it.
Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor
Reading: Books & Library
Every semester we all have to buy books. Lots…of…books! Whether they’re for a statistics, literature, or language course they add up, and not just in volume. But that’s usually not the end of the story. You start writing a final paper, you do your research, and you identify the perfect reference book. Most of the time your book is available in the library database–success! But every once in a while you run into the little red minus sign next to the words “Checked out.” E-Z Borrow, Borrow Direct, and Interlibrary Loan (ILL) are three great resources you may consider using. Here are a few scenarios that summarize the benefits of all three systems and provide guidance for using the one most appropriate for you.
I have an assignment due at the end of the month and the book I need is checked out at Penn.
If you’re pressed for time, try using Borrow Direct or E-ZBorrow. Borrow Direct is a rapid book request system that allows you to search a collection of over 60 million volumes through the libraries at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, MIT, Duke, Dartmouth, John Hopkins, Yale and Princeton. If a partnering university has your book it will usually arrive within 3-5 business days. You can also try E-ZBorrow. E-ZBorrow will search for your book in over 60 academic libraries in Pennsylvania and nearby states. If your book is unavailable through both of those mediums, try Interlibrary Loan. ILL takes longer deliver so be sure to adjust the “need by” date on your request to reflect your deadlines.
I need to borrow a book for the semester, should I request it through ILL or Borrow Direct?
Borrow Direct books are loaned out for six weeks at a time, and are non-renewable more than once, a total of 12 weeks. The semester is 14 weeks so this option can leave you in a bit of a crunch, especially at the end of the semester. Try ILL. Most loans range from 2-6 weeks but vary depending on the lending institution and can typically be renewed.
Penn doesn’t own the book I need. I found it on both Borrow Direct and E-ZBorrow but am told that the book is non-requestable. What should I do?
There are some core textbooks that are not available for request on Borrow Direct and E-ZBorrow, such as calculus textbooks. Try placing an ILL request.
Whatever your situation may be, try out these great resources to be connected with your eagerly awaited books. If you know you’ll need a particular book within a specified time frame, plan ahead!
Staff Blogger: Erica Saldivar Garcia