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.

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

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?

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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

Resources:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512002254

How to Make the Most of Office Hours

Office hours: It’s that thing listed underneath the professor’s contact information on the syllabus, the thing we all glance at to make a note of, but rarely take advantage of. Meeting a professor during their office hours can be intimidating, but if utilized correctly, it can be a goldmine of a resource. Here are just a few quick tips on how to make the most of your office hour sessions:

  1. (unless specifically asked to) Don’t go just to go. Set a purpose to your meeting. Be prepared to ask open ended questions or get clarification on a certain class topic while you’re in front of the professors. Make sure you aren’t asking the kinds of questions that could have been easily answered elsewhere; i.e. Google, a peer, the class syllabus, or the readings. office-hours

2. Do show up early. By arriving 5 minutes before office hours start, it’ll give you a better chance of meeting with the professor first. This way, you can make sure your questions are answered instead of having to wait around, looking for the best time to interrupt another student.

3. Do be honest. Don’t be coy if the professor is talking about something and you don’t quite understand. Admit to it and you’ll get an even better or different explanation. Also, don’t make excuses for your performance or go in attacking the professor. If there are issues academically, professionally, or personally occurring in your life, let you professor know. They are human too and they will understand and work with you to best accommodate or resolve the issue. montreal-que-february-3-2015-mcgill-university-profess

For more support on how to make the most of your office hours, come set an appointment with a learning instructor and we will work with you individually to prep you for a meeting with your professor!

Staff writer: Victoria Gill

White Board: a study strategy

Final examinations are here and you’ve already read books, notes, and class lectures slides. But how much did you actually retain? What other ways can you study? A great strategy to test your knowledge would be to do a white board activity. This includes having a white board or simply a blank sheet of paper, and writing at the top or the center the main ideas or topics you are to be tested on, then writing down every single piece of information or knowledge you have on the topic. Doing this activity forces you to dig deep, to come face to face with what you do know and more importantly, what you don’t know.

Here is a sample suggestion on how to chunk your studying while implementing this activity:

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Let’s say you take a week to study per subject. On the first day of said studying, you can just focus on re-reading notes, lectures, books, and skimming for main ideas. Day 2, you can take active notes on all the reviewing. Day 3 can be focused on trying out practice problems on certain topics you’re weak in and applying the knowledge you’ve learned. On Day 4 you could do the white board activity, and make notes of what you still need to learn and follow that up with Day 5 of actually filling in the gaps of knowledge by reviewing again and doing problems/questions in that needed area.

Happy Studying! Come into Weingarten for more learning or studying strategies!

Staff Writer: Victoria Gill

Notes from a Long-Time Student: StayFocusd

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In a previous post I talked about the app SelfControl. The Learning Instructors at Weingarten and I love SelfControl. The only downside to the app is that it is only available for iOS users. However, there are other great apps that work for both Mac and Windows powered computers that serve the purposes of, and may even surpass, SelfControl. One of these innovations is StayFocusd, a Google Chrome add-on that promotes productivity by limiting the amount of time you spend on distracting sites. Ranked at 4.5 stars by 4,048 users as of this week, StayFocusd is a promising feature for anyone looking to–you guessed it– stay focused.

So, how exactly does StayFocusd increase your productivity? In a nutshell, StayFocusd allows you to set usage time caps–weekly and daily–for specific sites. As you can see from the image below, the “Max Time Allowed” function of the program allows you to set a cap for the time you’re allowed to browse the sites you’ve indicated on your Blocked Sites list. This is a great feature for those of us that would like to continue to be social, on social media, for example but would rather not spend any more than 20 minutes per day.

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StayFocusd doesn’t only allow you to limit your time on sites on a daily basis, it also allows you to pre-program those settings for different days of the week. Say you don’t have class on Thursdays and want to allow yourself a little more virtual social time, simply unclick Thursday from your “Active Days.” Now, your blocked site settings will apply every day of the week, except Thursdays.
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If that’s not enough to keep you focused, you can try to limit the time frame during which your pre-allotted time on the sites is available for use with the “Active Hours” function. This function is super easy to set up and is precise up to the minute.

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If you find that your settings are still not quite working the way you’d like them to and you need to stay away from additional sites for even longer periods of time you can use “The Nuclear Option.” This function sounds a lot more intimidating than it is in reality. Independent of your “Active Hours” and “Active Days” settings, The Nuclear Option will block/allow the sites you indicate for a specific amount of time. Once you click “NUCKE ‘EM!” there is no going back, until your timer runs out. This is a great function because you are also able to schedule these blocks/allowances ahead of time.

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Now, all of these functions are great but what if you absolutely have to go back to one of the sites that you’ve blocked? You can request a challenge! Challenges essentially ask you to complete a more or less tedious task in order to change your settings. Below is an example of what you may be asked to complete.

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Perhaps the only downside to StayFocusd is that it is directly linked to Google Chrome. However, this partnership also makes the add-on very accessible; the logo shows up on your browser and is easily available for changes. To test out StayFocusd, I used it to schedule my virtual time online throughout the week, and it worked seamlessly.

Add-ons and apps like StayFocusd and SelfControl are great at promoting efficiency and productivity throughout the school year. However, remember that the internet is only one source of distractions. Be conscious of where you are working, when, with whom, and your study habits. If you would like to discuss how these features can work for you schedule an appointment with a Learning Instructor at Weingarten.

Staff Writer: Erica Saldívar García

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:

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Pete Kimchuk
Senior Learning Instructor

Developing Personal Statements

What-is-a-personal-statementCreating a Personal Statement is much like what Professor Maureen Moran of Brunel University describes as, “You develop the insight of an artist, the analytical precision of a scientist, and the persuasiveness of a lawyer.” It’s the dreaded piece of any graduate program application where you’re expected to be insightful about what you hope to contribute to a field of study, but be very explicit how you plan on doing it and why you should be the one to receive the opportunity to do it.

It can be overwhelming and daunting even, knowing that even with your grades, resume, testing scores, and letters of recommendation, your Personal Statement will be the “make it or break it” piece. So much of your future rests on how the Personal Statement will be received.

Personally, I know that writing my Personal Statement was a process where I doubted myself over and over, plagued by questions such as: Do I start off with a quote? No, that’s too cheesy. PersonalstatementHow many times can I use the word “passion”? Oh gees, also cheesy! How much of my personal background is relevant? Should I elaborate on certain accomplishments that I’ve listed in my resume? How do I highlight myself without bragging or lionizing myself? Am I good enough to do this? Am I even doing this right?!

But have no fear! Here are some tips from someone who went through the whole anxious process to help you get started:

  1. Start early. Good writing is just re-writing. Allow yourself time to have evolving ideas about what you want to accomplish through your discipline, research, and short/long term goals during/after the program.
  2. Network. Ask current doctoral students in the program you’re applying to give you feedback on your personal statement and don’t be shy about politely asking them for a copy of their own personal statement. We’ve all been through it! We get it. Also, ask your professors who are helping with the letters of rec. to also give you feedback on your statement.
  3. Do your research. Different institutions have their own style, beliefs, and focuses. Research what those are and you must tailor each personal statement to align with them. The whole point is to let them know how you “fit” with their program and vice versa.
  4. Attend workshops. Some universities will have events and workshops for prospective students who are interested in applying. Go to those. They help with giving you some background and details on what is expected for the content and formatting. Lastly, there is a workshop you can attend here at UPENN! Register at http://goo.gl/XG2rDJ to attend this Friday, Nov 6th from 12-1pm at GSE Room 200.

Statement of Purpose

Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez