Friday, August 02, 2013

Teacher Role: Beta Tester?

As the education landscape evolves, there is a new role for teachers, and that is the role of a "beta tester."

A beta tester gets involved in beta tests.  I found the following beta test definition on Webopedia:

A test for a computer product prior to commercial release. Beta testing is the last stage of testing, and normally can involve sending the product to beta test sites outside the company for real-world exposure or offering the product for a free trial download over the Internet. Beta testing is often preceded by a round of testing called alpha testing.

There are many good reasons for an educator to become a beta tester:
  • Beta testing brings educators into the world of computer-speak and innovation.
  • Teachers try out new products with lots of support for free.
  • Students benefit from learning the process of beta testing as well as benefitting from cutting-edge technology.
Similar to any innovation, there is room for caution:
  • Beta testing has to be balanced with tried-and-true, essential skill building and teaching.
  • You have to make time for assessment and reflection.
  • Be ready to stop midstream if a beta test is not profiting you or your students--don't just do it for the sake of doing it.
As far as I've noticed there are no guidelines for teacher compensation or benefits related to beta testing at this time. Some may argue that teachers are giving up their time and knowledge for free to benefit private industry. That's why I recommend getting involved with enthusiasm and caution at the same time; you want to make sure that your involvement is a win-win and supports your mission as an educator. My rule of thumb in the profession is the following: If ambition feeds mission, that's okay, but if ambition trumps mission that's a problem.

I'm not a fan of either-or thinking when it comes to private-public collaboration in education.  I know that private industry is going to continue to knock on public education's' door with zest and financial resources. I also know that public education by way of the learning community including educators, students, family members, leaders, community members, and policy makers have to answer that door with a focus on what's best for each child, all children, our communities, country, and world. No tool is a good tool if it does not benefit students with strength and commitment, and that belief needs to stand center stage when it comes to beta testing.

Have you been involved in a beta test?  If so, what is your advice for other educators and educational institutions who are beta testing or interested in the process?  Do you share the results of your beta test work with colleagues, leaders, and the learning community?  If you're compensated, what guiding principles do you consult when making such deals? If your system is involved in beta testing, how is that communicated to the public and what are the rules about funding?

Beta testing seems to me to be a new path in education, a path I'm excited to be involved in, but also a path that I want to take with my values leading the way. Your thoughts are welcome in this regard.