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

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Resolutions for a Fresh Start

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“And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

            And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught

            For auld lang syne.”

~  Robert Burns

Have you ever wondered why, when the ball drops at midnight, nobody seems to know all the words to the song, other than the pressing question of whether or not the auld acquaintance should  be forgot, and that bit about the auld lang syne?  Well, now you know.  Above is the 5th verse (yes, really, there are five verses) in all of its Scots glory, which now allows you to feel better about New Year’s Eve, and which now allows me to type the phrase “right gude-willie waught” one more time and drive spell check into wiggly red underscore frenzy.

Go ahead:  sing the 5th verse.  You know the melody.  Give it spin.  I’ll wait here.

Fun, huh?

Anyway, now that we got the melody looping in your head for the rest of the day, let’s talk Resolutions.

The problem with most resolutions, especially those of the improving-my-academic-performance variety, is that our planning can be overly ambitious.  It’s like resolving to whip yourself into shape by adopting a plan where you work out three hours a day, seven days a week and, falling short of the lofty goal, abandon the initial resolution for yet another shameful period of slothful anti-health.  It’s supposed to be a resolution, not a guise for self-punishment.

If you’re looking to post better grades and/or learn more, start with small, simple strategies.  Let’s get back to basics:

  • Review your lecture notes after class within 24 hours. This needn’t require a massive amount of time; 20 to 30 minutes max.  Couldn’t get to the notes in 24 hours?  Don’t abandon the resolution, adjust the plan and get to them in 48.
  • Go to class.   Even if you think you don’t get anything out of lecture because A) I hate the professor  B) The lecture makes no sense and I just get more confused  C) Life is so much better in bed  –  lecture is still three hours a week with the course material.  At the very least, if you’re not replacing missed class time with study time, you’re falling further behind.
  • Read more, especially if it seems like you don’t read at all. I’m not saying read everything.  Remember the whip yourself into shape thing earlier?  Same principle.  Start with Power Point slides, or chapter summaries.  And don’t just read for the sake of reading, think about what you’re reading.
  • Come to Weingarten. Our friendly learning instructors know their way around all kinds of academics-related resolutions.  At least one of us knows what a right gude-willie waught is.

Now sing the fifth verse of Auld Lang Syne one more time.

 

Pete Kimchuk

Senior Learning Instructor

Tech Tuesday: Zotero

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

 

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

Ready, Set, Succeed.

The acquisition of knowledge is often viewed in three forms—declarative, procedural, and critical. Each of the above has different, although, sequentially significant aspects. Declarative knowledge focuses on the notion of ‘knowing what,’ procedural knowledge is anchored in ‘knowing how to,’ and critical knowledge is driven by the quest of ‘why.’

STEM courses are fundamentally geared to the constant pursuit of answering how and why.

Within the above context, a workshop series, Ready, Set, Succeed was launched in Spring 2015 to create a deliberate and focused pathway for students on how to study, prepare for exams, maximize the impact of practice exams, and utilize (free/open source) mobile technologies to fortify their efforts.
Ready Set Succeed workshop series is being offered again this semester:
http://commons.library.upenn.edu/ready-set-succeed-workshop-series

Staff Blogger: Rashmi Kumar, Ed.D, Specialist in STEM Learning

Tech Tuesday: Quizlet

So you’ve finally got the hang of getting back into “school mode” by having a somewhat cohesive schedule, by doing all the readings (haha! *wink *wink), and staying afloat with all the assignments. But its now that time of the semester…welcome midterm season!

One way you can make your study sessions smarter is by using Quizlet (the website or download the app on your computer/phone/tablet). Quizlet is a free, digital flashcard system that can be used to learn or play games.

Step 1: Create your own study sets. This works for anything from science concepts, mathematical formulas, foreign language, to just plain old vocabulary/terminology studying. Put the term on one side of the card and the definition on the other. There is an “auto-define” feature, and plus you can add images to better help you study. Another option is to just search their site for already made flashcard sets by the millions of their current users.

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Step 2: Study! With this website you have many options for how you want to study your material. Observe the many ways below:

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Bonus: [AUDIO] Everything that you type in can be clicked on and read aloud to you. For those of you taking a language course, there is audio available for 18 languages, from Arabic to Turkish! How awesome is that?!  This helps with pronunciation and also by providing the material in a different way than just reading it visually.

Happy Studying!

Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez