Student Beta-Testers


Increasingly, students are becoming more involved in the pedagogical process within their institutions on campuses across the country. Recently, Inside Higher Ed featured the Mellon-funded project at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. Their program, called Students as Learners and Teachers, trains student-observers in pedagogy and then pairs them with a professor who they don’t have a course with to give the professor feedback. As put in the piece:

Both professors and students benefit from the program through increased engagement, metacognitive awareness and a stronger sense of identity, and improved classroom experience, Cook-Sather said, sharing the following comment from a student partner: “My preparation for and my discussions with my faculty partner have made me more self-reflexive about my own experience and responsibilities as a student.”

A different kind of program exists at Harvard, where they have the Learning Lab Undergrad Fellows, who help faculty “design and test assignments that utilize innovative modes of communication such as movement, drawing, speaking, etc.” The students often also advise and work with faculty on new technologies that the assignments would involve. Again, these students receive training on working with faculty and pedagogy.

In the initial pilot program, interested students who were already employed by one of the units went through a total of 8 hours of synchronous and asynchronous training, which included a mix of readings on digital fluency and metacognition, online discussions on Slack, and mock assignment evaluations. They did the training in down time during regular work hours. The students completed the training over a four-week period with an optional 5th week focusing on online learning.

Welcome to the site where we will be training students to be Beta-Testers for digital assignments created by faculty at the University of Mary Washington.

This program develops Student Digital Beta-Testers collaboratively through DTLT, DKC, the HCC, and potentially the Library. The purpose is to provide faculty we work with at DTLT the opportunity to test (and get student feedback on) their digitally-inflected assignments before using them in the classroom. With the emphasis of President Paino on the incorporation of advanced digital fluency into the curriculum here at UMW, this is a great opportunity to grow the capacity of the students, as well as provide a new resource for the faculty.

We will be using Slack to communicate and have discussions about our readings and activities. We will also be using to annotate the readings we’re going to be doing.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5 (Optional)


Welcome to Beta Tester training!

This first week, we’re going to get to know each other, the technologies we’re going to be using, as well as discussing on metacognition.

As beta-testers you will have to critically analyze assignments. A method of analysis that you may find helpful is metacognition. Most simply, metacognition is thinking about thinking. Metacognition includes reflecting on what we’re learning and how we’re learning it. It forces us to look at what we are learning in a different way and helps retain what you are trying to learn.

Practicing metacognition while beta-testing will help you understand the content of the Professor’s assignment and the way the content will be understood.

Please read and annotate these articles:

Understanding Digital Assignments

This week, we’re going to talk about active learning strategies.

As you read this week’s readings, think about how you have been asked to do assignments, digital or otherwise, and how this connects to what we learned last week about metacognition.   

This knowledge of both metacognition and digital assignments can help you more critically engage with the assignments you’ll be asked to beta-test, as well as give you language to craft useful suggestions for the faculty member (which we will go into more detail about in Week 3).

After doing this week’s readings, we will be creating a digital assignment together. At our next meeting, please bring ideas about subject matter or tools for our digital assignment. In two weeks, we will evaluate the digital assignment we made using a framework we will develop next week.



Now that we have discussed metacognition and digital assignments, we can get into reviewing. We want to make sure that we’re giving our faculty the best advice about their assignments that benefits both faculty members and, most importantly, their students.

We’re going to spend some time collaboratively, either in-person or in Slack, to revise the previous group’s evaluation framework for our beta-testing process. Feel no pressure to use this framework. If we have a vision for a new framework, we can create it!

If we do decide to create our own new framework, we need to include a series of questions or features that we want to look for while beta-testing the assignment in question. We can refine this framework as we work our way through that first series of beta-testing.


Beta-Testing the Beta-Testers

Finally, this week, we are going to put into practice what we have learned over the past three weeks. You are going to practice beta-testing!

We are now going to return to the digital assignment we created. Use the evaluation framework we collaboratively developed or modified last week to guide your work. Make a copy of the digital assignment and begin suggesting edits that the assignment needs.

Once you’re done with your evaluation, you will sit down with the beta-testers’ facilitator and do a one-on-one consultation, followed by feedback from me on said consultation. Finally, I want you to write about your experience, reflecting on the past four weeks of training and interaction.

Once this week is done, you will be ready to work as a beta-tester. Professors will now be able to book appointments with you as beta-testers. Feel free to repeat Weeks 2 and 4 as many times as needed to build confidence in your skills as a beta-tester.

Online Learning

For this bonus week, we’re going to look at online learning, to be able to help faculty beta-test their online courses. What may appear obvious to those taking the course may not be obvious to the one designing the course.

Once again, we will be revising the previous group’s evaluative framework. This framework will be specifically designed for online courses. We can create our own framework as long as it has questions or features that we want to look for while beta-testing the online course in question.

The purpose of this activity is to develop critical knowledge around what “good” online learning looks like and be able to give faculty feedback on their online courses.