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A unique experience for Spanish students

November 2, 2010

'Author Studies in Spanish,' a course at Colorado State University, is not your typical Spanish class.

Video conference with acclaimed Spanish writer

The class video conference with acclaimed Spanish writer José Manuel Caballero Bonald on Oct. 5.

Sure, students take tests and write in Spanish. They read novels and poetry by Spanish authors and do not speak a word of English inside the classroom. But instead of trying to figure out what authors are trying to convey, students learn exactly what they mean.

The course, taught by CSU Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures Antonio Francisco Pedrós-Gascón, puts new technology to use and has video conferences with acclaimed Spanish writer José Manuel Caballero Bonald.

Caballero Bonald is one of the most important authors of the 1950s post-war poetic movement. He has been awarded some of the most renowned awards for his poetry and novels, including the Critics Prize (three times), Adonais, Biblioteca Breve, Premio Nacional de las Letras, and Premio Nacional de Poesía. He is on the short list for the Premio Cervantes award.

“Caballero Bonald has been awarded all of the most important prizes in Spain,” Pedrós-Gascón said. “He is a very important and influential poet.”

Meeting Caballero Bonald

In 2008, Pedrós-Gascón, a native Spaniard himself, was one of two people from the United States to be invited to a conference in Spain to pay homage to Caballero Bonald and his work, organized by the Ministerio de Cultura of Spain.

“I went up to talk to him, and we connected very nicely,” Pedrós-Gascón said. “We talked for a while, and then he invited me to his house. And he was the one who said, ‘I can meet with your students [over video conference].’”

So Pedrós-Gascón bought a laptop for Caballero Bonald, (which Pedrós-Gascón is going to Spain in December to retrieve) and they set up times to meet: On Oct. 5 to discuss Dos dias de setiembre and his poetry up to 1962; Nov. 2 to discuss Agata, ojo de gato and Toda la noche oyeron pasar pájaros and his poetry up to 1981; and Dec. 2 to discuss En la casa del padre and his work to the present.

“I have the students work in groups and come up with a list of questions they want to ask Caballero Bonald,” Pedrós-Gascón explained. “Then I mail the questions to him so he has a chance to read over them.”

Talking face-to-face

When the class, which consists of 18 undergraduates and four graduate students, has the video conferences with Caballero Bonald, it is 2 p.m. here and 10 p.m. in Spain.

“It is a true honor that he would take time out of his day, which, due to the time difference, is very late at night for him, to talk with us,” said Tina Temby, an undergraduate in the class. “The entire class hangs on his every word.”

At the first video conference, Pedrós-Gascón explained that his students were intimidated at first to speak to Caballero Bonald, so he was primarily doing all the talking. But by the end, a few students felt comfortable enough to ask questions themselves.

“He is not difficult to understand, even though he is a native Spanish speaker,” said Sarah Kay Hurst, another undergraduate in the class. “I was worried that I would not understand some of his answers because he is an incredibly eloquent writer, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could understand his responses.”

“He has a great sense of humor as well,” Temby said.

The students said it was enriching and beneficial to put a face with the name and hear the author say what he meant when he wrote his work.

“It is very exciting to hear him talk about the intentions, perspectives, and impressions he had in mind when he set pen to page to capture the world he knew,” Hurst said. “Poetry became much more personal when he described it as the most elevated form of writing, saying that he considered himself a poet above all.”

Temby described it as a “rare luxury” to hear Caballero Bonald’s answers about the ideas presented in his writing.

Video conferencing in the future

Pedrós-Gascón explained how great it is that such a well-acclaimed author, who is asking for no payment, allows his students to meet with him via video conferences and what an enriching experience it is for students.

“The goal is to make students understand literature in a different way,” he said. “They get to do that by interacting with the author. I think it is the best way.”

Although he said that it hasn’t been easy to break the path of using video conference in the classroom, he definitely plans on using it in the future.

“It adds another dimension to learning and connects the students to the real world and gives context to the ideas taught in class,” Temby said.

“I would encourage any professor who has the chance to use this technology to supplement their course to do so.” Hurst added. “The chance to engage an expert in a given field and create a dialogue between them and students is an invaluable educational enrichment opportunity.”

The video conferences are open to the public. The next one is 2 p.m. Nov. 2 in the Lory Student Center Room 228. Preference is given to students of the course. The conferences are held in Spanish.

To see the video conference that was held on Oct. 5, visit

Written by Staci Gasser, senior Journalism and Technical Communication major at CSU and intern in CSU’s Department of Public Relations.

Contact: Kimberly Sorensen
Phone: (970) 491-0757