Identifying Most Important Information: What to Listen For in Lectures

For example, you can listen to someone, but not truly tune in to what he or she is saying. And the way you listen to a concert for enjoyment and appreciation is not the same mode of listening you’d find most effective if you’re trying to understand and absorb the material being presented. Thus, students who want to get the most out of your lectures can benefit from some straightforward advice that can help them focus their concentration as they listen.

In Essential Study Skills, Eighth Edition, Linda Wong encourages students to listen for six kinds of information as they pay attention to your lecture and take notes. These are:

1. Key or “signal” words. Keywords (or “signal words”) such as “causes,” “purposes,” “effects,” “ways,” “advantages,” “characteristics,” and “types” can be used as “headings” to indicate that the speaker is introducing a major portion of the lecture (e.g. “Now, I am going to discuss the top five ways that…”).

2 . Main ideas. Topic sentences indicate the main points or ideas that the speaker is trying to communicate. These are often indicated by such words as “First…” “Second…” “Third…” and “Finally…”.

3. Definitions and key terms. If the instructor is taking the time to define a term, it is almost certainly a critical concept that’s central to your understanding of the topic. If the speaker says something like “[the term] means…” or “[term], also known as…”, you’re hearing a definition. Wong recommends writing “DEF” or “=” in your notes to indicate that you’ve copied down a term defined in class.

4. Supporting details. Examples, dates, statistics, anecdotes and other details illustrate the key points, provide supporting evidence for the topic under discussion, and help clarify your understanding.

5. The speaker’s verbal clues. Most instructors will use certain keywords (as described above) to indicate important concepts. You may also notice that an instructor becomes more enthusiastic at a certain point in the lecture,  or that he or she “punctuates” key points with a louder voice, deeper tone, or particular gestures. The more familiar you become with the instructor’s speaking style, the more readily you’ll come to know his or her method of confirming that a particular point is important. (And of course, if the instructor says “This is important,” it’s important!)

6. The conclusion. The instructor will likely “wrap up” the lecture by summarizing the main points that he or she covered that day. Be sure to capture these points, and write them under the heading “Conclusion” so that you can readily find them when it’s time to review.


Free Online Course Teaches You to Learn How to Learn

Need some tips on learning how to learn? Here’s a great article from the New York Times on “Learning How to Learn,” an online course taken by more than 1.8 million students from 200 countries, the most ever on Coursera. The course provides practical advice on tackling daunting subjects and on beating procrastination, and the lessons engagingly blend neuroscience and common sense.

And it’s free. The following tips from the course instructor are included in the NYT article:


The brain has two modes of thinking that Dr. Oakley simplifies as ‘focused,’ in which learners concentrate on the material, and ‘diffuse,’ a neural resting state in which consolidation occurs — that is, the new information can settle into the brain. (Cognitive scientists talk about task-positive networks and default-mode networks, respectively, in describing the two states.) In diffuse mode, connections between bits of information, and unexpected insights, can occur. That’s why it’s helpful to take a brief break after a burst of focused work.

To accomplish those periods of focused and diffuse-mode thinking, Dr. Oakley recommends what is known as the Pomodoro Technique, developed by one Francesco Cirillo. Set a kitchen timer for a 25-minute stretch of focused work, followed by a brief reward, which includes a break for diffuse reflection. (‘Pomodoro’ is Italian for tomato — some timers look like tomatoes.) The reward — listening to a song, taking a walk, anything to enter a relaxed state — takes your mind off the task at hand. Precisely because you’re not thinking about the task, the brain can subconsciously consolidate the new knowledge. Dr. Oakley compares this process to ‘a librarian filing books away on shelves for later retrieval.’ … ‘Virtually anyone can focus for 25 minutes, and the more you practice, the easier it gets.’

‘Chunking’ is the process of creating a neural pattern that can be reactivated when needed. It might be an equation or a phrase in French or a guitar chord. Research shows that having a mental library of well-practiced neural chunks is necessary for developing expertise.

‘Practice brings procedural fluency,’ says Dr. Oakley, who compares the process to backing up a car. ‘When you first are learning to back up, your working memory is overwhelmed with input.’ In time, you don’t even need to think more than ‘Hey, back up,’ and the mind is free to think about other things.

‘Chunks build on chunks, and,’ she says, the neural network built upon that knowledge grows bigger. ‘You remember longer bits of music, for example, or more complex phrases in French.’ Mastering low-level math concepts allows tackling more complex mental acrobatics. ‘You can easily bring them to mind even while your active focus is grappling with newer, more difficult information.’

Dr. Oakley urges her students to understand that people learn in different ways. Those who have ‘racecar brains’ snap up information; those with ‘hiker brains’ take longer to assimilate information but, like a hiker, perceive more details along the way. Recognizing the advantages and disadvantages, she says, is the first step in learning how to approach unfamiliar material.

What’s New in CarmenCanvas (2017-09-16 & 2017-10-07 Releases)

You have noticed many visual changes in CarmenCanvas since the last “What is New in CarmenCanvas” entry! There were large lists of bug fixes in these two releases; below is a sub-list of changes that we would like to highlight.

(For additional information, visit the 2017-09-16 and 2017-10-07 release notes)

For Instructors Only:

  • Did you know that Canvas has a built-in course conferencing tool for running remote synchronous class sessions among individuals enrolled in the course? The Conference tool received various enhancements in the 2017-09-16 release, including an interface update, ability to allow student download of presentations, download public chat logs, full-screen mode, multi-user whiteboard, and shared notes.
  • Rubric criteria ratings can now be defined with point ranges,. Previously, entering a point value not specified by a rating would not trigger selection of a rating.
  • Published/unpublished icons have been updated.

For Everyone:

  • Email notifications from Canvas are now shown to be from the course instead of from “(Instructure) Canvas”

Quick Tip: Staying on Top of Your Course Due Dates

With many assignment and quiz due dates to juggle, it is very important for you, the students, to know how to handle them effectively. Fortunately, Carmen helps you to do that through multiple ways:
  • The right sidebar on the Dashboard page (link on the left menu once you get past the landing page) shows the following:
    • To Do shows all assignments with a due date in the next seven days
    • Coming Up shows all assignments and events that will take place or start in the next seven days
    • Recent Feedback shows any feedback that you have received from your instructor during the last four weeks
  • On each course’s homepage, the To Do, Coming Up and Recent Feedback sections are also displayed in the right sidebar.
  • Each course also has a calendar that will display any items with date(s) attached to them, such as start and due dates. The Calendar tool aggregates the calendars of the courses that you are actively enrolled in.
  • Finally, due dates are also listed on most syllabi that is provided to you on or prior to the first day of classes. If you need additional organization and/or reminders, it may be a good idea to record them on your personal calendars, to-do lists, etc..
As always, if you have questions regarding study strategies, please feel freeom to email us at

Quick Tip for Multiple Choice Questions

Look for Clue Words and Numbers
  • If two answers are opposite, one is probably correct.
  • Answers with the following words are usually incorrect: always, never, all, must
  • Answers with the following words are usually correct: seldom, generally, tend to,
  • probably, usually
  • Look for grammatical clues between the question and the choices. For example, the question and the correct answer often have verbs of the same tense and have nouns and verbs that agree.
  • Underline familiar words or phrases from the lecture or textbook.
  • Be aware of degrees of correctness. With numbers one choice is usually too small or too large. These choices may be eliminated.


Learning Journals Promote Reflective Learning

A learning journal may be called several different things: a learning log, a fieldwork diary or personal development planner, for example.

Why use a learning journal?

  • To provide a ‘live picture’ of your growing understanding of a subject or experience.
  • To demonstrate how your learning is developing.
  • To keep a record of your thoughts and ideas throughout your experiences of learning.
  • To help you identify your strengths, weaknesses and preferences in learning.
Essentially, a learning journal helps you to be reflective about your learning, this means that your learning journal should not be a purely descriptive account of what you did, etc., but an opportunity to communicate your thinking process: how and why you did what you did and what you now think about what you did.

Check out this handoutLearning_Journals-qx3u17 on learning journals for more information.

How’s Your Notetaking

If you’re still struggling to find the best note taking approach, you might want to check out a phenomenal paper posted to the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching called Notes on note-taking: Review of research and insights for students and instructors. As a preview, students should:
  • Avoid transcribing notes (writing every word the instructor says) in favor of writing notes in your own words.
  • Review your notes the same day you created them and then on a regular basis, rather than cramming review into one long study session immediately prior to an exam.
  • Test yourself on the content of your notes either by using flashcards or using methodology from Cornell Notes. Testing yourself helps you identify what you do not yet know from your notes, and successful recall of tested information improves your ability to recall that information later (you will be less likely to forget it).
  • Carefully consider whether to take notes on pen and paper (or iPad and pencil) or with a laptop. There are costs and benefits to either option.
  • We are often misled to believe that we know lecture content better than we actually do, which can lead to poor study decisions. Avoid this misperception at all costs!

Ed Tech Q&A for Students (9/8/2017)

Q: I am not seeing a course that I’m enrolled in on the Carmen landing page.

A: Some individuals’ Carmen landing page may be experiencing issues synchronizing enrollments from the Student Information System (SIS). If you are not seeing courses that you are enrolled in, please try the following:

  • Click the “CarmenCanvas Dashboard” link at the right side of the Carmen landing page. This will take you directly into CarmenCanvas to the Dashboard page, on which you can access the courses that you are currently enrolled in.
  • To fix the issue, please contact the main campus IT help desk via 8-HELP (688-4357) or

Q: In Carmen, how do I submit an online assignment?

A: Canvas Guides provides a series of excellent resources:

As always, it is your responsibility to confirm that your assignment has been successfully submitted prior to the deadline.

Q: How do I turn off auto-correct/auto-capitalization/etc. on my iPad for an ExamSoft exam?

A: You can adjust keyboard settings under Settings –> General –> Keyboard. (More Information)

Q: How can I tell how well I need to do in my course in order to get a/an [letter grade]?

A: On the Grades page, you are able to not only view your current grades, but also enter “What-If Grades” to approximate your final grades. Please also be mindful of the “Calculate based only on graded assignments” checkbox, as the final grades shown with this particular feature enabled may be inflated.

For more information:

Q: Lecture captures are not playing on some computers!

A: Currently, lecture capture videos are served to PCs/Laptops in Adobe Flash format. Since Adobe Flash is set to be retired in 2020, major browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have begun to disable Flash by default. Due to security concerns related to the plugin, we recommend that you enable Flash on a site-by-site basis, and only if absolutely needed:

Ed Tech Q&A for Students (9/1/2017)

Q: I’m new to OSU! Where can I get additional training for Carmen?

A: The Office of Distance Education and eLearning provides a wonderful Start of Term Checklist, which lists various resources from which you can get more information regarding using Carmen. You are also welcome to email us at and/or stop by VMC 0076A for help.

Q: In Carmen, how can I check to see that I have answered all quiz questions before I submit?

A: In both the web and the mobile versions, Carmen provides you with a list of quiz questions which indicates which questions you have answered, and which you have not. You can also use this list of flag any questions that you would like to skip for now and revisit later. (More information for web, mobile app). Carmen also seeks additional confirmation if you try to submit a quiz with unanswered questions. Please note your unfinished attempts will be automatically submitted when the time is up in a timed quiz, or when the quiz is closed. It is always a good practice and your responsibility to check whether you have answered all questions before submission.

Q: Lecture captures are not playing on some computers

A: Currently, lecture capture videos are served to PCs/Laptops in Adobe Flash format. Since Adobe Flash is set to be retired in 2020, major browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have begun to disable Flash by default. Due to security concerns related to the plugin, we recommend that you enable Flash on a site-by-site basis, and only if absolutely needed:

Advice to Students for Start of Semester

  • Use class time as study time and what was formerly study time as self-testing time. At the end of the day, test yourself over content that was presented in lecture. On weekends, review the previous week’s content. 20 to 30 minutes of self-testing time is optimum, then break.
  • Use targeted lecture capture review that involves conscientiously documenting the time into a lecture and the material that may be challenging/important/unclear.
  • Don’t rewrite notes verbatim. Think about “generative” note taking, or taking notes using your own words and methods of summarizing material. Want to really know more about note taking? Check out this document from the Harvard Initiative for Teaching and Learning.
  • Practice writing test questions for each lecture. (Do them in multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank form, depending on instructor.) Work in a group to share different questions.
  • Review notes or notecards then put them away and attempt to recall material on your own. (Research shows this to be highly effective.)
  • When reviewing notes, “chunk” the material, read through it, put it away and tell yourself a story about how that might affect/be relevant to a case or patient.
  • Use a learning journal before you go to bed to think about how to solve particular problems and what went well during the day’s lectures.