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

Note-Taking: Handwrite or Type?

Source: Notetaking (79/365)
Chung Ho Leung, March 17, 2013, Flickr

The Fall semester has begun, triggering an increasingly consequential question for students given the availability of technological resources for note-taking:

To TYPE or HANDWRITE Academic Notes?

There is no right answer for every person and every context. What works for one person, may not work for another. And what works for one course or assignment, may not work for another. Knowing yourself in each situation and the requirements of each course and assignment is key. However:

Whether you’re working on your dissertation, studying for an exam, or consideration a manual or digital method of note-taking, storage and archiving, we caution you not to reinvent the wheel, if a particular method already works well for you.

That said, if you’re still deciding between handwriting or typing notes, weighing mainly a factor of speed optimization, consider Baer (2014), “By slowing down the process of taking notes, you accelerate learning“.

Source: pxhere.com

Wait a minute! Slow down to accelerate???

Yes, it has to do with the brain! “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated” (Baer, 2014). You mean… there is something unique about the act of slowing down and writing that automatically activates neural circuits?

Actually, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. In fact, it is what the slowing down of time makes possible. What are the affordances of time? What can you do by stretching out time? Research suggests that the Learner should do something active and stimulating, that is, the opposite of copying, typing, transcribing and rote memorizing, verbatim, new information.

Baer (2014) suggests that by getting off of the keyboard, and note-taking by hand, “you’ll have to look for representative quotes, summarize concepts, and ask questions about what you don’t understand.”

So… What’s the verdict?

Is it Best to TYPE or HANDWRITE Academic Notes?

The answer is to do something new with the information, to APPLY or SYNTHESIZE it. This is an active and actionable method that the slowing down of time by note-taking can accommodate, if not require.

Check out our prior Blog posts about active learning and note-taking:


Baer, D. Here’s why writing things out by hand makes you smarter. Business Insider. December 16, 2014.

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow

Welcome to Fall ’19 @ PENN!

Source: Penn Today, Move-In Day 2019, University of Pennsylvania

Dear Students,

Undergrads, Grads, Professionals, Execs, welcome back or welcome anew! Our beautiful Penn campus is bustling with activities, initiatives and energy, but we are never complete until our students are on campus!

Your Team at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center awaits you with much anticipation and are excited to partner with you for another stimulating, demanding, yet fun and rewarding, Fall semester!

Here are our Top 8 Helpful Suggestions for Kicking-Off Fall ’19:

  • Come say “Hi!” and relax, study or hang-out at YOUR Weingarten Student Study Lounge!
  • Come pick up your semester planning calendars! I always suggest a minimum of two copies, one for above your desk and another to post by the door coming in and out of your dorm room or apartment. There are always copies at the front desk. Remember the colors: Blue for Undergraduate and Green for Graduate:
  • Schedule an initial Consultation with any of our wonderful Learning Instructors to help get you started on the right foot! (hint, hint: time management consultation? reading strategies?)
  • Browse the Penn Wellness website and familiarize yourself with all of our wonderful campus resources for students to establish your roadmap to wellness and success! Penn has defined 8 helpful domains of wellness for a holistic approach to self- and collective care:
  • Finally, take pause, close your eyes, breathe, and connect to our wonderful community as well as supportive physical and figurative campus spaces!

At Weingarten, We Welcome You with Arms Wide Open!

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow.

Study Spots: The Barnes Foundation

Barnes Foundation
Source: angela n@flickr (November 10, 2012)

We are in the Last Days of Summer… Some of you are already back in Philly, stretching out some time for enjoyment and relaxation before the semester begins. Others are away at home base or traveling, and not quite ready to envision returning to campus life. And some are engaged in pre-semester courses, research projects, graduate assistantships, work study, and a gamut of new student orientation programs!

Wherever you are, you might be interested in a transitional or alternative study spot. In other words, you may be thinking about planning and preparing for the Fall semester, but not feel quite as ready to be enclosed in a formal Library space, dorm or divisional department. Look no longer! If you enjoy the arts, the Barnes Foundation offers an alternative study space, especially in the Basement area, adjacent to the Gift Shop, near the Cafe and outdoor patio.

Barnes Foundation, Basement
View from my comfy chair, my laptop resting on a side table, which I pulled in front of me. The dim lighting is perfect for laptop work.

Barnes Foundation, Basement
View from my “study spot”, to the left, a handy Coffee Bar for nourishment, to the right, an impressive display of African pottery.

Barnes Foundation, Basement
View from behind my “study spot”. Step into the open air patio for reading, reflection, stretching and fresh air.

There are many options to Plan Your Visit on a budget, including:

  • Discounts for students and veterans
  • Free Sundays for teachers
  • Free PECO First Sunday Family Days

It is also conveniently located in the Art Museum area at 20th and Parkway. It is publicly accessible by SEPTA #7, #32, #33, #38, and #48 bus routes (and new #49 route). They are also Stop 7 on the Philly PHLASH, a quick and inexpensive shuttle service that stops at historic and cultural destinations throughout Center City. Service runs every 15 minutes between 10am and 6pm. 

Barnes Foundation
Sources: Ron Cogswell@flickr (June 2016); Thekohser@WikiMediaCommons (October 2015)

So, whenever you return to Philadelphia, be sure to check out the Barnes Foundation, as an alternative study spot to help you ease into this beautiful city and the surroundings of campus life!

If you’re into Museums, also check out our prior Blogs on Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA):

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow

Summer Reflection Part I: Examining Our Academic Writing Processes

SunriseDawnThe Pacific OceanBeachWaveRocks

Maybe you are taking an alternative summer break and doing community service in a remote pacific village, and taking time in between to soak in the clear ocean air. Or maybe you have accepted an internship position with a financial consulting firm in New York City. Or maybe you have joined a summer co-op opportunity with a technology start-up firm in the CA bay area. Or maybe you are back at your childhood home, getting re-acquainted with your town and civic organizations. Wherever you may be this summer, and however you may have chosen to spend your time, we hope that you will carve out a little time for academic reflection. Here’s a simple framework for reflecting, and doing some meta-cognitive self-assessment so that you can reap the benefits of lessons learned and start your Fall semester in gear:

Reflecting and analyzing your writing

It’s so easy to dust our hands off, catalogue our papers away, and turn a new page. And it’s completely natural and understandable to do that since you’ve just spent so much time intensively researching, drafting and revising your paper. You did your best, submitted your paper, and accepted your grade. Well done, and do step away; however, be intentional about scheduling time to return and assess the product of your labor:

  • What type of feedback have you received from your teaching team or peers? What was helpful? Are there areas for further development? Would it be helpful to schedule a follow up appointment/call with your professor during the summer or in the fall?
  • Was the process of conceptualizing your ideas, thesis and argument coherent for you? How close did you stay to your original plan or how far did you depart from it? Looking back, was the initial scope of your main thesis realistic? What can we learn about zooming in or out in our scope given the requirements of the project?
  • Which resources were most helpful? Are there integral literary sources that have become a critical part of your interpretive lens and you know you will be returning to? Are there new journals, research or professional organizations that you will be utilizing more henceforth? Is there a new theory, practice or research/data analysis instrument that you have adopted?
  • Have you shifted your thinking in any way? Have you added a complementary perspective that helped further stratify or nuance your thinking? Have you developed a deeper understanding of your guiding principles? Have you moved away from your prior positionality to think in a new mode or from a different perspective?

Journal, journal, journal! Keep a writing reflection journal. I know that writing may be the last thing that you may want to do during your summer break, but you may be pleasantly surprised to realize later in the new academic year that these reflections have planted seeds that will germinate new ideas for your forthcoming papers. And most importantly, through reflection, we grow as writers and analysts!

Wishing you a Happy Summer, speckled with opportunities to reflect on your academic writing!

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow

Study Spots: Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics (PCPSE)

The south view of the contemporary expansion of the Ronald O. Perelman Center. (Photo: copyright Adrien Williams, courtesy of KPMB) https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/new-perelman-center-looks-future-while-preserving-past

If you are a lover of historic art deco architecture and are in the hunt for a new study spot, look no further than across from the Penn Bookstore at 36th and Walnut. Inaugurated in 2018, the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics (PCPSE) is the latest addition to the School of Arts & Sciences, which rehabilitated and significantly expanded the circa-1925 West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company building at 133 S. 36th. Enter on 36th street through the set of glass doors in the new addition across from Cosi Cafe:

Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics https://www.facilities.upenn.edu/maps/locations/perelman-center-political-science-and-economics

The main lobby is airy, and if you enjoy studying under natural light, it should be the perfect locale for you, especially when the days are long and it’s sunny outside. Upon entering, you will find student lounges, with various types of seating, on either side of the escalators:

If you’re looking to do group work in art deco-meets-futuristic style, your team will feel energized and motivated to collaborate utilizing one of their six group study rooms, which can be reserved online:

“One of the most important roles of a great university is to encourage open dialogue, the free exchange of ideas, and civil and robust expression of divergent views, on our campus and all around the world,” Gutmann added. “This building will be a place to do just that.”


So give the new PCPSE a try and let us know how you enjoy it! And don’t forget to step outside and cross-over to the conveniently located and newly revamped Penn Bookstore Cafe to refresh and replenish in between your study sessions!

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow

Relaxation Room @ Penn’s Biomedical Library

Penn is committed to the heath and well-being of all students, faculty and staff. Dr. Dubé is the University of Pennsylvania’s inaugural Chief Wellness Officer. The Wellness at Penn website provides eight categories of wellness:

Adapted from the Wellness Wheel of SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services)

On April 25, 2019, Amanpreet (Aman) Kaur, Community Health and Engineering Librarian at the Biomedical Library, and her team’s idea of “Weekly Themed Walks” was selected as one of the finalists for Penn Wellness’ Big Pitch event, which invited students, staff and faculty to pitch their ideas for innovative wellness programming for the community.

Aman has also developed the Relaxation Room at the Biomedical Library:

Relaxation Room by Amanpreet Kaur
Penn Libraries

On May 30th, Aman provided us with a tour of the Relaxation Room in support of the Sow, Nurture and Grow: Cultivate Your Purpose theme of this year’s SALT (Student Affairs Leadership Team) conference at Penn:

  • There are spaces for physical, intellectual and spiritual relaxation, including yoga mats, chair yoga and prayer mat.
  • There are spaces for drawing, coloring, sensorial manipulatives, puzzles and even an Operation game!
  • There are relaxing sounds stations where you can scan QR codes with your cellular device and listen with a headphone.
  • There is an adjacent room that can be accessed for more interactional activities.

And, of course, get some studying and research done before or after your relaxation, as the Biomedical Library continues to be a great Study Spot at Penn!

For more information about the Biomedical Library, also see our prior blog: Study Spots: Biomed Library.

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Instructor, Weingarten Learning Resources Center.