Emphasis & Objectives of the Test Design Course

Becky and I are getting closer to rolling out Test Design. Here’s our current summary of the course:

Learning Objectives for Test Design

This is an introductory survey of test design. The course introduces students to:

  • Many (over 100) test techniques at a superficial level (what the technique is).
  • A detailed-level of familiarity with a few techniques:
    • function testing
    • testing tours
    • risk-based testing
    • specification-based testing
    • scenario testing
    • domain testing
    • combination testing.
  • Ways to compare strengths of different techniques and select complementary techniques to form an effective testing strategy
  • Using the Heuristic Test Strategy Model for specification analysis and risk analysis
  • Using concept mapping tools for test planning.

I’m still spending about 6 hours per night on video edits, but our most important work is on the assessments. To a very large degree, my course designs are driven by my assessments. That’s because there’s such a strong conviction in the education community–which I share–that students learn much more from the assessments (from all the activities that demand that they generate stuff and get feedback on it) than from lectures or informal discussions. The lectures and slides are an enabling backdrop for the students’ activities, rather than the core of the course.

In terms of design decisions, deciding what I will hold my students accountable for knowing requires me to decide what I will hold myself accountable for teaching well.

If you’re intrigued by that way of thinking about course design, check out:

I tested the course’s two main assignments in university classrooms several times before starting on the course slides (and wrote 104 first-draft multiple-quess questions and maybe 200 essay questions). But now that the course content is almost complete, we’re revisiting (and of course rewriting) these materials. In the process, we’ve been gaining perspective.

I think the most striking feature of the new course is its emphasis on content.

Let me draw the contrast with a chart that compares the BBST courses (Foundations, Bug Advocacy, and Test Design) and some other courses still on the drawing boards:

A few definitions:

  • Course Skills: How to be an effective student. Working effectively in online courses. Taking tests. Managing your time.
  • Social Skills: Working together in groups. Peer reviews. Using collaboration tools (e.g. wikis).
  • Learning Skills: How to gather, understand, organize and be able to apply new information. Using lectures, slides, and readings effectively. Searching for supplementary information. Using these materials to form and defend your own opinion.
  • Testing Knowledge: Definitions. Facts and concepts of testing. Structures for organizing testing knowledge.
  • Testing Skills: How to actually do things. Getting better (through practice and feedback) at actually doing them.
  • Computing Fundamentals: Facts and concepts of computer science and computing-relevant discrete mathematics.

As we designed the early courses, Becky Fiedler and I placed a high emphasis on course skills and learning skills. Students needed to (re)learn how to get value from online video instruction, how to take tests, how to give peer-to-peer feedback, etc.

The second course, Bug Advocacy, emphasizes specific testing skills–but the specific skills are the ones involved in bug investigation and reporting. Even though these critical thinking, research, and communication skill have strong application to testing, they are foundational for knowledge-related work.

Test Design is much more about the content (testing knowledge). We survey (depends on how you count) 70 to 150 test techniques. We look for ways to compare and contrast them. We consider how to organize projects around combinations of a few techniques that complement each other (make up for each other’s weaknesses and blindnesses). The learning skills component is active reading–This is certainly generally useful, but its context and application is specification analysis.

Test Design is more like the traditional Software Testing Course firehose. Way too much material in way too little time, with lots of reference material to help students explore the underemphasized parts of the course when they need it on the job.

The difference is that we are relying on the students’ improved learning skills. The assignments are challenging. The labs are still works-in-progress and might not be polished until the third iteration of the course, but labs-plus-assignments being home a bunch of lessons.

Whether the students’ skills are advanced enough to process over 500 slides efficiently, integrate material across sections, integrate required readings, and apply them to software — all within the course’s 4-week timeframe — remains to be seen.

This post is partially based on work supported by NSF research grant CCLI-0717613 ―Adaptation & Implementation of an Activity-Based Online or Hybrid Course in Software Testing. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

3 Responses to “Emphasis & Objectives of the Test Design Course”

  1. Ron Pihlgren says:

    Thanks for this framing. I believe it will be helpful to those who are considering the course. I for one am looking forward to it.

  2. Thanks for the “behind the scenes” report. Its really interesting to get info on the background of course design and how much work is involved.
    I just signed up for the course in November and from your description of the content it seems I should not make much other plans for that month. Its gonna be busy 🙂

    BTW, It seems the links for the books at Barnes & Noble has an additional “kaner.com” in front causing them to fail.

    Looking forward to the course.