Big Trak Robots at KWST3

I had a fantastic time at KWST3 this year. There were a lot of firsts for me. The first time I was in New Zealand, the first time I had been to KWST and the first time I met Brian Osman, plus a whole heap of other testers.

I don’t think I’ve been to such a learning event for a while. It was truly a place of inspiration, introspection and challenge. Brian and Colin have already written about their thoughts and I will add mine too in a different post, but first I want to talk about Robots. Oliver asked me to bring over by Big Trak Robots after seeing them in action at CITCON in Sydney.

I split the group into two teams and set them a testing challenge, which involved running experiments in order to determine one of the buttons. What ensued was an hour of fantastic learning, mostly for me, as I watched a group of highly skilled testers apply their minds to the exercise. The testers did some really interesting work. One team started performing fairly complicated tests, which turned out to be a real blessing for them. They then made a model of the functionality and made a hypothesis on what the solution might be.

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Team Two took a different tactic. They started with simple tests (a common focusing technique and one I often use) but the tests didn’t offer enough information to the testers. In the debrief that followed at the end, we had a discussion about how though simple tests are quick and easy, sometimes they fail to offer sufficient and meaningful information. Team two, recovered by defocusing and both teams offered their solution.

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There’s so many lessons to learn from this exercise, and depending on the group, different lessons are learned. This was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve run it, I think because the testers were skilled and could apply themselves with confidence. They also were very self-aware and so debriefing was more about letting the testers volunteer information than asking probing questions. Or maybe I’m getting better at handing over the learning to those really in charge.

Andrew Robbins and Richard Robinson are running the test lab at Tasting Lets Test and the Robots are going to have their moment in the spotlight there too! See you all there!

Discovering Big Trak

Recently, I’ve been reading up on how we approach and report on solving problems. One book recommended to me was Exploring Science by David Klahr.

There’s lots in this book.  Khlar performs experiments in his “Discovery Lab” where participants are observed solving and reporting problems.  He uses a robotic toy called Big Trak. Its a self propelled, self contained toy that can be programmed to move around the floor.

Khlar programs a function (its a repeat function) on the toy. He then asks the participants to figure out the function and report how the program operates.

Its been an interesting read and some of the dialogue that happens during hypothesis and testing fits in nicely with the IM Coaching I’m giving. Its one of the reasons James Bach suggested I read the book.

This experiments were performed in the late eighties, so I was quite suprised to see Big Trak’s been sold in my local bookstore.

I immediately grabbed a couple and brought them home.

I handed one out to one of my kids to see if he could figure out how it worked. Here’s the video.

I’m going to incorporate these new robotic toys into my Exploratory Workshop, if I can just work out how to switch off that really annoying beep sound.