Monday, May 23, 2016

If you can only speak TDD, maybe you'll think TDD?

I just finished reading Through the Language Glass, an interesting popular-press exposition of the relationship between spoken language and perception, and in particular of the "weak version" of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, according to which a speakers' use of language influences their mental processing.
An example is given of the Guugu Yimithirr aboriginal language, in which all location-specifying speech acts use only absolute compass directions (NSEW) as opposed to relative directions. For example, if we were standing next to each other, instead of saying "I am standing to the right of Armando", you'd say "I am standing to the north of Armando" (or whatever direction it happened to be). And if we then rotated clockwise together and faced a different direction, you'd then have to say "I'm standing to the east of Armando." G-Y speakers have to think constantly about their orientation relative to the world, since communication about place would be impossible otherwise. Experiments are described whose provocative finding is that this makes it more difficult, e.g., for G-Y speakers to solve spatial puzzles in which the relative spatial relationships between objects are unchanged but their absolute orientation is changed.
What does this have to do with Agile+SaaS? I've been looking for ways to more strongly encourage the students in the Berkeley course to really commit to TDD. (Many do, of course, but some still write tests "after the fact" only because they know we will be grading them on test coverage.) I wonder if one could devise a lab exercise in which students develop some functionality via pair programming, but they are only allowed to speak in terms of test results when discussing with each other. This would be an interactive (vs. autograded/solo) exercise, and the goal would be to get students to use a vocabulary that effectively limits their communication to describing things in terms of test results. Eg "For this next line, the effect I want is that given a valid URL, it should retrieve a valid XML document." I know many of us already (strive to) maintain this mindset, but is anyone up for designing/scaffolding an exercise that would help us teach it to TDD initiates?

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