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A couple months ago I wrote about a few options for people interested in tech education outside of a university environment. I recently took a 3 day course online from James Bach called RTIOnline. The purpose of this class is to develop practical skills for software testers at all levels. I am going to review the class as well as discuss a few reasons this style of education is significantly different from what I’ve talked about in previous articles.
Lets take a look…
James ran this class entirely online over the course of a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Lectures and reviews of assignment work were done mainly on gotomeeting, we used hipchat as a messaging system for announcements, questions, and side conversations, and all of course documents were stored in a confluence wiki. If you aren’t familiar with collaborative tools and the workings of an online classroom you’ll have a little learning curve but it shouldn’t be a big deal.
A little about the structure
RTIOnline is specifically designed to develop practical software testing skills. The theory for this class is covered extensively in the Satisfice Rapid Software Testing (RST) class. It is not mandatory to take that first but it certainly won’t hurt. So, practical skill. Each day began with a lecture that lasted about an hour or an hour and a half. This was mostly a lead-up to whatever exercise would come next, but sometimes the co-instructors (Michael Bolton and Griffin Jones for the most part) would have commentary to ad depth to the conversation.
After the lecture, students were sent off to do an exercise. Well, not exactly sent off. We had the option to pair or group with other students which I did on day one. Also, James and the co-instructors were around to act as a product owner and answer questions we had about the product we were testing for the assignment or the assignment itself. The result of these exercises were generally some amount of bug reporting, some amount of reporting on your test session, and maybe whatever notes you created during that time to shake out ideas.
After the exercises we all returned to gotomeeting. A group of students would request review of their work. There were always more people requesting reviews than time to review, so if this something you need you need to get your request in early. I got some great feedback on bugs I documented in JIRA but never on the other work I produced from these exercises. The reviews are a little about the work you produce and a lot about the thought processes that lead you to producing that work. Even though I wasn’t really directly reviewed, observing other reviews was a fantastic experience. It gave the whole class a change to view another persons work and rationale which can give you the tools to review your own work in turn. This feedback loop was crucial and took a few different forms. It may be direct from the instructor, it may be delayed and minimal in the form of comments in the JIRA or the confluence wiki, or it may be indirect from watching your peers get reviewed.
After the review period we met once more on gotomeeting for a lecture that was partly continuing the theme of the day, partly lead up to the next day, and then a few closing thoughts for the day.
This style of education can be great for some and not so great for others. There are a few things to consider before registering; Are you ok with getting little or no direct feedback on your work? If not, are you ok constantly seeking the attention of the instructor? Aside form lecture material, a significant aspect of learning in courses like this is from observing your work and comparing it to your peers. Being a little familiar with online collaboration tools will be helpful, too.
If you are the type of person that needs time to deliberate, I definitely am, this style may be out of your comfort zone. That may also be a good thing. After getting an assignment there is a brief window of time to get it done before the review. You have to immediately take concepts and apply them and that can be difficult for people that don’t need think time.
Classes like this are usually intended to introduce or refresh a topic for students and then provide realistic practice assignments with feedback.
Another hidden purpose of classes like this is putting students into a high pressure situation. The idea is that after producing some sort of work very quickly (in the span of an hour or so) and then answering some rapid fire questions about that work, a similar scenario in “the real world” should feel easier and less stressful. You’ve been there and done that, you know remember the feeling from the class
I had a great time in the class and learned plenty even though this was not my ideal learning environment. This style of class seems great of people that are already familiar with a topic and want a place to practice, or people that have been doing something for a while and want a refresher, and also people that have been in the workforce for a while and want to dip their toes back into a practical educational setting.
One interesting thing about this class is that each run is a little bit different. James and company change the product each time so that students can take the class multiple times to continue learning in fresh ways.