Coffee with Oscar - Students’ Perspective

After a couple semesters running Coffee with Oscar –see here for my previous entry on it–, and thanks to the kind suggestion of a close friend pushing me to get some additional information from students’ experience (honestly, I thought about it a few times but got distracted before doing so), I finally asked some of the students that attended CwO during the two previous semesters for their opinion.

Contacted over institutional email and whenever possible also Facebook, seven students were asked to contact a third person and that person to exchange a couple emails with them to ask some questions about the CwO experience, collect the answers and translate for the answers to be published here and to avoid speech recognition from our conversations (this person is a close friend, in charge of collecting and translating but instructed to do as much as possible to hide from me who said what).

Sadly for me, only two of the seven students answered at the moment of this being published, but still I think their opinions are worth to be taken into account and shared here (again, protected as much as possible by making them anonymous to me and hopefully to almost everyone else but them).

Finished the introduction, here are the questions and answers:

1) What was the main reason to participate in CwO?
S1: The main reason to participate was to be able to talk to Oscar and meet him outside of the classroom. I wanted to know if he was the same inside and outside the room, as well as asking him what else I could do to make myself better for the subject.
S2: Curiosity.

2) What were the expectations you had before attending? Were they fulfilled?
S1: At first I was afraid, I did not know what he would say or how he would treat me. I was hoping he could help me.
S2: There was no expectation as such, I was hoping to have a new friend to have coffee and talk to.

3) Was there something in the experience surprising, unexpected? If so, was it positive or negative?
S1: Yes, I was surprised about his attitude outside the room, as a person he laughs a lot and a pleasant conversation is made. That surprised me, I had not imagined it that way.
S2: At school I had these kinds of meetings with my teachers during breaks, I felt some nostalgia because in college this is not very common. It was a good time, I did not imagine we could talk about so many things.

4) What was the best thing about the CwO experience? And the worst?
S1: As far as I’m concerned there was nothing wrong. The best thing was that he listened to me and understood me as a person, as a student and above all, he listened to me with all attention he had.
S2: It generated more confidence and I liked that after that we exchanged some mails about information of interest.

5) How did your perception of Oscar’s class change after CwO? Do you think it improved, worsened, was there no change?
S1: The perception improved a lot. I realized that Oscar being a demanding teacher has nothing to do with his way of being as a person. Talking with him helped me improve my attitude in class and enjoy it more.
S2: It changed, there is more confidence and he goes from being The Teacher to being Oscar.

6) What changed the in perception about Oscar after CwO? Do you think it improved, worsened, there was no change?
S1: The perception improved a lot. I realized that Oscar being a demanding teacher has nothing to do with his way of being as a person. Talking with him helped me improve my attitude in class and enjoy it more.
S2: It changed, there is more confidence and he goes from being The Teacher to being Oscar.

7) Should this initiative continue? Why?
S1: I would think so. It is important for students to have contact with their teachers in non-academic spaces and to establish a better relationship in case of problems.
S2: It is a nice experience, seeing the teacher as an individual is something interesting.

8) Is there anything to add to the experience or the initiative CwO?
S1: No, I think the experience that Oscar has encouraged is very good, he is one of the few teachers who does this.
S2: No, its simplicity and little planning makes everything more spontaneous and natural.

Acknowledgment of difficulties: contacting people over e-mail is easy, but also makes it easier for them to ignore requests or to misread stuff. In that sense it makes it really easy to say “they know about this” but still to get low participation rates, as 2 out of 7 shows. Also, e-mail questionnaires have the additional inconvenience of quick shallow reading and answers not going as deep as desired, but alternatives as face-to-face interviewing require more people and are hard to arrange because of scheduling issues and in this particular case because students require time to study as their first priority.

Acknowledgment about language: all communications were in Spanish, and translation was the final stage of this process. Respondents were asked to verify the translation for their answers, no requests for modification were received. Anyway, translation may seem a little broken due to several reasons: some standard terms in Colombian Spanish lack an exact translation; speech structure was valued almost at the same level as meaning, and that makes some pieces to sound ‘Yoda-like’ in English; and small changes to the initial translation were made by me without any look to the original answers in Spanish, trying to increase grammatical correctness in English but making it a little inconsistent with other excerpts.

Final remarks: CwO has not been a success in terms of every session being attended by students, and the actual number of students attending it since the first time is now about 14 or 15. However, I feel compelled to share the experience and thanks to the students answering the questionnaire I can also share with you at least a small piece of the experience from their side. I won’t deny it is frustrating to sit in the middle of a public place with a coffee waiting for someone to come and leaving one hour later with no attendants (actually I’m writing this paragraph while facing it just as described), much more frustrating than doing office hours in an office set for it because, well, the office IS set for it; and it is probably even more frustrating for someone with short patience as I am. Still, the few times students came made for those moments of frustration, and for upcoming frustration of tens and tens of sessions without attendants that will happen for sure.

Going back to a valuable tradition I left behind a few entries ago, please feel free to share your thoughts on this matter if you feel so, my email and my Twitter account @osbernal are there to be used.


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