This is the first installment of How I Work at the DSI. DSI-HIW was adapted from Lifehacker’s great series also called “How I Work”. Questions have been adapted/changed/substituted for more academic subjects.

Betsy Lewis is professor of Spanish and the incoming chair of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department.

Computer: Netbook Touchscreen, but mostly use the keyboard. I use the university computer at my desk but I love working on my couch with my tiny computer.
Phone: Samsung Galaxy 3
(“I’m not an Apple person.”)

Sue Fernsebner is professor of History.
(“Also an Android user.”)
Computer: Lenovo T410
Phone: Samsung Galaxy Note 2 – it’s an oldie but a goodie.

One word that best describes how you work:

Betsy: “In bits and pieces”
Sue: “on the run”
(Both of them are cheaters for using three words!)

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?

Betsy: All google products: calendar, drive. An app I use almost every day is map my run.
Sue: Trello helps me keep track of what I need to do so it’s one I go to on a fairly regular basis. I just added a hydration app, too. Helps to stay healthy.

What’s your best grading time-saving shortcut?

Betsy: There is such a thing?
Sue: I’ve tried a timer and that doesn’t always help me. But just switching locations can help, like leaving home and trying a coffee shop.
Betsy: before I sit down and grade I try to have an idea of what I’m looking for and a rubric. Digital papers have been a bear for me because it’s easier to grade with a pen on paper but it’s also easier for students to do electronic submissions. I use a color code for my feedback. I use Word and post to Canvas.
Sue: I also remind myself that I’m grading and not editing. Keep comments focused.

What’s the most creative assignment/class activity you’ve ever designed? Did it work?

Betsy: Several years ago I taught a nineteenth-century Spanish novel course, a subject I love but a little hard to get students motivated. So I focused the course around film and TV adaptations of several novels, which we read and watched. Then each week we played with different digital storytelling tools to make our own storyboards for key parts of the novels we were reading. At the end of the semester the students actually filmed their own adaptation of three short stories. I hadn’t planned that part, but the students used the digital tools to help them think of the texts in different ways. I learned as much in that class as the students I think.
Sue: “What’s the most…” questions are hard to answer. I think I’m always trying to be more creative with whatever the next big assignment is that’s coming. One of the more recent assignment that I’ve experimented with, though, is a GIF assignment for my new “Chinese History through Film” course. This is an assignment for a course in which students are engaged in a term paper project in which they have to analyze, compare, and historically contextualize two Chinese films. Ahead of that assignment, they also have to write a shorter paper in which they choose a scene from one of the films and analyze it in close detail. Just last year I also required my students to create an animated GIF from the same scenes they were choosing. We conducted a workshop that trained them in the process, an excellent workshop led by Jim Groom and Andy Rush of UMW’s own Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies. The GIF students each subsequently created was (ideally) illustrative of focus of their analysis, and one that helped them further delve into the visual detail and motion of a scene. The GIF assignment was a new kind of project for many students and was a lot of fun. It also served as a stepping stone for analytical development and feedback ahead of the longer term paper that they’d be writing. And, also, finally, we had a GIF “Oscars” award contest as an event at the end of the semester, which happened to be a very nice evening celebration for course. I’d say it worked, though as with every assignment, there are always ways to tweak it for the next time around.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Sue: Trello. It’s got these useful tagging categories: today, this week, punt, get it done.

Betsy: I’ve used an app for my phone called AnyDo. I really loved it for a while, but haven’t been using it as much. I think I need to find something better now that I’m department chair!

How do you manage scholarly journals/books? Do you use a citation manager?

Sue: I’ve used Zotero but lately I’m just using a word file.
Betsy: me too.

Do you blog about your teaching/research? Why/why not?

Betsy: Yes. I mostly do it for myself, to reflect on what worked and what didn’t, to remember what I was thinking at the moment. The second would be that if any students land there they can see what I’m about.
Sue: Yes. It works for me as a way to synthesize things. I don’t do it quite as often as I would like but towards the end of the semester or a project it’s a great way to synthesize. So I find myself going back to these posts when I’m working on the second stage of a project or at the start of a new semester. This past year I’ve used it a lot to assess the work I’ve been doing and bring it to conferences. It’s been a great way to speak to a local audience on campus but also a thing I’ve been bringing to my field for that broader conversation.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

Betsy: Keurig.
Sue: maybe the thermometer I use for making bread.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Betsy: I had (still have) a great mentor in my dissertation director David Gies of the University of Virginia. I think the best thing I learned from him was not to get discouraged–to just keep plugging away. I remember getting a particularly mean reader’s report from an article submission and he told me to try to follow the constructive criticisms to improve the article, but don’t get too hung up on the rest. Sometimes you’ve got to have a think skin in this profession, and that’s hard to do!
Sue: “You seem to be working too hard.” A simple but timely observation from a wise person, delivered to someone who hadn’t yet learned the value of a healthy balance of work and true downtime. I’m getting a fair bit better at it now that a few more years have passed…

When did you last have to go to a physical library and how did you feel about it?

Betsy: Last week. It was a nice walk
Sue: A couple weeks ago. I was one of the few people there but it is a university library in summer. It was cool inside.

Where do you learn about new digital resources/apps?

Betsy: Twitter
Sue: Twitter, ProfHacker

How do you take notes at meetings?

Betsy: Depends on the meeting. If it’s a meeting where I am taking the notes for to be distributed, I’ll do it in word. If I’m just attending the meeting I’m more likely to just write in a notebook. I’ve started trying to keep a theme notebook – I use my kids’ leftovers.
Sue: I’ve been on an epic march on how to keep notes for meetings. If I’m taking notes as secretary it’s either on a google doc or word file. I was doing it on my phone in an app but found it hard to manage. It felt too small. Now I’ve settled for my own notes on a moleskine notebook – though it’s not a moleskine, it’s something better. (I forget the name of it). I’ve gone back to paper.

When’s the last time you rinsed your coffee mug?

Japanese coffee mug. Shouldn’t this be a standard gift for new faculty?

Betsy: Well it’s summer so things are much better. At the end of the spring semester I had five mugs with mold at the bottom that had been sitting on my windowsill for months. They all got home and got clean.
Sue: This morning. I have a really cool brush for my Japanese Zojirushi mug. The other one got so moldy I had to throw it out. So I got a brush thanks to an Amazon recommendation.