The use of tablet devices in American classrooms has become a popular, and it continues to grow. Unfortunately, the accessible content for children with special needs doesn’t grow as fast.
We interviewed Dr. Ayanna Howard who is the founder and chief technology officer at Zyrobotics, an assistive technology company in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr, Ayanna talks about how they use beta testing for their learning applications.
While being a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer engineering, Dr. Howard received a grant from NSF (National Science Foundation) to develop technology that was then transferred to a spinoff, Zyrobotics. She did this together with Dr. Hae Won Park and Dr. J Maccalla, with the goal to commercialize the inclusive technology inventions derived from their research lab at Georgia Tech.
The team wanted to address the need for educational apps for children with special needs as this demographic hasn’t been given equal access to available app-based learning activities. Their mission is to create personalized technologies that make a difference in the lives of children with special needs in the age range 3 to 12.
How come you started with app development?
The inclusion of learning activities using tablet devices in the classroom environment continues to grow. Unfortunately, this corresponding increase has not correlated with a growth in accessible content for children with special needs. Thus, as educational apps continue to revolutionize learning for children, there is a measurable demographic of school-age children with special needs that are not being given equal access. As such, we wanted to address this need and develop education Apps that provide engaging content while being accessible to children with special needs.
How long do you stick with an idea for an app before giving up on it?
Before we begin development of a new app, we first conduct a number of interviews with parents, special education teachers, and clinicians to discover unmet needs. Based on their feedback, we then discuss a few ideas with them and select the focus for our next education app. Throughout the development process, but before alpha testing, we’ll continue to refine the idea and game-play of the education app based on feedback from our target demographic.
What motivates you at Zyrobotics and what are your goals?
Our goal is to increase access to educational content for children with disabilities that support their goals in the classroom environment in such a way that it can engage all children while being accessible to children with special needs. Children of all abilities can be encouraged to engage in various learning opportunities when these activities are seen as enjoyable and interesting. Our motivation is therefore to create engaging educational content that is accessible to all kids.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful app developer?
- The top three skills needed to be a successful app developer include:
- Good user experience and user interface design skills
Good programming skills and/or the ability to learn these skills
Ability to listen to the customer and be open to constructive feedback.
Have testing your apps helped prevent failures?
- We always go through three phases of testing before releasing an app for distribution (alpha, beta, and target user). Although this means it takes longer to release an app, we feel that this process ensures that any potential issues are caught before they turn into failures.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a successful app developer?
I believe that success as an app developer is defined by whether you made a societal impact. This may (or may not) equate to financial success. As such, the first piece of advice for being successful is defining your metrics for success – is it number of downloads, awards, good reviews, rankings, etc.? The second piece of advice is to not give up. There are so many apps currently available for download that the probability that your app will percolate to the top 10 (and remain there) is, unfortunately, slim. If your passion is for app development, just become the best app developer that you can and define your criteria for success as such. The last piece of advice is to listen to your target customer. Solicit feedback from potential users before devoting time and money to developing an app that users might not need or want.
Can you tell us about some of your apps and how you got the idea for them?
In the last 10 months, we have released four accessible education apps – ZyroSky, Forest Fighter, Turtle Invaders, and OctoPlus. The first three apps, released on both Google Play and iTunes, focused on cause- and-effect and pre-readiness math skills. The last app, OctoPlus, reinforces key addition math skills within an interactive gaming environment through the inclusion of practice and challenge modes.
Each of our education apps maps educational content within a gaming construct to engage children of all abilities. All of our apps also have adjustable learning and game-play settings so that kids can learn and be assessed based on their own individual skill level. All of our apps are also designed to be switch-accessible and enhance motor skills for young children and kids with motor or cognitive delays. We have used the Beta Family for all of our apps during both the alpha and beta testing stages.
What do you feel are the positive aspects of using a crowdtesting platform for your beta testing?
The positive aspects of using a crowdtesting platform is the ability to have both novice and experienced users provide feedback and bug reporting using different devices, operating systems, and cultural perspectives. This is an invaluable resource because it allows you to test the majority of configurations that you might find in the real-world, thus discovering issues before they become failures.
What challenges are you facing in the beta testing process that Beta Family can help with?
The ability to select both new and validated testers using the Beta Family removes many of the challenges we would have otherwise faced. We have used the Beta Family as a resource for finding testers for all of our apps over both our alpha and beta testing stages.
Can you tell us more about your testing plans?
We always go through three phases of testing before releasing an app for distribution (alpha, beta, and target user). We have used the Beta Family as a resource for finding testers for all of our apps over both our alpha and beta testing stages. During alpha testing, we are primarily concerned with the ease-of-interaction, ease-of-game play, bug-finding, and overall user experience. We also ask for suggestions for improving the experience. The beta testing stage involves more specific evaluation of features and bug-finding. The target user stage occurs before release and involves full-reviews focused on functionality as seen through the eyes of special education teachers, parents, and clinicians. Depending on the results from this stage, we might iterate through another beta testing cycle before release.
Why did you choose The Beta Family instead of another similar service?
We chose the Beta Family because of its ability to select both novice and experienced users, its ability to test on both Android and iOS platforms, its ability to invite testers outside of the Beta Family (which is important when testing with our target demographic) and the ease-of-interaction with the platform itself.
Beta Family would like to extend a big thank you to Dr. Ayanna Howard for taking the time talking to us. Make sure to share this post within your network so more people hear about Zyrobotics fantastic work providing children with special needs the same learning activities as other kids.
Ps. Did you know that Dr Ayanna Howard has been a speaker at the TED conferences, talking about how to make robots smarter? Check it out: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/make-robots-smarter-ayanna-howard
Check out the below links if you’d like to learn more about Zyrobotics.