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Teaching in Beta

Science Under the Microscope

Teaching in BetaIt's time to start teaching the Google way.


Many software applications are released to limited audiences prior to their full public release. These pre-release versions, designed to collect information from willing end users about potential bugs, are called betas. Though some companies have caught some heat for keeping the beta tag too long, there's actually a teaching lesson to be learned from this.


Some companies that make web applications, including (famously) Google’s GMail service, have been criticized for maintaining a beta tag on a fully functioning piece of software. In response to comments, after five years, Google removed the Beta tag from GMail. As part of the announcement on the official GMail blog, Google stated:


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“[Some have said] that, over the last five years, a beta culture has grown around web apps, such that the very meaning of ‘beta’ is debatable. And rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past, we're moving to a world of rapid developmental cycles where products like Gmail continue to change indefinitely.”


Reading this statement made me realize that we teachers need to take a page from the Google book. With standards changing regularly, and diverse groups of student rotating through our classrooms, stagnation is the enemy of every educator. We can’t simply recycle old lessons or pull tired mimeograph sheets from our filing cabinets. What worked last year (or last semester) will usually fall flat this year without some sort of tweaking.


Like the Web 2.0 applications that we strive to integrate into our lessons, we need to live each year in a state of continual “beta”.

Each new year brings new technology to try out, new lessons borrowed from colleagues, new lab supplies to explore, and new minds to open. We need to constantly evaluate our work, adding “features” to our teaching, trimming less successful bits, and creating cutting edge learning experiences. This can seem daunting and time-consuming, but there can be no other way--as the world around our schools changes so must we change to meet the dynamic needs of our students.

How do you keep your lessons fresh? Share in the comments section!