To Field Test or Not To Field Test?

Many thanks to Dr. Rosanne Hoffmann, STEM Project Leader for American Printing House for the Blind, for her invaluable input.
Over the past decades, instruction in science for students with visual impairment has been greatly improved due to the development of both low tech and high tech products.  These include models, apps, software, etc.  
Some of the companies which have produced products that require field testing in recent years are APH and eTouchSciences. We in the TVI community are greatly indebted to these organizations for their contributions to the tools in our toolbox. What part can we play in helping APH (and others) produce the best products possible for our students? Field testing provides valuable feedback prior to production of new items.  Many in our field have likely been involved in one or more such studies.  

What Value Does Field Testing Provide?

When a product is in development at APH, the project leader is responsible for all aspects of the process. The project leader mediates input from consultants, design suggestions from in-house artists and engineers, and other professionals as the prototype is designed for field testing. For science products, the needs both of the science teacher at a residential school for the blind and the itinerant TVI are taken into account as the product is developed. Ideally, APH would like input from both of these groups during the field testing phase of development. 
As the product is developed, it is vital that APH has the input of students and TVIs in order to suggest design improvements and to provide scientific input. Sometimes the color of a model will undergo a change due to field testing feedback.  An example of a prototype change was in the development of the DNA-RNA kit.  It was through field testing that APH discovered that it was difficult for students to link the prototype nucleotide units together.  APH made changes in the final product and the result was that students using the kit will work with sub-units that they can more easily link together.   (See above picture.)  Without this feedback, this design change would likely not have been made and students would have received a less user-friendly final product. 
The Guidebook sent with the prototype is also critiqued by field testers. Brevity and clarity are the main goals of the STEM Project Leader when writing a guidebook.  It’s also important to provide instructions appropriate for either a science teacher at a residential school for the blind or an itinerant TVI who works with the general education science teacher and the student.
In addition to providing input on both new products and guidebooks for APH, field testing helps to satisfy government requirements. In order to receive the government funds necessary to fund production, APH must justify the value of new products for students with visual impairment.  APH is required to display evidence on selected products of field testing performed using testers from a wide geographic distribution.
In exchange for field testing, your primary benefit is the gratification of knowing that your input helped to produce a better final product.  You will also be recognized in the APH Annual Report and the Guidebook for the product (with your permission and the permission of your agency).
When a new product is tested, APH calls upon volunteers from the APH field tester database, or others who volunteer after reading about the upcoming field test in the APH News (a monthly e-newsletter, also available on the APH website). Field testers complete a simple form to be placed in the database. This form and instructions are attached.   Ideally, the same field testers are not be called upon to test one prototype after another. 

How to Sign Up to Field Test

For those interested in volunteering, please complete and return the attached Field Tester form as per the instructions.  This will allow you to be included in the field tester database, but will not obligate you to test any particular product.
This form can also be found on the APH website, on the left-hand column as follows:
  • Click Research
  • Click Product Development
  • Click APH Field Test Form

field testing collage

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