Faculty Focus: Anthony Robinson

March 2nd, 2015 by

Anthony Robinson is an assistant professor of geography and director of Online Geospatial Programs at Penn State. He leads Penn State’s postbaccalaureate GIS Certificate and Master of Geographic Information Systems programs in the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. He also serves as an assistant director for the GeoVISTA Center in the Department of Geography. We chatted with Anthony about his teaching experiences in and outside of the classroom.

Please give our readers a sense of your teaching background and how you arrived at your current position at Penn State.

Anthony Robinson

Anthony Robinson

I came to geography by accident, like many of my colleagues. I was lucky enough to take a human geography course in my undergraduate days that set off a chain of events that led to my current work and position here at Penn State. I’ve always had a strong affinity for maps, and so I took on a focus in cartography, which led later on to research work in geographic visualization in my graduate studies at Penn State. My teaching in geography is focused on designing and evaluating geographic information systems. I want to know how we can make geographic information more useful and actionable for people.

What courses do you teach for Penn State World Campus?

I teach two courses for our Master of Geographic Information Systems (MGIS) program. The first is called Geospatial System Analysis and Design, and the second is called Planning GIS for Emergency Management. Both are graduate-level courses that focus on how we can design new geographic information systems and evaluate whether or not they work for real-world users.

Can you tell our readers some more about the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute?

The Dutton Institute is the learning design unit for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Our group designs, develops, and teaches online programs for the academic departments in EMS. My specific role in the Dutton Institute is to serve as director of online geospatial education programs, which are offered by the Department of Geography and serve over a thousand adult learners every year.

Your current research focuses on designing and evaluating geovisualization tools. Could you explain what that means?

It’s very simple — I’m excited about testing new ways of interacting with maps. We have lots and lots of new and complicated geographic information sources, and I am keen to figure out how we can design tools that leverage that information to solve real problems.

It seems as if your work allows you to travel frequently. Could you tell us about the most interesting place you have traveled to and why?

I am very fortunate to be able to travel around the world for my job, both to engage in research work as well as to spread the word about our online programs. One of the most interesting places I’ve traveled for work is Hong Kong, where my colleague Beth King (senior lecturer in the GIS program) and I went recently to recruit World Campus students at an Asia-Pacific GIS conference. I love the way that city has woven into the mountainous islands, and how it has retained a strong character in a vast array of diverse neighborhoods. The fantastic food is a plus, too.

What have you learned from teaching Penn State World Campus students?

World Campus students have so much depth to offer in terms of their life and work experiences. It’s just incredible to teach people who are living and working all over the world, and who are bringing such a diverse range of experiences to their discussions and assignments in class. When I teach my Emergency Management GIS class, I almost always have several students in there who have years of experience working as first responders, data analysts, and decision makers for crisis management organizations. You can really push a class experience to a higher level when you can count on having such a talented group of students.

What inspires you as a teacher?

I think a good teaching experience is one in which I end up learning as much as my students do. It’s easy to feel inspired when you love your subject so much and you’re able to work with the best students on the planet. When I hear from a student that something we’ve done in class has sparked a new passion in them, that really fires me up.

What is your favorite thing to do outside of the classroom?

I have a recording studio in my basement at home, so I like to write and record songs whenever I get a chance. I play guitar and drums, and have a bit of a habit when it comes to collecting new music gear.

Use Mindful Communication to Improve Relationships

February 20th, 2015 by

“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” — Mark Twain


Paul Shanks via Flickr

Human connection is communication. Effective communication is required of us in school, work, and family life. We need it to write our ideas, express our wisdom, and maintain and build relationships. In fact, good communication skills are required for nearly every professional career. Transmission of information can be found on the web, through sign language, in the news, and on social networks. How to communicate your argument, analysis, or thoughts genuinely and effectively requires small steps.

Mindful Communication

Mindfulness requires awareness without letting our feelings, thoughts, and ideologies be controlled by the past or future. The present moment is in the here and now, and when we enter a conversation, it should have good intent and purpose. Take a look at some of the questions below:

What common ground do we share?

  • People like to feel that they are connected. By using words like “we,” “our,” “us,” and “ourselves,” we can instantly build an engaging and lasting bond.
  • Reveal as much as possible about yourself. Openness is one of the key strategies I use when speaking to other people. When making new connections, I usually focus on moving and inspirational things I am doing with my life or that I am interested in. Your relationship instantly transforms small talk to a closer shared reality. Regardless of what your boss may say, you might be at work, but developing relationships with people builds a better foundation for any business.

Are we both comfortable speaking to each other?

  • One way of doing this is by showing them appropriate eye contact — looking away briefly at times helps to make it less intense.
  • If you feel like you want to improve your relationship with a person, you can try stating the obvious: “I may not always communicate this, but I really enjoy talking to you, and I think we work well together.” This statement helps to open the door for genuine conversation.

Is the purpose being clearly defined?

  • Are we addressing someone in a way that he or she can understand?  Be patient with the person and yourself that question if you do not have a clear understanding of the conversation the first time you are talking to each other. It may take three or four additional conversations for someone to fully understand where you are “coming from.”

Will our connection be superior after our interaction?

  • Be enthusiastic while speaking to someone. Smile as much as the occasion calls for it. This will make him or her feel special and feel more open to you the next time around. The key here is not to be fake. Smiling naturally relieves tension and stress.

Respectful Communication

Being mindful of the other person’s point of view is necessary even if there is a difference in belief or opinion. If you maintain a bird’s eye view of any situation, you bring yourself “up and out” of a narrow-minded version of your reality. A bird’s eye view is defined as viewing things as the birds do, or if you were to get into a helicopter and travel to work. You would see things you never saw before and likely enjoy the ride!

Ask Smart Questions

Pretend you are facing north and your friend is facing south. You both see something completely different. That’s how most people on the planet see — everyone may see something differently than you do. How do you get them to see your perspective?

If you ask the right questions, that person may be able to understand what you see that they can’t. How can you establish a connection and see what the other person is seeing? You often find the right questions by asking more than one. You could ask, “What do you see?” Or, you could ask more than one question that relies on details in return. “Do you see any clouds? What shape do they take and what size are they? Is the wind moving them? How high are the clouds in relation to the horizon?”

We may fail to ask questions while communicating with others.  Details may be left out, and we may not truly understand the other person’s point of view. We find ourselves assuming that the other person must know what we are seeing or thinking when we haven’t really told them anything at all.

Focus on Skills and Solutions

With the stresses we accumulate every day, it is easy to forget that other people are going through the same things. If we are more sensitive to someone’s feelings, we will create positive impact in the way that others perceive us and how we relate to them.

For example, we may find ourselves focusing on negative things and communicating to others in a negative way. When this happens, the people we talk to may become frustrated and unmotivated. If this is a constant struggle, it creates a hostile environment. However, if we focus on the skills someone has — and how he or she can apply this skill more often — this style of communication is far more appealing than dwelling on a problem. When we are in a negative frame of mind, our perspectives become narrower, ruling out possible solutions. Both people end up focusing on the issue instead of the solution.

Just as bad communication can ruin relationships, positive techniques have the ability to create lasting bonds at home, school, and the workplace.

How do you practice mindful communication in your life? Share your tips and best practices in the comments section below!

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) 2015 Membership Available to World Campus Students

February 10th, 2015 by

We’re excited to announce that undergraduate World Campus students—regardless of where you live—are eligible for a free electronic student affiliate membership with both the national and Pennsylvania branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW)!


To join, complete the E-Student Affiliate Join Application, and be sure to choose “Penn State World Campus” as your college/university.

What is the AAUW?

AAUW is an association that advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research. AAUW has been empowering women as individuals and as a community since 1881. For more than 130 years, they have worked together as a national grassroots organization to improve the lives of millions of women and their families.

Learn more about what AAUW does.

What opportunities are available to me as an AAUW member?

Being a member can expand your personal and professional network and affect community change.  Your membership supports and furthers AAUW’s mission to advance equity for women and girls.

World Campus students are qualified to be members of the national and Pennsylvania branch. This membership includes the opportunity to:

Join now! To learn more about AAUW, visit the national AAUW website or the Pennsylvania branch website.

Sleep Deprivation and Your Brain

February 9th, 2015 by

Sleeping can affect the way you think, how you act, and how you perform physically. The easiest way to increase your vitality, happiness, and success is to sleep more. It not only improves cognitive functioning, it also increases our physical capabilities.

 What happens with sleep deprivation?


Allan Ajifo, Flickr

When you do not get enough sleep, your prefrontal cortex (responsible for problem solving and alertness) decreases in performance. This area of the brain is in charge of processing working memory (what you need in order to eventually retain information in the long term) and proper mental functioning on simple and complex tasks.

Long-term memory is affected when you do not get enough hours of sleep that night. For example, every night you should get adequate sleep, in contrast to catching up on sleep on the weekends. Even if you sleep in on the weekends, for the complete process of new information — which is composed of short-term memories (also known as working memory) to be moved to long-term memory — it needs to be done within 24 hours.

 Sleep on athletic performance

Sleep also plays a huge role in athletic performance. If you are not getting enough sleep, you may not be performing at your best. The top athletes even admit to their sleeping rituals and how these play a huge role in their training. For example, noted on the National Sleep Foundation’s article, “Sleep, Athletic Performance, and Recovery,” Serena Williams enjoys going to bed at 7:00 p.m. Athletes in training typically need more sleep than the average person. But what if you got that extra hour? The most important part of sleep is nonrapid eye movement (NREM), which is crucial for cognitive functioning. If you do not know how many hours of sleep you should be receiving, see my article, “How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need to Study Effectively?” to find out more information on people’s sleep patterns.

 What are your sleeping habits?

I usually try to be in bed by 10:00 p.m., and I wake up between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. That’s about 8 hours of sleep. Everyone’s sleeping patterns can be different, and it is important to learn how to listen to your body. If you are waking up exhausted every day and depending on coffee to just get you out of bed, you may need to go to sleep earlier.

Changing Jobs within Your Organization: Part 2

January 30th, 2015 by

In the first part of this blog, we identified self-assessment as the first step to pursuing a job in your organization. The fundamentals in this post will address understanding your organization and researching what others do, including how to reach out to others.

Know Your Company

How many of you understand what other people in your organization do? Yes, we know who our colleagues are and that somehow they contribute to the collective day-to-day operations, but what is it like to do their job and what skills do they use to fulfill their responsibilities? Often, you will discover that there are many more jobs than you realize.

Most mid- to large-size company organizational charts represent a wide range of occupations. This means that there might be internal opportunities for you if you hope to make a change based on what you know about your interests, values, and skills. For example, let’s say that you work in management for a corporation, but you aspire to do accounting work. You probably will not have to look long before you discover that there are colleagues who spend their days focused on business operations related to auditing, budgeting, or analyzing finances at your company.

Here are some ways to identify options for you:

  • Review the organizational chart.
  • Read your company website with the intention of understanding how each unit functions to create the whole of the organization.
  • Talk with people who understand your organization from a big-picture perspective. You might find someone with an understanding about the kinds of positions your company hires for, possibly someone in HR, depending on your organization. You want colleagues who have some history with the organization, people whom you can learn from. Find out how other departments in your organization differ from your unit.

Research Jobs

While you want to have an idea of what positions are available at your organization, you can also look at general occupational information based on what you know about yourself, followed by identifying where people do that kind of work within your organization

You can learn about what others do for their jobs in several ways. First, you can read some information. Penn State students have access to a wealth of career information, such as virtual career libraries, that can help you explore different occupations. Additionally, there are useful resources online, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, ACT World-of-Work Map, America’s Career InfoNet, or O*NET, where you can relate your interests, goals, and motivations to various occupations. You might also want to talk with a career counselor to help synthesize your self-knowledge and relate this to occupations you want to explore.

In addition to reading about occupations, talk to people — because those who are doing the work you aspire to do are one of the best sources of career information. There are some guidelines and example questions to consider asking if you decide to talk with a colleague. Select people judiciously if you are not ready to let people at work know you are considering a change. If you are in a situation where you do not want people to know you are considering a change, you can always learn about occupations from people outside of your organization. But remember that there is some etiquette to keep in mind when speaking with someone about what she/he does. If you are struggling to find someone to talk to about occupations, LionLink is an excellent program that connects Penn State students with alumni volunteers for the purpose of networking.

Take Action

Presenting yourself. As you move toward another position, it helps to talk about your broad skills versus current job duties. For instance, instead of saying you answer phones as an assistant, you want to talk about yourself as someone who communicates well with customers and who manages data. The broad skills underneath job tasks are called transferable skills (because the acquired abilities can be transferred to different circumstances). When you talk with the right people at work, you want to speak the language of transferable skills.

Reaching out. Once you can talk about the relevant competencies you have, you are then in a position to find people in your organization who can help you. This is someone whom you can contact periodically and who is receptive to you. It requires social judgment, but if your interoffice networking is well received, it is possible to expand your discussions to career development topics. But you’re looking for someone who can offer you some advice.

You can seek out hiring managers in different areas that interest you. When you reach out, avoid asking what she/he can do for you. Instead, show them what you can do for them. Show how you offer value and share ideas on how you can help. This can happen with current supervisors if this seems appropriate for you; this assumes you have a good performance record with your supervisor. When speaking to your boss or a unit leader, keep in mind how you could make his or her life simpler with your help. Come to a meeting with a list of accomplishments in mind that demonstrate the transferable skills you bring that could help the unit.

Not all organizations are the same in structure or in office politics. Some of you are in a situation where you can speak freely about your career plans. Or you may feel like you cannot breathe a word of what you want to explore, even to someone in the HR department. While my thoughts assume the ideal situation, I would encourage you to think in terms of finding allies whose discretion you can trust as you explore talking with others about the organization or about what they do. Ideally, you can talk to someone in the organization — but practically, you might do better to speak with people outside your organization.

Finding opportunities. Eventually, you have to learn about opportunities within your organization. Do you know where and when your company announces openings? Are you monitoring the advertised openings? If you are interested in a position, be sure to apply promptly. Also, there are often informal ways that people learn about opportunities in their company. If you learn about a lead, follow up with a manager in that department. Networking from within your organization allows you to have positive experiences with your colleagues that people outside your company will not have. Be sure to follow networking etiquette. For example, you want to avoid asking something such as, “Who is high up, and who does the hiring?” You want to build allies, not offend people.

Resources for Penn State World Campus Students

Be sure to reach out to a Penn State World Campus career counselor for help exploring your options in your organization; you can also take some career assessments by working with a career counselor. Likewise, there are written materials available to help as you consider making a change. For example, there are virtual career libraries, such as WetFeet or Vault, where you can learn about changing careers, along with finding other information in regard to networking and occupations.

Have you experienced a career shift at your current company? Share your perspectives by commenting below.

Be Aware of 2014 Tax Changes

January 19th, 2015 by
Dr. Daad Rizk

Dr. Daad Rizk

With 2014 behind us, it’s almost time for filing taxes. Making a point to understand how federal tax rules apply to your situation can help you file your taxes correctly and take advantage of any tax credits you may be able to claim. College students, and those who have dependent college students, should review rules and changes regarding education expenses and credits each year.

As a start, you may want to read IRS Publication 17, the annual tax guide for individuals. This guide covers the general rules for filing an income tax return and explains changes since the previous tax filing year.

Several notable changes may impact your 2014 taxes:

  • Health care individual responsibility requirements apply.
  • Several tax benefits have expired, including deductions for tuition and fees, educator expenses, state and local general sales taxes, and mortgage insurance premiums, among others.
  • The personal exemption amount has increased for certain taxpayers.
  • The number of tax refunds that can be directly deposited to a single account or prepaid debit card is now limited to three per year. Refunds beyond this limit will be sent via paper checks.
  • Especially important for students, you may choose to include tax-free grants and scholarships as income, which may increase an education credit and lower your total tax or increase your refund. Certain requirements must be met; find complete details online at the IRS’s Tax Benefits for Education Information Center.

This is not a complete list of changes, and it is important to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements that apply to your situation. You may want to consult your tax preparer or get help from the IRS for your specific questions.

Penn State’s Financial Literacy Coordinator, Dr. Daad Rizk, can provide more information and resources about educational expenses, taxes, and other financial literacy topics impacting students. You contact Dr. Rizk at dar39@psu.edu.

Career Change: Jobs Within Your Organization: Part 1

January 15th, 2015 by

When people talk about career changes, they often equate this idea with changing companies. However, many adults return to college to advance or change their career while planning to stay with their current employer. Here are some considerations when making such a change, starting with self-assessment. I will cover more considerations in a second blog post.

Self-assessment is the first step.

As you think about changing or advancing your career, it helps to know who you are, what you have been doing, and who you are in the process of becoming. There are aspects of you and the work you’ve done that can inform the direction that you will go in the future. It is important to be able to articulate who you are and what you offer an employer before you explore your options, because knowing yourself makes it easier to recognize a good job fit when you see one.

What do you enjoy?

It is useful to understand your interests, values, and skills, among other factors (e.g., personality, aptitude), when considering a change. For example, one way to think about interests is to consider what aspects of your current work you like the most. Most people are interested in some job responsibilities more than others. Suppose you are someone who spends your days with a computer working with numbers (data) but who really wants to manage co-workers (people). If you prefer to lead and mentor, but your job requires you to analyze or compile data, this may lead you to feel disinterested in your work. When you take the time to consider what you like and dislike about your current or past jobs, you can understand your work interests and act accordingly when selecting your next position.

In addition to interests, work values are often associated with what makes work satisfying. Is what you do for work important to you, and in what ways? As a few examples, some people find flexibility or autonomy to be most important; others find getting bonuses and attaining prestige imperative. You could ask yourself what you have accomplished in your work and how satisfying it is. Whatever your work values are, factor them in as you consider making a career change.


Checklist Chalkboard on Flickr by Mufidah Kassalias.

What job skills do you have, or want to improve?

Every time that you work, you perform different skills. Whenever you look at a job, you consider the skills and abilities that are required. I find that people tend to underestimate themselves. Maybe this is because when you have skills that you use all the time, the skills are so familiar that it is easy to overlook them. Do you know what skills you use most frequently? You might be adept at skills that you only get to use a small percentage of your day, though you would prefer to use these skills more often. For instance, you might serve customers in a restaurant but the highlight of your day is the bookkeeping tasks that you do at the end of the day.

When we talk about skills, it is useful to think in terms of ones that we have and ones that we need. Knowing your skill gaps, you can plan how to acquire the ones you need for your career. There are different ways to learn about what kind of skills you may need, such as looking at sample job descriptions or talking to people who are in the field you aspire to work in. Again, this self-knowledge can be a clue that you can use as you move forward in your career path. It can also help you position yourself, because once you determine if there are prerequisite skills you need, you can start developing them before you make a change.

Do you know what qualities you bring to your job?

There are many qualities that make up a good employee, more than the skills of a given occupation. For example, there are communication, task completion, and organizational skills that employers value in their employees. As you hope to change or advance, it is important to take stock of your qualities. Even though most skills can be learned, you want to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Let me emphasize that you want to recognize your strengths, so please try not to focus solely on what you have to improve.

How will future employers see your current work experience?

It is difficult to determine how you will get from where you are now to where you want to be, without understanding your current circumstances and how you got there. As such, in addition to the interests, values, and skills that you have, it is also useful to examine the course your career has taken so far. You might consider if your career has stalled or headed in an unintended direction. Determine what it was  that stalled you. What happened when you took an undesired turn?

This leads me to a related topic—  how you made your career decisions. For example, you could think about your current position. Did you accept the job because you had no other choice or possibly because someone else suggested you would do well in the job? You can decide if you want to make your decision the same way as previously. For instance, if you put off a job decision and then ended up taking what was available out of necessity, you can decide if that is how you want to make your next choice. Often, students pick a career only to find out that it was not what they expected. There are ways to avoid such pitfalls; you can learn from your past and learn more about your options before making your next decision. Likewise, there are workplace factors, roles that you have during nonwork hours, and plans that you have for the future to consider as you strive to understand your career past and future.

Self-assessments can help you know where to focus your energy.

If you are unsure about your interests, values, or skills related to your career change, or what strengths you offer, there are some exercises that you can do in some career-focused publications, such as Changing Course, Changing Careers, available through an online career library, or WetFeet, found at http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/career/cic/. Alternately, you can talk to a career counselor who can help determine if career tests would increase your self-awareness, or work with you on clarifying factors such as interests, values, or skills.

The next segment of this blog will focus on other considerations when changing jobs within your organization.

How Can You Really Improve in 2015? Create Habits.

January 13th, 2015 by

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle

One of the most important things you could do for yourself this year is to realize the power of habit. New Year’s resolutions can fade quickly. Goals are great; however, they are one step behind the real focus. Humans are habitual in nature, and that is why we develop tendencies that make us unhappy. What if we found a way to adopt behaviors that made us happy? Though there are many outside influences that affect our habits every day, real change happens within us.

Many New Year’s resolutions center on weight loss. However, when you make it your “job,” the objective becomes strenuous, or even impossible, leading to lost motivation. This goes for anything we set our minds to accomplish, and a huge part of our existence is based on perception, from the Latin word percipio, meaning an immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, and a unified awareness. This year, try to think, “I want to do more yoga, because I really like it.” If you don’t like the gym, go hiking instead, or commit the next 30 days to trying out different sports and exercises until you find something you are really passionate about. Next month, start that one hour a week — which I promise — will not seem like work at all. Give yourself enough time so the habit is realistic, and is not thrown in your face.

The best part is, you don’t have to wait for a new year, and you can start harnessing the power of habit at any time. All you need is the willingness to try.

What do you want to accomplish in 2015?

Writing things down is a very powerful way to increase your success. There was a study conducted in 1979 at Harvard that followed up on students who wrote down their goals. It turns out that they were 10 times likelier to reach them, compared to those who did not write down their goals.

One approach is to make two lists: one for your main goals of the year, and one for daily tasks. Because it’s very easy to forget things that you must accomplish on a daily basis when you have other responsibilities and deadlines, this system allows you to focus on these items.

Here are some ideas that you can add to your list of habits and goals:

Read and memorize vocabulary words

Memorizing words and their definitions is more than broadening your vocabulary; it also helps improve your memory. On average, it takes about 7 to 25 seconds for your working memory to enter your long- term memory. Working memory is associated with immediate recollection of the day’s events, compared to long-term memory, which is information that you retain for your entire life. If you want to memorize a word (or anything, for that matter), repeating the word aloud, writing down the definition, and using it in a sentence will help you remember the word indefinitely. An easy way to incorporate this suggestion is to visit dictionary.com and sign up for their Word of the Day email. This will keep you on track, and save time on tracking down new vocabulary terms by delivering them right to your inbox.

Be active

During freezing temperatures in January, hiking in the cold can be extremely rewarding. Hiking is invigorating and can boost your immunity. During exercise and three hours afterward, your body releases white blood cells known as neutrophils, which are important for their immunity-boosting properties. Playing sports, doing yoga, and running have the same effect. I prefer sprinting over marathon running because your body naturally has a threshold; when it is compromised by overtraining, your immune system treats exercise as a stressor, which actually lowers immunity instead of boosting it.

Make a vision board

Vision Board

Vision Board via Flickr, Nanette Saylor

What is a vision board?  It’s a collection of pictures of things that you want to do and experience in the future  — a visual representation of your goals, hopes, and dreams. You simply pin up pictures on a board with thumbtacks, and look at these images on a daily basis. The pictures show the things you want and are passionate about. These can include places where you want to travel, houses you would like to visit in Indonesia, a light blue 1968 Mustang that you want to drive off into the sunset, or perhaps a degree from Penn State World Campus to further your career. One of my personal pictures at Penn State is about becoming a member of Psi Chi — the honor society in Psychology. (I also wanted to write for Penn State, and I made that happen!) Pinterest is a great way to visualize what you want while you are on the go. You can download the app to your phone and easily search millions of photos.

What would you put on your vision or Pinterest board? Let us know by commenting below!

Speaking Multiple Languages Can Change the Way You Think

January 12th, 2015 by

Hallo! Wie geht’s? That’s German for “Hello! What’s up?”

I studied the German language for three semesters at Penn State and decided to explore the language because of that country’s growing economy. Upon further investigation of languages, I stumbled across information pertaining to how learning a new language can affect the brain.

What Happens When You Learn a New Language?

When learning a new language, you activate portions of the brain that help you think more efficiently. A new study found that a bilingual speaker may process information quicker than people who speak only one language. Bilinguals expressed a stronger ability to suppress irrelevant language-information —  their brains simply won’t absorb unnecessary information that will not help them progress in learning. This ability stems from a bilingual’s approach to everyday language-use and association. Simply, information from the language not currently in use must be ignored. Thus, you can expect life-long cerebral cortex changes in people who speak more than one language, such as processing information faster and more efficiently. This also means that you are building a stronger network of neurons in the brain that communicate more effectively. If you are bilingual, you are more likely to become trilingual, and it becomes easier to learn new languages.

Language Immersion

While it is important to study the material given to you and learn words to ace exams, it’s safe to say that using Pareto analysis in learning a language — that is, applying 20% of your brain power to memorize new words — can result in 80% of comprehension (Pareto’s Principle of 80/20 dictates that 80% of the results in any endeavor come from 20% of the effort). In English, 300 words comprise 65% of all written material. We use these words a lot, and it’s important to note that this applies to all languages.

It is also important to note that you do not have to travel to a country to learn a language. Many people who live abroad don’t necessarily learn a language as fast as people who are submerged in daily activities through distance learning or media. Living in a different country and really learning a language can be two completely different things. Virtual immersion has made it possible for millions to learn a new language. For example, the Internet has been a savior for some people. In any language, we can search for the top 300 words in that language via the web and speak fluently just by learning the top 300 words in that language. Spotify, a leading music search engine that enables you to download an unlimited amount of music every day for a small monthly fee, also gives us access to learning new languages. This enhances our own abilities and increases our confidence by learning before we travel to the destination where our language of choice is being spoken. It is important to know which words are important to retain and learn. Click here for Top 300 Words in English and to get more information about the language you are most interested in learning. The British Counsel reports that by 2020, two billion people will be taking online courses to learn the English language.

What I Did to Learn a New Language

In 2013, I met with my friend Keith every Wednesday for two to three hours at an Israeli café in Brooklyn to practice speaking the German language. At that time I was in my third semester of German while Keith was in his second. We agreed we would speak only in German. We slowly learned we weren’t the only ones who spoke the language: our fellow language learners in the café included the cash attendant and bus boy. Keith also had a mutual friend who spoke German, and we invited her to join us a few times. This practice brought me a lot of success in my courses.

How David Bailey, CEO of Spotnight, Learned French in 17 Days

David Bailey posted an answer on Quora, a collection of questions and answers from everyday people. David had already become fluent in Spanish (in addition to English as his native language), so French was his third language of choice.

How did he do it?

  • He traveled to France and stayed with a friend in Beaujolais. Being a Penn Stater at World Campus enables you to live anywhere in the world and explore its culture.
  • He set a daily routine. Every day for two hours he wrote and rewrote irregular and regular verbs in French.
  • He listened to a live-classroom language scenario where he would hear the instructor and students exchanging proper word use, pronunciation and proper word-order. Hearing a live classroom setting helped David learn twice as fast.
  • He ran for 45 to 60 minutes every day and listened to French music. Music is a great way to learn a new language.
  • He had lunch with people who did not speak at a slower rate of understanding.
  • He read children’s books in French. They are easy enough to understand (especially if you know how the stories go), and you can guess more accurately what a word means without looking it up in a dictionary.
  • He wrote essays about himself in French. His friend would check it for errors and tell him what he should work on.
  • He learned filler words, such as the English filler words “of,” “and,” “but,” “then,” “in fact.”

List of Penn State’s Foreign Language Courses

Penn State offers a variety of languages to learn, and most degree programs  require students to learn a new language. The foreign languages available through Penn State World Campus include:

  • Spanish
  • German
  • Italian
  • French

What are some ways you have learned a new language?

Writing Help For Graduate Students

January 5th, 2015 by

For many Penn State World Campus graduate students, the upcoming semester is shaping up to be a semester full of assignments that may require intensive writing skills. Penn State World Campus offers many graduate courses that focus on intensive writing skills, so if the idea of participating in a course like this makes you nervous, consider seeking help from the Graduate Writing Center.


Photo by Jenn Vargas via Flickr

The Graduate Writing Center can assist you with access to peer support coordinated with the Penn State English Department. Staff members are PhD candidates and Postdoctoral Teaching Fellows who can provide one-on-one help  with writing, rhetoric, and composition.

Appointments are available throughout the week.

Schedule a free distance consultation via Skype today.

The Graduate Writing Center helps with the following types of materials:

  • writing assignments
  • résumé writing
  • cover letters
  • dissertation proposals
  • publication reviews
  • professional biographies
  • conference proposals
  • curriculum vitae
  • job applications
  • personal statements

For more information, contact the Graduate Writing Center at gwc.psu@gmail.com.