Class observations

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

I know many university professors complain about students who slouch in their chairs, talk on cellphones and surf the Web in class. During the two CSJMM classes I have observed, I have not seen such poor behavior. I have noticed, however, high absenteeism and some students have arrived late for class. How do professors deal with this problem? Please let me know what has worked for you.

Tiko Tsomaia teaches Diversity Reporting. She asked students to complete the sentence: “Sometimes gypsies . . .” Students shared the common stereotypes, but then Tiko asked if anyone had interviewed a gypsy. No one had, but several students had had unpleasant interactions with gypsies. Obviously, if you have a negative experience, you’re more likely to believe the stereotypes (or it is more difficult to prevent these stereotypes from entering your reporting). Then the class had an interesting discussion on how to go about finding gypsies to interview and how to interview them. I hope that the class will learn more about this group of people and will follow-through by actually interviewing some gypsies.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Niko Nergadze teaches Advertising and Marketing. He asked four groups of students to conduct two role-playing exercises. In the first one, Niko was a Czech student, and the students were managers at a modestly priced hotel. In the second scenario, Niko was a very rich Saudi man, and students were managers at an extremely expensive hotel. In both cases, students had 1 minute to persuade the potential customer to select their hotel. At the modestly priced hotel, students could only describe the hotel’s expected features, but at the expensive hotel, students could use augmented features to persuade the customer. I thought the exercise really helped students achieve the class’s learning objectives and students enjoyed the exercise. A nice twist at the end was that instead of assigning grades to the groups, he gave each group imaginary dollars. I presume that at the end of the course, the group with the most dollars will get the highest grade.

If you can survive this . . .

Copyright Sopho Altunashvili, 2011

Imagine facing four strangers who you know will judge you. Imagine answering questions in a language that is not your native language. The stakes are high—if you pass the interview, you can study for a master’s degree in journalism and media management; if not, then maybe you’ll need to join the army or stay at home with your parents, meeting your unemployed friends in the afternoon for a smoke.

USC’s SJMC does not interview applicants for its master’s or doctoral programs. But if we did interview applicants, I wonder what we’d learn. Here’s what I learned from the first (of three) days of interviews. One, several people do not keep up with current events inside or outside of Georgia (sound familiar to anyone?). Two, several people want to be talk-show hosts or hostesses because interviewing celebrities (such as Penelope Cruz, said one applicant) is more fun than covering politics (again, sound familiar?). By the way, Georgia has more than 200 political parties, so I’m not sure if I’d like to be a political reporter. Three, no one could think of more than two story ideas. Four, some are already writing blogs or are writing for online publications. Note that Georgia has 610,000 Facebook users and a population of 4.5 million; in Tbilisi, Internet penetration is estimated at 40 percent. Five, one candidate currently works for the The Messenger (, a daily English-language newspaper (10 pages long on Sept 14, 2011). She writes 1-2 articles per day.

It’s great to have a “better half”

Whenever I’ve arrived in a new place, meeting people and making friends has been a priority, and Tbilisi is no exception. Fortunately, we’ve had great luck so far. When we arrived at the airport and needed a place to stay, Tiko Tsomaia kindly offered her home to us. Not only did she “force” us to sleep in her bed, and use her Internet connections, but she also provided meals and a very warm welcome. She also introduced us to her mother, Manana, an English teacher, who kindly spent many hours talking with us about anything and everything. We also had the pleasure of talking with 3 of Tiko’s children. Another early connection, in addition to people associated with CSJMM, is Sandra Baretto, who lives above us with her husband and baby. One of the reasons we selected our apartment is that Sandro and her husband are from Latin America, and Susanna instantly knew that we’d get along super well. Susanna quickly makes friends with everyone, but if it’s a Latina, then the connection is even faster and stronger.

Sandra is the treasurer for the International Women’s Association (IWA) in Tbilisi, and she invited Susanna to the organization’s monthly meeting on Wednesday. Susanna went and was able to meet about 80 women who come from numerous countries. The IWA is very active. It has a book club, that Susanna joined. In October they will read the autobiography of Georgia’s First Lady, who will join the book discussion meetings. The IWA will also put on a play—Snow White—and Susanna will audition for a role. The organization also has a cooking group, sewing group, French discussion group, Russian-speaking group, and many others.

One of IWA’s products is a book called Tbileasy, which has the same sound as Tbilisi, but substitutes “easy” for “isi.” The book is full of information useful to newcomers such as banking, cars and driving, public transport, health, vets and pets, shopping, children activities and clothes, sightseeing, and so on.

By the way, I’m blogging from a park near our apartment because we cannot yet receive the Internet at home. This park offers free Wi-fi. In the mornings, about a dozen mothers and grandmothers bring their children to enjoy the playground equipment. In the evenings, teenagers and 20-somethings hangout. Throughout the day, Susanna and I check our email messages and we speak English and Portuguese loudly into the computer (Skype) to keep in touch with friends.

We also took care of some mundane matters. For example, I bathed! The water supply had been off and on, and there had been no hot water. Since I’m “allergic” to bathing in cold water, I simply wore my hat and changed clothes each day.

Due to the kindness of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management, who lent us one of the school’s drivers, Sergo Akopov, we made a trip to the supermarket and to a store for kitchen and bath items. Between the two stores we found everything we needed and more, except for one item–sheets. I mean, soft sheets. Not 300-count Egyptian cotton, just untextured relatively soft sheets that are large enough to tuck under a mattress. Susanna had said we should take sheets, but I had argued that we didn’t know which size bed we’d have and that surely we could buy sheets in Tbilisi. For anyone keeping score, it is now Susanna right 443, 978 times; Keith right 3 times. I think I’m falling further behind.

This park near our apartment has free Wi-Fi; copyright Keith Kenney, 2011.