Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ustaaza, is that an ashtray on the table?

The Arabic textbook I use has a series of short video scenes designed to introduce students to basic cultural behavior in greetings, introductions, and other short conversations.  Generally, I am able to predict what cultural behaviors students will pick up on (like two male friends hugging and kissing on the cheek).  However, there are always surprises like the following:

1) In a scene focusing on a professor going into the department head's office, the following question: "Ustaaza, is that an ashtray on the table?"

2) In another scene, showing two friends in a cafe: "Ustaaza, are they smoking indoors?"

To me, these references to smoking were unremarkable, not so much because I have lived in Egypt (the scene of the videos, but where smoking spaces have also changed dramatically in recent years) but because I remember a time in which it was not unusual to smoke indoors, or have an ashtray on a table. 

Yet I do remember, my first time in Egypt, being surprised to see people smoking in elevators (this is much less common now).  I told my mother, and she was not surprised, telling me how students and professors used to smoke in class when she was in college.  I remember thinking this was unimaginable, as classrooms, like elevators, were spaces in which I could not imagine smoking.  Eleven years later, it seems that offices and cafes are just as unimaginable spaces for my students.  


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pretty Charts of Academic Productivity

A weakness of mine I discovered while analyzing data for my Masters thesis is my love of using spreadsheet programs to make pretty charts that are rather more illuminating to me than to others.  More recently, I have been using this to track my academic work, or rather to see how close I am getting to the 40-40-20 balance I am supposed to have, and what areas I need to work on.

To keep track of my time, I am using my own version of the Pomodoro method, which is 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break.  Since I often have something like 45 minutes between classes, or meetings, or whatever, I use a timer that I can pause (for example, I would do 25 minutes, break, 10 minutes, pause time, and finish the 25 when I get back).  I think this is against the method, but it works for my in terms of tracking things in 25 minute implement.

Then I enter each completed Pomodoro (25 minutes) in a Google Spreadsheet according to the activity. At the end of the month, I can make pretty charts.  Here is September's chart for Research, Teaching, and Service (or half of September, since I only came up with this system halfway through)


As you can see, I am spending more time on teaching, but I am getting research in.  I am also spending less time on service, but this is partially because my heavier service assignments occurred before I started keeping track.  Here is a nifty pie chart for the whole half month:

As you can see from this chart, rather than 40-40-20, I am at more like 36-62-1.  Of course, I am teaching an extra class and not expected to do much service, so this may be a bit more accurate of a percentage.  If you look at the first chart, the major culprit in this imbalance is that I have been spending all day Fridays on teaching, in order to get all my classes prepped for the next week, which allows me to relax on the weekend.  This is actually an improvement the last two weeks over not finishing on Friday and spending Saturday doing this.  This week, my goal is to get at least some research in on Friday.  Given the surprised and delighted look my chair had today when I told him I spent 2-3 hours a day on research though, I think I am doing okay though.  

Since two charts are clearly not enough, I've also been keeping track of my research activities.  For me, this is writing, data analysis, organizing my sources, and reading.  Writing and reading are the only ones of these I really like, so doing the actual Pomodoro method (no pauses) is helpful to get me through the others.  My minimum goal is one writing and three data analysis sessions each day.  So far, except for Fridays, I've mostly been able to meet this.  I've never tried the writing every day for short periods thing, but it is kind of nice.  I use it as a reward after doing all my teaching prep in the morning.  So, here is my pretty chart of research activities.  


I mostly read in the evenings and weekends (last weekend I really wanted to finish the theoretical book I've been slogging through, so I put in extra time).  I do the writing as my first research activity, followed by data analysis, and organizing my sources in Bookends (a bibliography program).  This last activity is pretty boring, and I go up and down on its usefulness, but I think it will work out in the end.  I'm also a bit tempted to just spend a weekend fixing the chaos that ensued with my source collection during dissertating, but it is such a tedious activity that I don't really want to dedicate a weekend to this.  So, I'll continue with the Pomodoro or two a day for now.  I'm also considering bumping the writing up to two sessions, as I usually don't want to stop, but if I keep writing then I may not fit in my other activities.  

So for October, I think I am going to try to get research in on Fridays, and perhaps more writing or organizing sessions.  I'll reevaluate at the end of next month, but so far I am liking this method of keeping track, especially at the end of the month when I can make pretty charts!