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“.


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

Reflection: The Necessity of Failure


Are you afraid of failure?

I am. At times, terrified.

Have you ever felt like a failure?

Countless times. More than I’d like to admit.

Do we talk enough about failure?

Probably not.

That last question is a tricky one. There isn’t a lack of literature about failure, especially when it comes to organizational failure, performance analysis, process improvement and case analysis.

What is more needed in educational contexts, especially in highly selective higher education environments like PENN, is open discourse about failure. I once heard about a college professor who kept a copy of her curriculum vitae along with a comparatively voluminous 3-ring binder of her failures. Another college professor posted all of his rejection letters along his office walls for plain view. In both instances, the professors intentionally revealed and shared their academic and professional vulnerabilities, inviting conversation with students about success that did not preclude, but preempted failure.

Failure can be predictable or unpredictable, but often unavoidable. 

Failure can be policy-centric, process-centric, technical, relational or communal, but always feels personal.

Failure can occur in the context of uniformity, inadvertent oversight, contention, change and complexity: Context Matters. 

In order to nourish that which can only be seeded, sprouted, grown and blossomed through failure, focus on the specific type of support that you need in each step of the failure-to-success process:

a confidant? a shoulder to cry on? an empath?

a relative? a friend? a colleague? a neighbor?  

a devil’s advocate?

an accountability partner? a supervisor? a guide? a counselor? a therapist?

how about a failure mentor?

Know that you’re thoroughly equipped with all of the personal, academic and professional attributes, wisdom and discernment, to design and navigate through your failure to growth pathways. Be good to yourself. Embrace failures, like successes, as stepping stones to your journey.

At Weingarten, we are committed to supporting you through all of your academic successes, failures and things in between that come to mark and shape your wonderful, authentic and humane self.

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow


Bigger Pictures: Let’s Try Again, Shall We?


Oh, dear. Winter break ended. Now what?

If you’re among those lucky souls who looked up their Fall ’18 grades with a sense of pride in accomplishment, an almost giddy feeling of work well done, then congratulations. That’s no easy feat here at Fun Times on the Schuylkill.

But what if your semester went awry?

What if your best laid academic plans of late August transmogrified into the second act of a low budget horror movie?

What if looking at that grade report made you relive the whole ordeal in all its gory detail?

What if you’re sitting there now, watching the horror unfold yet again, screaming at your past self, “Don’t skip the practice exam! Don’t skip the practice exam!” but there you go again, skipping the practice exam like that kid who just has to play with the Ouija board just one last time, thus opening the Hell Mouth and setting loose the demons who run amok in the second act of a low budget horror movie? Then what?

Even worse: what if it’s all happened before?

Let’s face it, you don’t want to be the recurring protagonist in a lousy horror franchise. You’ll wind up getting type cast and then you’ll find yourself telling people things like, “What I really want to do is direct,” while you read through the script for Schuylkill Terror 3: It Came From Under The Button. The academic equivalent of that goes something like, “I’m going to work really, really hard, and this semester is going to be totally different.” And then you promptly double down on doing things roughly the same way you tried to do them last semester, but with a “serious” and unyielding approach doomed for failure after about three and a half weeks. Lots of times it’s not about working harder.

It is amazing how often people take the same approach over and over, expecting different results, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. And if your Fall ’18 grade report felt like the trailer for Insidious 4, then you DO NOT want to do things the same way in Spring ’19.

So yes, this is a shameless plug for ambling over to your learning center and meeting with one of the friendly Weingarten Learning Instructors. We can help you figure out where things broke bad. Yes, it will be time well spent.

In the meantime, put away the Ouija board.

By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Sadly, this quote, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”, is at best apocryphal. But it so sounds like something Mark Twain would say that no one really wants to change the attribution.

Welcome Back to Spring 2019 Penn Students!


Happy New Year and Welcome Back to Spring 2019, PENN Students!

At the Weingarten Learning Resources Center, we hope you had a good Winter Break and opportunities to reflect, relax and recharge for an exciting Spring 2019 semester! You should be proud of your efforts in the Fall of 2018. As we begin the new semester, there is already much to look forward to in the coming months. We would like to share some resources to help you hit the ground running in 2019 in addition to a number of exciting campus-wide programs! To get you started, we have some ideas and resources to help you optimize your learning:


  • Explore and discover other VPUL (Vice Provost for University Life) resources:

University Life is you! Penn wouldn’t be Penn without University Life

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow

Wellness: Mindful Transitions


“A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.”  – Nikki Giovanni

Whether you are an undergraduate living away from home for the first time, a graduate student new to Philadelphia, or even a returning student planning for life after Penn, chances are you are undergoing a period of transition. As the semester begins, it’s important to recognize that we are all experiencing change in one form or another. Although this can bring uncertainty–sometimes manifesting as anxiety, or lack of focus–there is also an upside. Transitions can lead to tremendous personal growth. In the words of the poet Maya Angelou,

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
  • Have there been times when you felt frustrated this semester?
  • Did you get lost on the way to a new class, or struggle to understand an assignment or reading?

In addition to feeling frustrated (because this is a valid way to feel!), try to acknowledge these moments as a vital part of your journey – as a student, a learner, a thinker, and a member of the Penn community.

While transitions are necessary, there are ways to make them gentler on your mind and body. Notice how you are feeling. If you experience negative thoughts, like “this is too hard,” “I’m frustrated,” “I feel lost,” or “I’m not smart enough,” try to stop judging yourself or comparing yourself to others.

Instead, realize these thoughts are normal, take a deep breath, and let them go. Don’t forget to pay attention to your body. You might feel tired, or tense, or hungry at hours that are not normal for you. Try to attend to what your body needs, whether it’s more sleep, a long walk, or eating delicious and healthy food.

Wherever you are in your academic journey, remember that the staff of the Weingarten Learning Resources Center are always here for you. Whether it’s helping with time management skills, identifying additional resources on Campus, or just talking through how you will manage a stressful week, we are committed to helping all Penn students cope with transitions!

By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow & Instructor


Wellness: Make This Semester Your Best One Yet!

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Welcome Back to Campus!

It’s hard to believe how quickly summer went by. Here at Weingarten we are excited to have you back! We have collected some tips over the years to help you start this semester off strong and make this semester the best one yet.

1. Make a plan.

Before the semester gets too busy, write down all of your obligations, including
exams, projects, quizzes, trips, and parties for your classes, jobs, clubs,
organizations, and personal commitments. Adjust your schedule to ensure you
have time for each.

2. Make your health a priority.

Schedule time for you now. Make taking care of your health a habit early in the
semester. Decide when and how you can take time to ensure you are doing what
you need to do to stay physically healthy and active.

3. Make time for sleep.

Make a night time routine for yourself now. Getting a good night’s sleep increases
your success and focus in your academic and personal pursuits. Try to keep a
schedule so that you can be the healthiest and most productive you.

4. Make personal appointments.

Schedule any appointments you will need this semester (doctor, dentist, therapist,
counselor). Once the semester gets going, it’s easy to brush these to the wayside.

5. Make appointments with campus resources.

Schedule appointments with Penn Libraries, Career Services, Academic Advisors, or
the Weingarten Learning Resources Center. Get to know the resources on campus
now so that you are more comfortable reaching out for help later!

6. Get to know people in your classes, in your residence hall, in your clubs
and organizations.

Attend events and programming here at Penn with your friends, hallmates, and
classmates! The University of Pennsylvania is a place where we can all grow
personally and academically. Make the time to be a part of a community where
we can learn and grow together this semester.


Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Fellow and Learning Instructor

Student Voices: 2018-2019 & The Year of Why

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For the 2018-19 academic year, the Provost’s Academic Theme is the Year of Why. “The concept of asking “why?” is key to advancing knowledge; philosophers and thinkers build on historic foundations as they move forward with new discoveries. We often associate inquiry with technology and scientific advancements, yet it exists in every aspect of our intellectual culture. Above all, asking “why?” is a central aspect of Penn’s history and identity: founded by Benjamin Franklin, one of history’s great thinkers, Penn was designed from the outset to be different from other schools of its day by inviting examination and discussion across disciplines” (The Year of Why, 2018).

At Weingarten, we asked some of our own students, who represent various disciplines and schools, and range across undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate, professional and executive programs – why they use the Weingarten Learning Resources Center. Here are some of their responses:

  • Senior, School of Arts and Sciences, AND 1st Year, Masters of Bioethics, Perelman School of Medicine:

“For me, I think that using Weingarten Learning Resource Center (WLRC) has been one of the biggest advantages to my academic career at Penn. This group not only wants what is best for each student but also knows how to work with each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. There are many reasons for a student to use WLRC, but I use this space in helping me be true to myself. What do I mean by “being true to myself,” you might ask? Well, sometimes as students we are not realistic with how to manage our time. In fact, my first draft of my weekly calendars never have time allotted for eating, grooming, or other “arbitrary” tasks. However, not taking into account the walks around campus or other duties that come my way throw of my ideal–yet semi-robotic–schedule. The team at WLRC teach me how to not only be realistic and but also the importance of not doing work 24/7. Using this resource at Penn has made me realize the importance of mental well being and has proven effective in my successful academic career. Aside from helping me “catch my life,” I know that the people I work with truly care about my success. I feel fortunate to have a piece of my Penn family in WLRC, and I will forever be grateful for what they contributed to my academic career. I always recommend WLRC to my peers because there are hundreds of reasons to stop by.”

  • Senior, Wharton Undergraduate Program:

“Going to WLRC is one of the best decisions I made at Penn. I go at the beginning of every semester to define my priorities and set a schedule. Over time, I learned effective time management techniques, improved at prioritizing and imposing self-deadlines, and grew to be more proactive and intentional about how I want to spend my time. I also went during overwhelming time crunches and received great help. WLRC is a judgement-free environment. No one will judge your priorities or blame you for not starting an assignment earlier. Instructors are here to support you, and you may develop great relationships!”

  • 2nd Year, GSE TESOL Masters Program:

“I have already used WLRC services for more than one year and I have gotten so many benefits and help in learning and obtaining learning resources. In general, I attended several workshops held by WLRC and booked appointments with the instructors there also. I always made appointments with a particular Learning Instructor and she gave me lots of helpful and beneficial suggestions for my academic writing. Overall, I think I have made big progress on my academic writing skills with the help of my Learning Instructor and become more skilled at polishing my writing pieces as well. The valuable help from the Learning Instructors there is the most essential reason for me to keep using this service.”

  • 2nd Year, Wharton Executive MBA Program:

“The Learning Instructor from WLRC services has been a tremendous mentor to me. Coming from educational non-profit background, I was not very confident going into my Wharton program, which is known to be quantitatively focused. She and I met regularly throughout my first year – she not only provided practical tips but also helpful encouragement. As a result, I was able to excel in my first year!”

  • Doctoral Candidate, GSE Reading/Writing/Literacy Program:

“As a part-time student, the WLRC helps me manage and balance my time with school, work, and life. Being able to listen and share strategies for reading, writing, and overall organization is a tremendous help. I’ve found the WLRC staff from the front desk to advisors to be incredibly welcoming and encouraging.”

  • 2nd Year, Wharton Executive MBA Program:

“I started using WLRC services at first because I wanted to improve my communication skills (i.e. speaking with confidence and eloquence). Now that I have been using this service for over a year, I use WLRC services beyond just for improving my communication skills. I get to talk with a great coach who helps me think through a lot of professional and personal issues and questions. For example, I learned that, in order to improve my communication skills, I need to learn to become more confident of my capabilities and skills. It wasn’t just about my communication but more about the perception that I have about myself. From this perspective, it has been an educational resource for me academically and personally. The Weingarten Learning Instructor is a great coach and a mentor, and I believe more students should use this service not just for trying to learn a certain topic but for broader purposes that the WLRC services offer.”

  • 2nd Year, GSE TESOL Masters Program:

“WLRC has been my favorite place at Penn, because the Learning Instructors here are so helpful and caring. They have been good friends to me, giving me constructive feedback on my essays, as well as useful advice about studying abroad. I feel so blessed to have found this place, without which my study abroad experience would not be this rewarding.”

To make your own consultation with a Learning Instructor, please contact us at 215-573-9235 to make an appointment. Also, consult our Website for more information about all of our services, including Walk-In’s and Workshops.

Welcome Back PENN Students!

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By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow & Instructor.


The Year of Why. (2018). Retrieved from