Monday, February 20, 2017

Beta Culture EDU

There's a new epidemic invading our software and devices -- maybe you have noticed it. You just downloaded an app suddenly it crashes. Maybe your phone restarts at odd times. Your buggy video game keeps lagging. These sometimes annoying, sometimes odd, sometimes infuriating moments are signals to an increasingly prevalent beta culture.

Strange term, I know. For those that aren't familiar, beta culture is a trend where products that typically spend weeks or months in testing are finding their way to your fingertips much more quickly. It used to be that testing cycles ruled release dates. Nothing made it out until it was perfect--until enough data had been collected to ensure that test groups were satisfied with a product. Now, many companies are willing to put an imperfect product in your hands knowingly, realizing that you won't mind. In fact, you have become the beta tester. You are providing feedback directly about the product you have invested in, hoping that it will improve.

When we think about the implications this has for our culture--and education by extension--this is actually a pretty interesting mindset shift. We have gone from expecting perfection and refusing anything less, to accepting an interesting idea on its merit. And wanting more enough that we are willing to be part of the growth future of the product.

Another interesting implication of this shift is the acknowledgment of the audience as the barometer for success. Sometimes our vision for a product isn't even what people want -- maybe they like a feature or an interface -- something that isn't even essential to the original idea.

I like this graphic from Demetri Martin that shows what success looks like - it's an involved journey that takes you many places, not a straight shot from point A to point B.

Beta culture actually suggests another wrinkle to this graphic. That we recognize it's a process. We accept something isn't perfect, and that's okay. We still put our idea out for the world to see, and use the feedback to create something people really love.

How can we change assessment or our vision of academic success to reflect this cultural shift? How can we create feedback models that will inform development of ideas in ways that best meet the needs of our audience?

I don't know all the answers to those questions, but I think this is something we should definitely consider as we look to the future. When we emphasize things like growth mindset, entrepreneurial spirit, and design thinking, we must concede that beta culture is naturally a part of that. How can we use it?

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