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

Getting Started on Final Papers


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

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:

  1.  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. bite-size-chunks
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Sleep and Success, Part 1: Productive Sleep


Thursday, November 5, 2015

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:

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Pete Kimchuk
Senior Learning Instructor