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Let's Enhance the Student and Instructor Experience

Honing Instructor Materials is First Step

First in a series.

The Association for Software Testing (AST) is holding elections for its Board of Directors starting August 2nd at 12:00 a.m. (GMT) and running through August 4th at 12:00 a.m. (GMT). I’ve been nominated to run for the Board, and ask that you cast your vote for me.

My involvement with the AST is primarily educational. I’ve been a student in the AST's Black Box Software Testing (BBST) Foundations, Bug Advocacy and Instructors courses. I volunteer as an assistant instructor in the BBST Foundations class, working toward becoming an AST Certified BBST Instructor. I’m also a member of the AST’s Education Committee. So, when I was approached about running for the AST’s Board of Directors, it seemed to make sense that my focus would be on tester education.

I think education is integral to the AST’s mission of “advancing the understanding of the science and practice of software testing according to Context-Driven principles.” Tester education codifies and drives our objectives of hosting an annual conference to share testing practices, theories, and techniques, encouraging collaboration between testing professionals of all levels, publishing content on leading-edge theories and practices related to testing, and supporting the teaching of software testing. Education also serves as a foundation for several of the AST’s guiding principles, such as supporting the development of professionalism in software testing and fostering leadership in software testing through emphasis on personal growth in both ethical behavior and technical competence.

But “tester education” is a large and wide-ranging area of interest, and when I say that I want to focus on tester education it doesn’t really tell anyone much of anything about what I would work on if elected to the Board of Directors. So then, what exactly do I mean?

I want to work on improving three specific areas of tester education:
  • Update the BBST instructor materials so that the courses better meet the expectations of both the instructors and their students.
  • Work with the Board of Directors, the Education Committee, and the AST membership to find ways that make the BBST courses accessible to more people.
  • Research and establish alternate approaches to learning that better suit different learning styles.

I’ll discuss the first area of focus in this post, and the remaining two in follow-up posts.

Updating BBST Instructor Materials

The AST’s BBST courses are an integral part of supporting the development of professionalism in software testing. If you follow the AST News, then you probably saw the recent post What’s New In BBST, by Justin Rohrman, which talks about some of the recent changes that have been made in the BBST classes. The changes made so far have been high impact, and go a long way toward improving the student’s experience in those courses, but I think there are other areas of the courses that could be updated to further enhance the BBST experience for both students and instructors.

One such area is what we refer to as the Fieldstones. The Fieldstones contain pieces of well-written content which address topics likely to come up each time a course is taught. The idea is that an instructor can select an applicable piece from the Fieldstones, do some minor rework to better address the context of the current class, and use it rather than sending off a quick response each time. Use of the Fieldstones helps ensure that communication from the instructors uses a more consistent voice within the same class, regardless of which instructor is sending the communication, as well as across courses.

While the Fieldstones are beneficial, I feel that some of the pieces are starting to show their age. Others are incomplete, missing entirely, or show a single approach to a multifaceted problem and would benefit from additional input. This is a result, in large part, of the fast-paced nature of the course. Anyone who has been a student in a BBST course knows that it starts off at a fast pace, and only gets faster as the course progresses. The instructors face the same time crunch as the students do, so even though they may notice something in the Fieldstones that could be improved, they often don’t have time to make that improvement while the course is ongoing, or the improvement gets placed on the backlog where it may not be a high priority item until the next class.

Either way, I think we could help the AST better fulfill its objectives if we were to capitalize on the momentum generated by the recent updates made to the BBST courses, and organize a dedicated effort by members of the Education Committee and AST instructors to assess the current state of the Fieldstones, determine the target state we wish to reach, and then create and implement a plan for making updates to the Fieldstones across all of the AST’s BBST courses. By doing this, I believe that we can transform the Fieldstones from a good resource for course instructors into a truly vital resource that can be leveraged when teaching the class. This will, in turn, allow the AST to provide students with a better, more comprehensive and consistent learning experience.


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