Bigger Pictures: Make a Note

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“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.

Lombard_scribeAcademic 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

Tech Tuesday: Zotero

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

This Tech Tuesday we are highlighting Zotero which is a browser extension and stand-alone desktop application for Windows and MacOS. Zotero is most commonly known as a citation manager similar to EasyBib or Mendeley. While Zotero is excellent at managing citations, it is capable of so much more. This article will provide an overview of its most useful features. Future blog posts will expand on Zotero with in-depth how-to guides. I like Zotero because it is feature rich and can help students keep readings and citations well organized. Another huge perk is that Zotero is open source software. Not only is it free, but it also has a number of useful plug-ins and add-ons.
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Managing Citations and Outputting References:

As mentioned, Zotero is an excellent citation manager. The base install of the desktop application comes with a variety of standard citation styles including MLA, APA, Chicago and others. Have an obscure citation style only used by a specific discipline, don’t fret, chances are you can find it in the Zotero style repository here.

Outputting in-text citations in Zotero couldn’t be easier. Select the reference or references you want a citation for, right-click and select “Create bibliography from item” choose in-text citation, your chosen style, and copy to clipboard. Then, simply past the citation where needed in your document. You can create full reference pages in much the same way. Simply choose bibliography in the output section.

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Add, Organize and Manage Citations

Zotero has feature rich folder options to keep your citations organized. You can create a folder for a given class or project and then store all your citations in the folder. Adding citations is easy. If you’re using Google Scholar, you can simply download an RIS file (RefMan) using cite function in Google Scholar and open it with Zotero. Books can be added using the wand button (zotero button.jpg) and then adding the ISBN for the book. Zotero will handle the rest. Using add-ons Zotero can even scan PDF’s of journal articles and collect all the citation and metadata info directly from the article. A how-to blog outlining just how to do this will be available soon.

Have a class with a heavy reading load? Zotero is great for keeping all your readings organized. Add them all to a folder for that specific class and then you can write summaries or outlines for each with the built-in note taking function.

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Alternatively, or in-addition, you can also add any attachment you want to a given reference. For STEM students, this could be particularly useful if you draw diagrams in your notes and you want to keep them together with a specific reading. As mentioned, Zotero is free you can download it here. Check back soon for specific how-to guides that will expand in-depth on the various features and options Zotero has to offer.

Staff Writer: Randall Perez


Classroom Participation: Making Contributions that Count

Monday, September 5, 2016

It has been known through surveys that the population fears public speaking more than death (Croston, 2012).  How do we reconcile this when, in some cases, 15%-40% of your grade can depend on this category called “class participation”? Some classes are now being “flipped” in that the professor facilitates conversation and guides the classroom discussion. This style of instruction is so that students can learn from each other instead of blankly and passively receiving knowledge from a teacher. Here are some simple strategies that may alleviate the reluctance to participate in class.

Before Class:

  1. Be prepared: This means doing the readings, familiarizing yourself with the syllabus and course materials. Each week there usually is a theme or concept being covered in class, so make sure to engage with that topic through the readings and assignments.
  2. Make notes: during the readings or homework, try to explicitly make connections and link the main ideas of the week. Write down anything you found interesting enough to react to, agree with, disagree with, or have questions about.

During Class:

  1. Engage in the Discussion: get involved when someone asks a question, or ask a question yourself, or provide a comment. If you’re really nervous, try to say something at the beginning of class so you don’t get more anxious as time passes.
  2. Make your comments brief and to the point. It’s better to be clear than attempt to sound “smart” by being long-winded.
  3. Direct your comments to the class instead of a particular individual. Democratic discussions aren’t about attacking individuals, but rather collectively interrogating ideas.
  4. Jot down notes during the discussion, that way you can relate to what is being said and organize your thoughts and comments accordingly. You may even use those notes for an exam or paper later in the semester, or even perhaps continue the conversation with the professor or TA in office hours.


Classroom participation tips adapted from K. T. McWhorter (1986) College Reading and Study Skills.

Croston, G. (2012). The thing we fear more than death. Retrieved from

Staff Writer: Victoria Gill 

Tech Tuesday: How to Activate the Dictation Feature on Your Mac

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Tired of typing papers? Or maybe you’re just really not feeling like typing and want to dictate your notes, thoughts, or next assignment? If you have a Mac, use these simple 8 steps to get the dictation on your computer working instead of paying loads of money for the Dragon software or other apps:

1. Go to the apple menu

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2. Click on system preferences

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3. Towards the bottom, click on “Dictation & Speech”

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4. Click “on”

5. Then click “Use Enhanced Dictation”

6. Let the “enhanced” version download really quick. Should be less than 3-5 minutes depending how good your internet connection is.

7. You can use this feature in Word Documents or even in other note-taking applications like Evernote!

8. Press the “fn” (function) key twice to activate! Let the paper writing begin!

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Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez


Tech Tuesday: Evernote

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

If you’re looking for a new way to keep track of all your class notes, recipes, or just want to use less paper in class…try the free Evernote app. Like its logo of an elephant suggests, it will remember everything you put in its “cloud” memory. Here are some ways you can use Evernote to help with your schooling:

1) Instead of buying a different notebook for each class, create digital notebooks inside Evernote and take notes right in the app. After saving them, you can access Evernote on any device that has internet! You can take notes by simply typing, or you can record lectures for later (make sure your professor agrees to being recorded!)

2) Evernote is great for sharing your notebooks or class notes! Anything you save in there is easily shared. Just select the text/items you want then click “Share” to email that note or share on a public space like Twitter or Facebook.

3) You can import anything you type from Microsoft Word, save an article from the web, or even images can be turned into notes! Since most classes have a syllabus, PDF articles and assignments on Canvas anyways, might as well save on printing and make it easier for you to find later by importing them to Evernote. Why? Keep reading my friends.

4) The “Search” tool on Evernote is extremely useful. Say you’re ready to write your semester paper but you don’t want to flip through a hundred pages of notes or articles. Using the “search” tool in Evernote is best for helping you find that one quote or idea you wrote down two months.

5) Add-Ons to the app make it even more useful. For example, if you add the “Web Clipper” extension to Evernote, you’ll be able to save webpages and web articles through the app. Why is this cool? You can just bookmark the link, right? Boring! With the “Web Clipper” extension you can not only save the article but also write on it and take notes. Or if you don’t need to get messy with it, just save it into a related “notebook” or “note” file so you always search it for when you need it next!

Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez