The SQ4R Study Method: Read

The "SQ4R" study method is an evidence-based strategy to maximize the gains you get from studying. The name is an abbreviation, with each letter describing one step of the process. (And yes, SQ4R is an upgrade to SQ3R.) This is the third of a series of posts (collect 'em all!) that describe all six steps. So far, you've surveyed a chapter in your textbook and asked yourself some questions. This installment: R (the first).

This first "R" stands for read. Yup, it's OK to go ahead and read the--no, wait! Hold on just a second. Let me elaborate just a bit on that.

You should be reading to try and answer the questions you just finished asking yourself. This makes reading a more active process, as opposed to a passive one. But that's not all: you should also consider your reading environment.

Your textbook is open in front of you, you're checking your text messages, one of your iPod's earbuds is tucked into one ear, and the TV is on--is this you? If so, you're not reading. I don't know what the heck you're doing, but you're not reading. Your eyes may be moving across the page, but you're not letting your brain absorb the material because your attention is elsewhere. It's the myth of multitasking. So, turn off your gadgets, get away from distractions and interruptions, and find a quiet place where you can concentrate on what you need to learn. This is what's called "studying."

Why aren't you studying? reading?

The SQ4R Study Method: Question

The "SQ4R" study method is an evidence-based strategy to maximize the gains you get from studying. The name is an abbreviation, with each letter describing one step of the process. (And yes, SQ4R is an upgrade to SQ3R.) This is the second of a series of posts (collect 'em all!) that describe all six steps. So far, you've surveyed a chapter in your textbook. This installment: Q.

The "Q" stands for question. Here's a question: What do I question? Good question.

While you are surveying a chapter, ask yourself this question: "What question is this chapter trying to answer?" or "What's the point of this chapter?" And then be more specific, going into more detail, "What's the point of this section?" You should also ask yourself, "What questions do I have about this topic that this chapter might answer?"

You can try turning headings into questions. For example, when reading a section called "The stages of sleep," ask "What are the stages of sleep? How many stages are there? How are they different?" You can also turn things around and ask very broad big-picture-type questions like, "Why is this reading assigned?" and "Why is this chapter included in this book?" Asking yourself these kinds of questions is important to start you thinking about what you know (or don't know) and what you're about to read (yes, that's coming--be patient).

You'll notice that I've tried to help you with this step in my lecture notes. At the start of every lecture topic, I give the objectives for the lecture as a series of questions. This will help prepare you for what's to follow, and you can use my questions to help you review after I've finished the lecture. You're welcome!

Here's one last question:

Why aren't you studying? questioning?

The SQ4R Study Method: Survey

The "SQ4R" study method is an evidence-based strategy to maximize the gains you get from studying. The name is an abbreviation, with each letter describing one step of the process. (And yes, SQ4R is an upgrade to SQ3R.) This is the first of a series of posts (collect 'em all!) that describe all six steps. This installment: S.

The "S" stands for survey. Before you start to read a chapter of a textbook, take a couple of minutes to skim through it. Don't actually read it now (that comes later). Get an overall impression of the chapter, and try to understand the organizational structure. There will likely be introductory material, and also summary paragraphs or points (or both).

Well-written textbooks will have a hierarchical organization: major topics are presented first, followed by more and more detailed ideas after that. Knowing that your textbook is organized in this way will make things easier to learn when you actually start reading the chapter (no, don't start reading yet).

Check for a glossary at the end of the chapter; you'll almost always find a list of important terms there. Some textbooks put important terms and definitions in the margins or at the bottom of the page. You can come back to these later, when you read the chapter. (No--no reading! Just skimming. Skim!) Surveying gives you an overview of what lies ahead.

Why aren't you studying? surveying?

The High Cost of Textbooks (Redux)

Here's another "redux" posting (by the way, redux means "brought back," or "restored"), updating a previous post about the price of textbooks.

A few weeks ago, I sent my concerns about textbook prices to the manager of the Bookstore. He told me that the prices of textbooks reflect their "actual markup, which is 5 % above list price." (List price, again, is the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Key word: "suggested," not "required" or "obligated/") Armed with knowledge of the 5%-pricing scheme and the list prices given to me by the publishing company representatives, I started calculating what the prices on the shelf should have been (i.e., list price multiplied by 1.05). Result: they didn't match. According to my calculations, the Bookstore's prices were too high.

Again, I contacted the bookstore about this, and was now told that "shelf price is based on margin not markup. The calculation is the net price divided by .75 not the list price multiplied by 1.05."

When I talk to publisher's reps, I try to negotiate the best price for a textbook, attempting to keep the list price as low as possible. This, it now turns out, is a complete waste of time--because the price for the book on the shelf is based on the net price (how much it costs the bookstore for each book), not the list price. The manager also told me, "All of our reps are given this information so when they are quoting prices with the instructors they are passing on accurate information." Well, that didn't happen in this case. In fact, it seems reps (and instructors) are not aware of the Bookstore's formula for calculating shelf prices.

I hope this post will clear up this issue, and make things more transparent for everybody. But I'm still not happy about it.

Why aren't you studying?

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Update: The UofA SU and the UofA Bookstore have jointly created CRAM: Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials, focusing on making textbooks more affordable.

The Registration (or, "Can you get me into your class?")

I don't have any super powers. Really, I don't. Yes, it's true: I have no special powers over the registration system, Bear Tracks. Heck, I can't even do half the things students can in Bear Tracks.

To do lists? That's pretty neat. Swapping classes? Very handy. Watch lists that send notifications to your email or cell phone? Awesome! Of course, I don't need these features. Which is good, because I don't have access to them anyway.

I bring up my sad lack of registration-fu because all of my classes this term are full. Still, some brave souls come to each and every class in the hope that a spot will open up. They plead with me, "Superman, save me" or "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope." Nope, sorry. You've got the wrong guy.

I don't have access to any back doors in Bear Tracks. I can't add you to the class, and I can't increase (or decrease) the size of the class. I know there are empty seats: that's because some students don't come to every class. (By the way, I'm fine with you coming to my class even if you're not registered, but there is one limitation. If there are no more seats left and some students are left standing, that is a violation of fire regulations. At that point, I'll have to ask those who are not actually registered to leave.)

The good news is that some students will sit through one or two of my lectures and will say to themselves, "This prof sucks," and they'll look for another class. That will open up a spot for someone else who, presumably, finds that I don't suck as much.

So, really, the only thing I can do is, well...suck as much as possible. That will weed out those who aren't really into the course, and will allow students who can endure me to get in. So maybe I really do have special powers after all: I can apply my special powers of sucking! (Wait, I don't think that came out right...)

Why aren't you studying?

The First Day of Class (Redux)

I've posted on the first day of class before, but I wanted to do another take on it. You probably noticed there's something I didn't do on the first day: Teach.

Considering the shortage of time I have, and the huge amount of things I'd like to talk about, it may seem odd that I didn't take advantage of whatever time was left over after going through the syllabus. But I have my reasons.

1. Time. After jabbering on and on about the course, there's not a whole lot of time left to start lecturing. It's nice to get a good flow going; it's not so good to get on a roll and then have to stop.

2. Practicality. Lots of you will print out the notes and bring them to class. But on the first day, very few of you will have brought them with you. Plus, a lot of students do some serious course-shopping during the first week or two of classes (not you, of course). Then there are the people who are still lying on the beach in CancĂșn. So, instead of creating extra hassles for everyone, I just decide to skip it.

3. Psychological reasons (what, you didn't see that coming?). What is the most stressful time of year? Right, it's final exam time (you saw that coming, I hope). OK, now what's the next most stressful time of year? That's right, the first day of class.

You collect your syllabi, buy your books, and look at this huge pile of work you're supposed to do in the next 4 months--and you turn and walk out the door, looking for that great party your heard was going on somewhere.

So, to save you from any additional stress (heaven forbid), I ended things early. Hope you used that time wisely.

Why aren't you studying?

What I did on my summer vacation

Went on a two-day holiday. Vehicle broke down. Turned into a four-day holiday. Ended up at Sylvan Lake on a long weekend (not part of the plan, but...oh well). Probably ate too much ice cream from Big Moo. Got caught in an amazingly horrible storm on the way home--but didn't get hailed on. Kid #1 watched a DVD through it all. Kid #2 slept through it all. (Check out photo of the "human zoo," as my wife calls it.)

Edmonton's festivals are great. Went to Heritage Festival on the busiest day ever. But didn't get caught in amazingly horrible storm there, like some people did. Where else can you get so much awesome food from around the world? Huh? E-town, baby. (Check out photo of, er, porta potties. Nice shot, honey.)

OK, another festival--Cariwest. Kids love parades. Kids of all ages, I mean. Yeah, another festival. If you're not in Edmonton over the summer, like, where are you? Seriously, if you're "going back home" at the end of April, you are so missing out. (See the photo of--is that former city councillor Michael Phair?)

Went to Capital Ex. Rides. Food that's so bad, it'll give your cardiologist a heart attack. And the highlight of the whole year if you're 5 years old. Which I'm not. But hey, I live vicariously. The worst thing was that I got beat at minigolf. The best thing was riding the little train that I haven't been on since I was 5 years old. (To be clear: not riding it by myself, or anything. Riding with the kids. Like I rode on the carousel--while trying to take a photo--whoa!)

Made jam. No, seriously. I made jam. From an actual recipe. By myself. (Well...with a little help from mom. And dad.) I've got an Evans cherry tree in my backyard. Some years, I get almost no cherries. This is not one of those years. So, I make jam. I end up giving it away to people I like. No, you may not ask for some. That doesn't mean I don't like you. You just are not allowed to ask for any. My jam, my rules. (Yes, those are jars of my actual jam.)

Oh, and (in case the Vice-Dean is reading this), I worked. I worked a lot. I read five books. I read a few dozen research articles. I worked on lectures for fall and winter terms (the synesthesia stuff is really cool). Revamped two courses which have new textbooks. Updated nearly every single Powerpoint slide for better readability. Put some cool Javascript tricks into my perception and art lecture. Discovered just how seriously dangerous it is to text and drive (for the love of puppies, do NOT text and drive). I've started tinkering with a perception and magic lecture (a beta version, just a work in progress--I hope to see more research on this so I can work up a proper lecture). And I've still got more work to do. (No photos of my work. That would be really weird.)

Why aren't you studying?

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