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FS 24: The Wonder of Teaching: Your learning environment

Library research guide for First Year Seminar, "The Wonder of Teaching," taught by Dr. Katherine Hickey

Learning outcome

  • Understand how consciously organizing your learning environment can help you succeed as a researcher.

Activity: Your personal learning environment

Take a moment to reflect on your ideal learning environment. You may want to consider some of these attributes:

  • Location - is it an outdoor or indoor space? Is it in a familiar space, or someplace different?
  • Equipment - what kinds of tools or technology are available - both "high" and "low" technology?
  • People - are other people nearby? Do you work best in a group or by yourself?
  • Activity - are you sitting? Standing? In motion?
  • Time - how long do you spend in this place? Do you work in short bursts, or do you like to settle into a "zone"?
  • Senses - do you thrive off of sensory stimulation - music, bright colors, textures? Or do you keep distractions to a minimum?

Write a paragraph reflection summarizing the most important aspects of your learning environment and how you can achieve them.

Note taking

The practice of taking notes on your ideas, questions and sources is an important part of your personal learning environment.

Miranda Hein and Molly Wiskur, undergraduate students at the University of Kansas, created this video describing several popular note-taking strategies:

Olivia Reyes, another student in the same class, created a video focusing on the Cornell note taking system:

Concept mapping

Illustration for article titled How to Use Mind Maps to Unleash Your Brains Creativity and Potential

Concept mapping is a way to record and generate ideas by setting down the connections and associations between your thoughts in a map.

Here's an example of a concept map created in Coggle ( for a hypothetical research paper asking how effective C.P.E. Bach was as a music teacher. The concept map includes information drawn from several secondary sources.


Outlining helps you find a logical sequence for your ideas. For example, you may begin by introducing basic concepts, lead readers through your evidence, and sum up what you have taught them about your topic. Outlining also establishes a hierarchical order of concepts, with major claims appearing above lesser claims and evidence.

You may have had teachers in high school that talked about writing five paragraph papers following the "claim - data - warrant" structure. While not all topics lend themselves to the kind of evidentiary argument implied by the five paragraph structure, it is still a good idea to think about your research topic in terms of formal symmetry and make a plan for how you will lead readers from one point to the next.