Coffee Diploma System education at Barista Camp — a challenge or a trap?

We're listening

BGE is a membership organisation, and strives to build community and professional development for the baristas that constitute this membership. We value feedback. It shows us where we went wrong, what is missing, and how we can improve. We listen.
We've listened for the past year, through our feedback forms at Events, through the grapevines, and through close relationships with our partners and our community. 
One of the things we heard - time and again - was how challenging the Coffee Diploma System courses were at last year's Barista Camp. We heard it from attendees: 'there wasn't enough time to practice', 'the groups were too big', 'the schedule was too tight.'  We heard it from ASTs that were teaching at Camp: 'the groups were not homogenous', 'we had to rush our classes'. We heard it from non-attending baristas: 'is this certificate the same after 6hours at Camp compared to 10hours in a normal course?' We heard it from non-attending ASTs: 'It's impossible to teach this course to 50 students at once', 'Barista Camp takes business away from me by offering cheaper courses', and 'How can SCAE/BGE maintain its integrity when it usually recommends class sizes of 8-12 and now organises the same courses, with the same certificates, for 50 or even 100 students at once?'

Measures we took to improve

We heard it - loud and clear. So, we decided to try to do something about it, and we made it our number-one item to improve on for next Barista Camp. We sat down with a core group of people in March -representing ASTs, delegates, and SCAE Education- to decide on measures we could take to maintain the integrity of the program within the unique setting of Camp.

First, we decided to stick to the Coffee Diploma System as the core of the education we offer at Camp. We believe it is an excellent - if not the best - educational program that is out there in our industry, and it's our goal to promote standardized professional education. We want to create a platform for baristas to get exposed to this program, even those with limited resources or limited time.
Secondly, we decided to stick with the group sizes. Splitting delegates over multiple smaller groups quickly becomes a logistical nightmare, and forfeits the Camp vibe.
We realise the depth and scope of the Coffee Diploma System courses may seem inscalable, but accept the challenge. We just needed to manage it better.

We outlined 3 big aspects that would help improve the program:

  • creating more balance in the overall Camp program

  • creating a 'training at Camp' program that helps ASTs deliver classes to big groups

  • creating more homogenous groups


Creating a better balanced program

We have reduced the offering of modules per track to either one Intermediate module, or two Foundation modules. Over 4 days, each track has 10hours of instruction, with an additional 4hours of 'free time' that delegates can use to practice or study, and then additional time for both written and practical exams. In addition to this, there are lectures, team challenges, and time to connect with peers and meet with sponsor company representatives.


Creating a 'training-at-Camp' plan

The first step we took in ensuring high-standard delivery of education, is getting Tim Sturk involved as AST Coordinator. Inspired by his experience as AST at least year's Camp, but also committed to SCAE's standards, he helps us with developing a step-by-step plan for 'training-at-Camp'.  This plan involves the following measures:

  • Building a killer AST team. Training at Camp is a challenging task, and we see it as a real career opportunity for ASTs. We work with SCAE and Tim to bring the best and most widely recognised trainers in our industry together to deliver this training. Trainers with proven track records both with small and large groups, who possess in-depth course-specific knowledge, as well as an excellent teaching skills. Per module, a lead AST is supported by AST assistants and a team of volunteers to ensure we have enough helping hands for practice sessions, and that standards are maintained.

  • Preparing course outlines and materials. Tim will work together with each lead AST to make sure they are 'ready' to teach at Camp. This includes briefings about the set-up, going through presentations, creating practice and exam schedules and compiling pre-reading materials for delegates.

  • Guidelines for ASTs about the practical aspects of Camp: marking of written exams, setups, what if students fail the exam, etc.


Creating more homogenous groups

We understand it's not always easy for delegates to assess their own knowledge or skill level and to select the track that is right for them. We also realise that language may be the biggest challenge attendees face at a fast-paced international learning environment such as Camp. While we can't guarantee that students are on the same level any more than a regular course can, we'll try to build more homogenous groups by:

  • ensuring that at least one AST or volunteer per module speaks Italian - the host country's mother tongue

  • explaining the different educational tracks in detail on our webpage and encouraging people to consider their options carefully

  • creating a better balanced program that provides time for students to practice, ask for help or more information, and 'catch-up' with the group

Barista Camp: good or bad?

We believe it's great. We believe it's an incredible opportunity that is very unique in the barista community and very rewarding for everyone involved: delegates, volunteers, trainers, speakers and partners. Barista Camp is more than the Coffee Diploma System, and more than certification - much much more - but we hope we've convinced you that we work hard to maintain the integrity of a program we value so much.
Ultimately, the decision whether Barista Camp is something for you is not ours to make. It is different than a private 8-delegate training course: the groups are bigger, the pace is faster, the language may be foreign...
...but the pay-off is participation in a special community of like-minded people who all have a passion for excellent coffee, learning & development.  Delegates will work harder than they ever will in a smaller class, trainers will also work harder to deliver the same standards expected of those smaller courses.  But the biggest difference is the community.  Delegates and trainers are all immersed in a very unique collection of passionate coffee professionals and there is shared learning on offer in every direction you turn - not just for 10 hours of a course, but throughout 4 days.  To us, the opportunity to earn a CDS certificate at Barista Camp, is worth so much more than anywhere else, and we hope you give us a chance to prove it to you too.