With strong support from the government and private companies, Education is one of the core domains where a lot of research has been going on in the US, over the last few years. There is a greater push to strengthen the educational foundation by leveraging technology in possible places. Obama’s government has pledged $118 million to be raised through private companies to fund for educational research. As recent as in July 2011, Microsoft has invested $15 million for research in use of gaming in education.
Couple of promising avenues to introduce technology in education is the use of videos and games. These are being viewed as great tools to make education more effective without overwhelming the learning process. Some facts to substantiate this are as seen below (Source: several online sources call out these stats, dating back to 2006, from an original research conducted by ESA – Entertainment Software Association):
1. 35% American parents play games and 66% believe games bring their families closer together
2. 69% of American households play computer and video games
3. Gaming surpasses age bounds. Average gamer’s age is 33.
With this level of penetration that games and video have in our daily lives, educational researchers are seeing clear benefits of introducing them in enhancing learning for all age groups. Major benefits they see include: Improved analytical thinking, problem solving skills, communication and articulation skills, subject matter retention and attention span. With increase in use of software games and video in education, comes in a whole new career avenue for software testers. What can you as a software tester do to prepare yourself to fit such jobs and what can software testing companies do to build a line of expertise in this area?
There are three parts to building a career in *Testing for Educational Gaming* viz. Testing, Educational domain knowledge, Gaming domain knowledge. Before you invest time, effort and money to train yourself in this space, there are some core traits to self-evaluate yourself on, to candidly analyze your fitment for this job. Such traits include: Analytical skills, passion for games and video entertainment, interactive working, a perennial learner and problem solver. If you see a pattern here, some of these are core traits for a regular software tester as well. Of the three parts I’ve outlined above, I would prioritize them in the following order (highest to lowest), for you to work on, to be successful in this career: Gamer, Tester, Educator. My pick for this order is because once you have the core gaming skills, you have automatically acquired some core testing skills as well. Typically a great gamer is a great tester to start off with, as he is always looking for ways to win over the game he is playing, exploring all routes to score the most, focusing on finishing the game in the fastest possible time etc. These translate to the person really understanding the functionality and the performance of the game and a core aspect of out of box thinking which goes a long way in grooming him as a successful tester. So, once you are a great gamer to begin with the other pieces of the puzzle automatically fall in place. If one works on this foundation to strengthen his/her software testing skills and also builds core domain knowledge in the specific educational discipline that he/she would be working on, the future looks very bright. Educational domain knowledge can often be built on the job, unless the job calls for some very specific expertise with people who have been formally trained in that area. One can pursue this job even part time, by working a few hours which can be beneficial to both the employer and the employee by providing time and cost flexibility, yet bringing in the domain knowledge needed to test the product.
As for a software testing company looking to build this expertise, I would strongly recommend hiring avid gamers and train them on software testing. At QA InfoTech, we’ve found this route very successful in several areas of testing in the past – one being, building a team to test call center software, where we actually hired support engineers and trained them on software testing. Clearly this is a robust strategy to build such a talent pool in a company. Gaming in Education is an up and coming trend with a lot of evolution in the offing this coming decade. This is definitely an area that will pay off if invested in, at this point of time.