Reflections from Our Student Colleagues

In this blogpost, we decided to create space for our Weingarten Ambassadors to share their experiences with and reflections on remote learning. To set the tone, we echo, to all our students, the sentiments of one of our Weingarten Ambassadors:

“I have been impressed and inspired by how many of my students have been working diligently and maintaining their positivity while navigating through this turbulent time.”

As a center, we are humbled by the wisdom that our student colleagues have shared and are motivated to continue working for the best interest of the student community, now spread around the world!

Significant Challenges Connected to Remote Learning

It’s Tough Adjusting to “Home”

On the whole, our students noticed that remote learning is challenging because of various aspects of their current environment. One student noted that “studying at home for [a] whole day is not effective because there are so many distractions in our rooms”. “I’ve also noticed that my attention, motivation, and overall engagement have suffered”, another student replied. While many students have mentioned that it is tough to stay motivated and productive during this time away from the structures of campus life, one student also mentioned that “the biggest challenge for me has been acclimating back into my family members’ routines. As a senior who spent most of my college summers away from home, I really haven’t lived with my parents since high school.” Another student mentioned that they can only complete homework in the evenings due to distractions in the home during daylight hours. Technical challenges have made the transition to remote learning particularly difficult as well: “I think the biggest challenge with online teaching and learning is that some people don’t have access to [a] stable internet connection”. All of these comments bring us to our second section: the disparity in student experiences.

We All Don’t Hurt The Same

Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced a transition that has disproportionately impacted many students. One student remarked the challenge for herself with “having to work and continue on knowing the severity of the pandemic, the constant spread of misinformation, and the lack of understanding from many… I can’t help but think about all of the vulnerable populations who are disproportionately affected and suffering as a consequence.” We are not always aware, but graduate students are among some of the most affected students in our community. For instance, one graduate student only had two days to leave campus earlier in March. “I eventually found a place to sublease and things are getting back on track now!” Even students’ future plans have been halted. “I know many of my peers’ start dates have been pushed-off or rescinded entirely.” For some students more than others, these changes are extremely disruptive.

But We Still Have To Perform

Remote learning has also presented challenges with respect to academic work. “Labs are closed, so we have been working from home; most people in my lab are using this time to write papers or pick up new skills (e.g. computational chemistry skills). I finished my coursework last year, but luckily had enough data to focus on writing papers from home now.” Not every graduate student is so fortunate. As a TA, one student shared that “the transition to remote teaching has been quite challenging”. Similarly, another student mentioned the difficulties with completing coursework remotely:

Virtual schooling has taken away the parts of my coursework that I enjoyed the most and relatively excelled at (i.e. working with others and hands on project work).”

Nonetheless, students and instructional teams are finding ways to work through these changes to their courses. One ambassador mentioned, “I have no doubt in my ability to overcome…” and our ambassador who serves as a TA shared about her instructional team. “Our first online exam was a little bit frustrating for everyone involved, but the second online exam went much more smoothly.”

How Can We Remain Resilient?

Trying is Surviving

For those of you who might identify with the challenges above, our students have provided the following suggestions for working through this time and beyond:

  • Plan, organize, and prioritize. Each semester, I write down all of my assignments and due dates for all of my courses on one sheet of paper. As I finish the assignments, I highlight them. This has been even more helpful since going virtual as I can’t rely on reminders from my peers and professors as much as I used to.”
  • Create [your] own online study groups and update [your] learning process/outcomes once a day. I have [done this] and find it quite helpful.”
  • “Reach out to professors, TAs, and other individuals for support. Become familiar with your resources early on, and don’t be afraid to use them.”
  • Schedule a virtual appointment with [a learning] instructor for some personalized advice on improving learning efficiency.”

So Embrace Yourself

…remember that we aren’t simply working from home. Instead, we are trying to work at home during a pandemic and a time of crisis and uncertainty for many; it’s okay to not be as productive or motivated as before.

It is quite the challenge to estimate how resilient you are before times of struggle come, but our students have all shown that something deeper than a GPA is moving them forward. They are pursuing something greater than their degrees. Each student carries a purpose with them in their hearts and, while some are heavier than others, this purpose is what has allowed so many students to maintain resilience through the end of this semester.

As we head into Summer Sessions 1 and 2, please know that the Weingarten Center is here to support you. We exist because you do. We are captivated by your journey!

By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Instructor

Online Study Groups: A Quick Guide

Making the adjustment to remote learning has not been easy. Even though our experiences may differ in significant ways, we all may feel a lack of motivation or loneliness at times. At the Weingarten Center, we are fortunate to have weekly meetings where we can maintain a connection with our colleagues and hold each other accountable. Given the circumstances, I would like to offer some advice for doing something similar: online study groups.

What You Need to Get Started

Before you start a study group session, it’s a good idea to lock down most of the logistics. A strong logistical foundation helps to keep the group moving!

  • Start your online study group with 3-5 people. A group of this size is easier to manage logistically and avoids the intimidation that we may experience in large groups.
  • Identify the online resource you will use for meeting together. You are welcome to use any video conferencing software you’d like, but BlueJeans, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams are popular choices.
  • Get organized virtually. We suggest keeping the contact information of your group members in a shared digital folder (OneDrive, Google Drive, etc.). This folder can also be used to store meeting notes, resources, and any products created in the study session.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of the time, location, and purpose of the study group. Since finals are just around the corner, your study group may decide to discuss practice problems or talk through important diagrams. Just remember to keep the sessions productive!

Now that we’ve covered the logistics, let’s move on to creating a safe space!

Developing a Good Group Dynamic

Part of developing a good group dynamic involves setting clear expectations about how the group interacts. When everyone is on the same page, we often feel more motivated to get to work! Here are a few tips:

  • Take some time to introduce yourselves and lighten the mood with an icebreaker or two. Even if finals are approaching, taking 10-15 minutes to shift the atmosphere can ease everyone’s nerves.
  • In order to create a safe space, spend some time creating a group contract that outlines the values of the group (being helpful, giving constructive feedback, respecting boundaries, etc.) and how to handle potential conflicts.
  • Create buy-in by including everyone on important decisions and through assigning roles. Some important roles are a group coordinator, note-taker, resource organizer, and discussion facilitator. The group coordinator sends emails and meeting invitations out and the resource organizer maintains the shared digital folder. Feel free to rotate these roles once the logstics are in place and allow everyone to pick a role that works for them. The bottom line is this: share responsibility.

Creating a Space for Learning

Once you all are clear on the expectations you have for each other, it’s time to create a space where learning can thrive! In a virtual environment, you may decide to get a little creative by using online applications like Coggle, BitPaper, and YouTube, but our advice below is still applicable:

  • Work with your group to develop a growth mindset toward your course material. The mindset of your study group is important for maintaining motivation as you work through course content. Even amidst the challenges, it’s important to think constructively about your course material.
  • Identify material that makes for good discussion. One of the benefits of study groups is the opportunity to check your understanding by talking to each other. Take some time to identify the concepts, relationships, or important equations in your course and discuss them together.
  • Choose study activities that will train higher order critical thinking skills. It’s likely that you will have to apply, analyze, and evaluate ideas on your exam, so practice these same thinking skills with your group. Annotating diagrams, explaining solutions, drawing concept maps, and creating study guides are great ways to improve your critical thinking skills! Feel free to get a little creative as well!

Final Thought: Social Accountability is Key

Aside from the opportunity you have to multiply your resources, develop higher order thinking skills, and become a more effective learner, study groups are great for maintaining a sense of connection with peers and for improving motivation. As long as the goals and expectations of the group are clear, every student is likely to achieve because they are heard, valued, and held accountable.

Feel free to talk with any of our learning instructors about how to get a study group started and work collaboratively toward your learning goals by calling us at 215-573-9235!

By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Instructor

Multiple Choice Exams: How to Prep

The Moment of Truth

As a sophomore at Penn, and after two unfortunate biology midterms, I knew I had to change my study habits. For other classes, like philosophy and chemistry, I prepared for the tasks I would perform on the exam. I wrote outlines for philosophy and solved problems for chemistry, so I thought that answering a ton of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) before the final exam would work just fine. I mean, how many different ways could I possibly be asked about the content?

Turns out there were enough ways for me to be very confused on that exam. In fact, there are several types of MCQs: single-correct answer, best answer, negative, multiple true-false, and multiple response. Each of them can be used to test a variety of thinking skills from rote memorization to critical evaluation (Burton et. al., 1990).

To Prepare Well, Train your Thinking Skills

Aside from understanding the content, in order to prepare well, we need to develop the skills necessary to perform well. In the case of multiple-choice exams at the university level, these skills are application, analysis, and evaluation, primarily (see Figure 1). We can train those skills by getting creative with the study activities we engage in! Let’s get to know multiple choice questions a little better first, however.

This image depicts the the 6 thinking skills found in Bloom's taxonomy and emphasizes application, analysis, and evaluation.
Figure 1: Thinking skills at the University level. Adapted from “Bloom’s Taxonomy” by the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

The Primary Objective: Analyze and Evaluate

Multiple choice questions (MCQs) are composed of a stem (prompt), a correct answer and two or more incorrect statements. The primary objective for many types of MCQs is to analyze and evaluate each statement (Burton et. al., 1990). Part of our studying, then, should be focused on training our ability to analyze information in the stem and alternatives and to evaluate the correctness or relevance of each choice.

Easy, right? Well, not quite. Without test questions and some guidance or structure for how to think, it can be challenging to analyze information in an engaging way. This is why I suggest using a browser-based digital flashcard maker called, Quizlet!

With Quizlet, you and your study group—if you have one—can import content from Google Docs, Word, or Excel and turn them into flashcards. Quizlet, then, allows you to self-test in 4 different ways and there is even a mobile app called, Quizlet Learn! I think the Matching and True/False question types are particularly helpful because each type of question helps you train your ability to analyze possible answers. If you plan to use the Multiple-Choice question type, just make sure that you insert questions as your terms instead of a single word or phrase.

Just One Disclaimer

With that said, I have to make one disclaimer. Because Quizlet uses a computer program to generate these questions, it may be easier to choose the correct answer than on an exam. The mobile app claims to modify the difficulty of questions as you go, but I think this can only take you so far. Go to the next level by identifying any decent questions and modify the statements, the stems (the prompts at the top) or the distractors (incorrect answers) to make them more challenging. This process of modifying and improving questions will help you to train your ability to analyze and evaluate as well.

Other Great Alternatives

Even if you decide that Quizlet does not fit your specific needs, transform your study sessions by taking the time to apply, analyze, and evaluate your course content! Other methods include:

  • Making concept maps to identify the connections between the big ideas in your lectures
  • Creating flow charts to think through the steps in a pathway or process
  • Annotating important representations like pathways, graphs, and diagrams
  • Explaining your problem-solving process in words

Learning instructors would be happy to discuss multiple choice exam prepartation with you more in a virtual appointment! Call us at 215-573-9235 today!

By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Instructor

References:

Burton, J. S., Sudweeks, R. R., Merrill, P. F., & Wood, B. (1991). How to prepare better multiple-choice test items: Guidelines for university faculty. Department of Instructional Science, Brigham Young University Testing Services. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from http://testing.byu.edu/info/handbooks/betterItems.pdf.

Armstrong, P. (2015). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University. Center for Teaching. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/.

Refresh Your Semester Plan and Stay Motivated

With the end of the Spring semester in sight for many Penn students, we’ve been hearing from a lot of you that it is hard to keep motivation high. First, the good news…you’re almost there! 

Even though graduation and other end-of-year celebrations won’t be in person this year, that doesn’t make your achievements any less remarkable. Repeat after me…I am doing an amazing job at a really tough time. 

On the other hand, the semester is not over. We know the last mile of any race can be the hardest. As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get through. You’ve got this.

When we are tired, burned out, and stressed, those steps turn into baby steps. And that’s okay. Pause for a minute, put both feet on the floor, and take three deep breaths. Next, take a moment to notice what’s around you. Is there a pile of papers or a collection of old coffee cups? Is your computer’s desktop cluttered with documents? Take a moment to organize your physical or digital learning space.

Once you are feeling a little more focused, it’s time to make a plan. Think about everything you need to get done by the end of the semester. During these times of transition, it can be helpful to make a little chart to keep track of how things are different. It feels good to have everything in one place. Yours could look something like this:

Now it’s time to take all of those larger assignments and break them into smaller pieces. Using a visual organizer tool like this one can be helpful. Don’t be afraid to break out the colored pens and pencils. You can find an electronic version of the planner along with some of our other favorite resources here.

“Focus on what you can control. Let go of what you cannot”

This is one of our favorite sayings, and it’s especially relevant right now. Anytime a thought pops up like “when will we return to normal,” or “I can’t study very well at home,” just say to yourself “can’t control,” and try to let it go. Going for walks and getting into a regular sleep routine also helps. Managing stress is a big part of productivity. If you’d like to check in about your stress or anxiety, CAPS is open for telehealth appointments.

Thinking about what you can control, what about…how you spend your days? You’ve broken down your big assignments. Now put them into your schedule. You can find our weekly planner here.

Remember, what worked for you before may not work now. Or, like going out to study, it might not be possible. You can do this. You are a living, breathing, human work in progress. Every day is a new day. Don’t forget: you’ve got this.

“Keep what’s working. Let go of what’s not. Adjust where you need to.”

Want to learn more about effective planning and preparation? Register for our upcoming virtual workshop, Succeeding with Final Exams, Papers, & Projects at Home:

Image of flyer for Succeeding with Final Exams, Papers, and Projects at Home virtual workshop

By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow and current Ed.D. student in Reading/Writing/Literacy at PennGSE

Open Book Exams: Are you Ready?

Photo: Courtesy of Creative Commons

Open book exams can be illusionary. They appear easy, breezy, and create sweeping horizons because everything is at our fingertips. Read the next question, flip some pages, and pronto—there is the right answer.

If only…

Indeed, there is full access to everything: professor’s lecture notes, PowerPoints, textbook(s), homework and quizzes (with solutions!), personal class notes, friend’s class notes, the Internet, and so much more.

Yes, and yes to all the above.

Well, the easy access also becomes the source of murkiness. BECAUSE, access to all and everything comes with a set of caveats.

How will you identify the right answer in a timely manner?

My simple response is by being prepared for an altered mode of exams.

  • Maintain study routines: Read, understand, and confirm that you have understood. Practice problems, compare solutions with your results, check if you know how, and check again.
  • Whittle down: Identify and compile three resources for each individual exam.
  • Create a table of contents: While taking the exam, what you want to focus is on writing the responses correctly and not fishing for the right information. For example, you may want to identify where angular kinetics is situated within the professor’s PP, textbook, and recent quizzes. Mark the page #s. Similarly, you may want to organize the textbook and your class notes about Napoleon by placing sticky notes on similar trending themes. Bookmark websites that were referenced during class.

You can be ready—just with a different mode of preparation. Do not put off preparing for an open book exam until the night before.

Want to learn more about preparing for open book exams? Register for our upcoming virtual workshop, Preparing for Open Book Exams:

You can also schedule a virtual consultation with a learning instructor to discuss your strategies by calling 215-573-9235.

By Staff Writer: Dr. Rashmi Kumar, Associate Director of the Office of Learning Resources and Specialist in STEM Learning

The Friday 5 – ISSS Interviews Weingarten

Advertisement for virtual session with ISSS on Friday, April 3, 2020

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

Strategies for Remote Learning

Treat Remote Coursework Like a “Real” Courses
When it comes to remote learning, you need to have the discipline to sit down and say, “I am going to work on this,” as well as a plan to follow through. Though online courses provide more flexibility, such as allowing you to decide when to listen to lectures or review PowerPoint slides, you can’t constantly push off doing these things. A recommendation is to try to stick to your traditional, in person class schedule, and engage in your remote courses at the same time that you would be attending class on campus.

Hold Yourself Accountable
When taking an in-person class, the instructor will often remind you of due dates for assignments, exams, papers, etc. This might not always be the case when taking remote courses. Be pro-active and look ahead in the syllabus to identify any important due dates. This way you will be able to avoid starting papers/projects at the last minute, and also give you time to communicate with your professor about any questions you may have about the assignment.

Practice Time Management
Create a weekly or daily schedule that you follow, designating certain hours each week or day to reading, watching lectures, completing assignments, studying, and participating in discussion groups/posting on discussion boards for each of your online classes. Set reminders in your phone, planner or Google calendar to help you stay on track. Ask yourself the following questions as self-assessment: How much time am I dedicating to course reading and assignments? Am I regularly underestimating the time it’s taking me to get things done, forcing me to cram the nights before the exams? A little self-reflection and adjustment can go a long way.

Create a Regular Study Space and Stay Organized
It’s very tempting to stay in your nice, comfortable bed while watching an online lecture. But ask yourself: is that really the best set up for active learning? Setting up a dedicated space to complete your school work will help you stay focused on the lessons, keep your materials organized, and get you into the right frame of mind for active learning. This space could be a home office, the kitchen table, or any other space that will discourage you from getting distracted…or dozing off.

Make sure your study space includes the following:
• A high-speed internet connection
• The required books, materials, and software for the course
• Headphones for listening to lectures or discussions (especially important in shared spaces)

Eliminate Distractions
Netflix, YouTube, text messages and social media are just some of the many things that can be a significant distraction while taking online courses. Identifying your distractors will help you plan for how to avoid them when working on your online classes. Some suggestions to lessen these distractors is to turn off your phone before starting your course work. This way you won’t have to worry about it buzzing with a notification every few minutes. Another tool to combat online distraction is to install website blockers on your internet browser. Two programs you can consider are Cold Turkey and Freedom which can help eliminate distractions by blocking the apps or websites that tend to compete for your attention, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Figure Out How You Learn Best
Not everyone learns the same way, so think about what types of information help you best grasp new concepts and employ relevant study strategies. If you’re a visual learner, for example, print out transcripts of the video lectures to review. Learn best by listening? Make sure to build time into your schedule to play and replay all audio- and video-based course content.

Utilize Your Network
You may feel that you’re on your own when taking an online class. Keep in mind that the same students you were taking in person classes with for the first half of the semester are also taking the class with you! Don’t hesitate to form study groups using platforms like Skype or FaceTime to keep in contact with your classmates.

Meet with a Learning Instructor
Learning Instructors are available to meet with you, either by telephone or virtually through BlueJeans. Learning instructors can help guide you through the transition to online classes, and also help you with time management, study skills, project management, etc. Please call 215-573-9235 to schedule an appointment.

By Staff Writer: Jordan Yanoshik, Learning Instructor for Students with Disabilities

Structure the Unstructured Time

During a time of uncertainty, it can sometimes feel like the whole day is open, and that being on-task does not really make a difference because there is always the next day. During such times, there are ways to stay focused, productive, and mindfully engaged.


MAP-out Your Calendar as before. Allocate times for classes, recitations, and labs. Use the allocated times to study, work on projects, and practice problems, even when progress is slower than usual.

LESS Can Be MORE: Sometimes, time does not seem of the essence. When this happens, try not to entirely postpone academic work for tomorrow. For instance, if you had planned to solve 10 problems today, don’t postpone for tomorrow. There are other things that will need to be done tomorrow. Do 3 problems or 4, don’t NOT do any. Similarly, read 2 pages of an assigned article, rather than NOT reading at all. You never know: once started, you might find that the efforts to stay engaged will meet-up with your perseverance to do more.

During a Mood Swing: Pick smaller tasks, such as gathering citations, creating the opening slide for a presentation, and sending a pending email.
Try sending an email to your learning instructor. Let them know how you are doing.

Virtual Check-ins: Whenever possible, schedule brief appointments with your academic advisor/learning instructor/faculty/TA to discuss your study plans or course content. Even brief appointments will assist in creating self-accountability. And it will make your calendar exciting while providing reassurance that you have things to do.

Virtual Group-study: In a similar vein, set up time with classmates to discuss class material. You will find out what you know and what you need to work on.

Eat Healthy Snacks. Indulge in treats with moderation.

Favs and Reruns: Try to avoid continuous streaming of favorite shows/movies. Use them as a reward to take breaks; however, be attentive to the length of the breaks. Don’t let watching one episode become one too many. Hold out some for tomorrow.

Friends & Family: Stay in touch with them. Let them know that you are well and staying focused on your work.

By Staff Writer: Dr. Rashmi Kumar, Associate Director of the Office of Learning Resources and Specialist in STEM Learning

End-of-Semester Action Plan for Graduate Students

As the entire campus community realizes, in a post-turkey haze, that the end of the semester is rapidly approaching, we present some of our best end-of-semester strategies for graduate students. If you are not a graduate student, we suggest you continue reading for the bits of universal wisdom sprinkled throughout.   

MAKE A MAP

One of the best ways to get some perspective on a project or to begin preparing for an exam is to return to a blank slate—either a white board or a large piece of paper. It feels daunting at first, but reconstructing (from memory!) your argument or outlining the essential concepts covered in a course shows you what you know while exposing the gaps that you’ll need to prioritize.  

WORK IN SHIFTS

An unscheduled day sounds great but is often difficult to productively manage. Planning to “work all day” often leads to procrastination and a guilt spiral. Instead, plan to work in 2 to 3 shifts. Pick one task or a set of related tasks for each shift. Work for 1 – 2 hours, then step away. Initially, you may resist the idea that you can get more done in less time, but concentrated effort always beats pseudo-studying.  

SHARE YOUR GOALS

Will power isn’t a thing. Or, at least, it’s a finicky, unreliable, limited-to-the-point-of-being-irrelevant thing. You can’t trust it to come through for you when you need it, so you’ll need some support. Tell a friend, family member, or the person sitting next to you at the Graduate Student Center what you plan to accomplish today, this week, or this semester. They might not care, but articulating your goals is the first step to achieving them.   

CARE FOR YOUR OFFLINE BRAIN

If you’re asking your brain to intensively focus on challenging tasks, you should be nice to it when it’s off the graduate school clock. That may mean turning off notifications and reducing screen time so that you’re not pinging your brain or bathing it in blue light when it’s trying to rest. Sleep is a must. Writing takes longer and is usually worse when you’re very tired.  

BUILD UP TO THE HEAVY LIFT

Sitting down to a blank document with a flashing cursor is intimidating. Perfect sentences and fully-formed ideas may not immediately pour out of you. Consider a soft-launch: a few sentences scribbled in notebook, a terrible first draft of an introduction typed into your favorite note-taking app on your phone, or a conversation with a friend over coffee about the argument you’re trying to make and how you’ll defend it.  

REMEMBER WHAT’S EXPECTED

The worst thing ever is spilling coffee on the laptop that carries the only saved copy of your paper that you never bothered to email to yourself or connect to a cloud-based system. The second worst thing is casually glancing at an assignment description after you’ve written three-fourths of your essay and realizing that you’re totally off-track. It is worth your time (right now) to re-read that prompt and ensure that you’re doing no more and no less than what has been assigned.

SET A MINIMUM

If you just can’t get yourself to sit down to do the work—you’re not alone! Set a minimum task for each study session. Something, you know, minimal. You could write 5 sentences, read the abstracts of 3 articles, or create a table from your data. The idea is to start. You’ll at least do the minimum and maybe you’ll get on a roll.

If you’re not ready to adopt all seven strategies in the remaining weeks of the semester, we suggest focusing on one or two. If it’s too hard to choose or you just want to talk about a paper, project, or exam—make an appointment with a learning instructor. We’re happy to meet with you through the end of the fall term.

By Staff Writer: Ryan Miller, Director, Office of Learning Resources

2019-2020: The Year of Data

Source: Office of the Provost, University of Pennsylvania

Each year, the Provost’s Office announces an academic theme for the entire University to engage in shared intellectual pursuit. The theme of this academic year is The Year of DATA. The Provost’s Office provides the following examples of areas for analyzing qualitative and/or quantitative data:

• a field scientist taking measurements and collecting samples
• a literature student working in text analysis
• a historian mapping data from historical records
• a data scientist using big data to micro-target consumers to drive sales
• a political scientist studying how Facebook data can influence elections
• a public policy analyst using census data to measure impact in a community
• a philosopher examining the ethics of privacy in data analytic

In support of the Provost’s theme, the incoming first-year class along with the rest of the campus community is invited to participate in the Penn Reading Project. This year, the text is Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction, which discusses the critical ways in which big data increasingly affects and regulates life outcomes, such as the ability to obtain educational loans. O’Neil also highlights our collective responsibility to manage big data through the development of the right set of skills to ensure its democratic capacity. PENN students, faculty and administrators met in small groups to discuss and engage with the concepts in O’Neill’s book during NSO.

Finally, students, staff, faculty, administrators, departments and/or centers are invited to submit their ideas for programming that will enhance the PENN community using the Provost’s theme by applying to The Year of DATA Grant.

Concept vector illustration of a programmist work process. It related horizontal banner.

For more information about Data:

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow