Friday, October 05, 2007

Meet the Teacher: Carolina Acosta-Alzuru

This week for the first time I'm featuring one of my own colleagues. Some people may not like this term, but I'm telling you, she IS a rockstar. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru is an award-winning PR professor in the Grady College, but her research on telenovelas has made her a best-selling author in Venezuela, as indicated by the bottom picture of her being interviewed for television while the onlookers snap her picture, and a friend to the stars (the top picture shows Carolina with telenovela star Carlos Cruz, left, and Edgar Ramírez, who appeared in "The Bourne Ultimatum" and is now shooting Steven Soderbergh's "Che Guevera.") Carolina's blog focuses on her research.

Read this interview to find out why she's not on Facebook and how her blog serves as an academic gym.

Q. How and when did you first get interested in blogging? What is the purpose of your blog? Are you using any other social media?
My interest in blogging has grown slowly and tentatively. For the past two years I've been reading blogs related to telenovelas, which are my research topic and obsession. However, my first attempt at blogging was completely unrelated to my academic interests. It was in June of 2006 when I fulfilled an old dream: to travel to Santorini with my daughters and sisters. Blogging seemed like a very practical way of sharing the realization of my dream with friends and family. (It never crossed my mind that "other" people would read it). However, I stopped posting the minute I arrived back in the U.S.

My second attempt was related to my research and left me a bittersweet taste. I set up a group blog for the participants of my study of the telenovela Ciudad Bendita. Its purpose was to have a forum in which these audience members could comment freely on the telenovela without the need of my questions and probes. It worked well, but only for the first three months the telenovela aired. After that, participants stopped posting and started emailing me their comments directly.

After this experience I was sure I would never blog again. But last April I heard about the Blog Dawgs and how some of my colleagues in the Grady College were blogging. I visited your blog, Karen, and was amazed at its tone and usefulness. Soon after I decided to blog about telenovelas. I started writing in English and then realized that my blog needed to have a mirror image in Spanish . Therefore, my blog is really two blogs. In it/them I write about all aspects related to telenovelas, including my research studies and my classroom experience teaching about these Latin American soap operas, culture and society.

As for other social media, the only ones I use regularly are those for video sharing like youtube and dailymotion. I'm currently facing a conflict regarding the ubiquitous Facebook: I receive invitations every day from people who want me to join and be their friends. I'm curious about this phenomenon and would love to experience and study it. However, my kids, ages 19, 23 and 25, have asked me not to be in Facebook, a place they consider theirs. So far, I've abided by their request. But, I wonder if I'm missing something really important.

Q. Tell us a little about your school and how PR is taught there.
I teach in the Grady College at the University of Georgia. I'm very proud of our public relations program. For many years I've taught our visual communication course and our capstone, PR Campaigns. Every semester I'm amazed at what our students are able to do. Our program is strict in the courses it requires. We make sure our graduates are ethical strategic communicators who have mastered all necessary skills: writing, research, graphics, etc. We emphasize hands-on experience, and we teach them how to work both individually and in teams.

Q. In what ways do you incorporate social media into the classroom? What would you most like to do that you aren’t already doing?
Social media is both a research source and a strategic target for my public relations students. In addition, this semester I'm teaching a course on Telenovelas in which students are encouraged to participate in social media groups related to telenovelas.

What I haven't done: I would like to set up a blog for my classes. I haven't done that yet. But, I'm determined to implement it for next semester.

Q. Your blog is different from the other public relations educators I've interviewed in that it focuses on your research, so it's not actually about PR. In spite of that, has blogging affected how you teach PR? How has it affected you in other ways?
Yes, blogging has definitely affected the way I teach PR because it underscores the rhetorical underpinnings of public relations. Issues of persona, voice and audience are paramount in blogging and in the fulfillment of public relations' societal mission and purpose.

Blogging has had a profound effect on me as a researcher. Never before has my voice and my work reached so many people. I've lost count of the times I've been interviewed about telenovelas since I started blogging ...and from all over the world! I've always kept a research journal. Therefore, I'm used to being permanently reflexive. However, my blogs are like an "academic gym" in which as I plan my posts and comment on the the comments I receive, my mind is constantly analyzing, decoding and figuring out the significance and usefulness of my research, and how to construct a tight argument.

Q. Do you have any advice for other PR educators who are considering starting a blog or getting involved in social media?
Yes, do it! It's a tremendous learning experience and teaching tool, and it's a great way to connect with your students and people around the globe with similar interests.

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"More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given" --Bertrand Russell

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