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So, I recently came across a term "dogfooding" and was super confused. One - what the heck is dogfooding. Two - why is it being used in reference to teaching and learning?

Well folks, "Eating your own dogfood,” or “dogfooding,” as it’s more commonly phrased, means using the software you make, often in beta form, to work out the kinks. The first recorded usage was in 1988, when Microsoft executive Paul Maritz was desperate for customers to try a new product and e-mailed a colleague, “We are going to have to eat our own dogfood and test the product ourselves.” They created an internal server called “\\dogfood” and sent it out to staff" (The New Republic, 2013, para. 1). While this may make complete sense to those coders or techy people out there - for me, I was super confused. However, I ran across a teaching blog The Cult of Pedagogy that had an article focused on teachers testing or completing their own assignments in order to ensure they were producing excellent levels of work (Dogfooding: How Often Do You Do Your Own Assignments?).

Last month, I posted about moving from working as an individual to a team of instructional designers. I couldn't help but think about the idea of dogfooding and how this concept applies when conducting course reviews. Often times, we find that we are too close to the design or the concepts to think outside of the box. However, once our instructors teach the course, they become aware of issues that they did not know of. While getting this feedback is great - we, as instructional designers, can take that information back to the course design and revamp those problem issues. However, what if we could be aware of these issues prior to the course launch?

Normally, an internal review (typically done by the designer themselves) is done before sending off to the faculty member to review. In some cases, an external individual may review the course (not familiar with the design, concepts, or instructor) to provide additional feedback. In these cases, it is nice to have an external person look at what was developed and provide their point of view. However, if you are at a smaller university or do not have the man power to conduct such extensive reviews - how can you ensure your design is good? I suggest, dogfooding it. Of course, we cannot complete the whole course in a matter of a week or maybe even days. But as designers, we should have a good chunk of time set aside for final reviews. This is where the dogfooding process should begin...

  • Review the course with naked eyes. Go through and read everything out loud. Copy and paste the text into Word or another program to change the font size and see what it looks like from a different lens. Some people suggest reading backwards - if you can do that, more power to you. Either way, you need to address the entire course from a different view. Even if you are a one man team - you can still print off instructions and have someone read them to see if they make sense in general (think of a new date night or dinner conversation)! I've been known to drag in my partner for jobs like these. He is not familiar with education (he wasn't the A+ student we all want in our classes), but he provides a solid insight into what doesn't make sense.

  • Prepare for the unexpected. One of the *best* tools in my kit is preparing and writing up instructions step-by-step. While it is a long and daunting process, it never fails. You will have that one student or that one instructor who is not tech savvy and needs help walking through something. I keep these tutorials close by - that way if a student runs into an issue (let's say they do not know how to write up a discussion post online) - Boom. Here's a tutorial. For common issues that keep occurring, build these pieces into the classroom as scaffolds. When I test out my courses, I try to make sure all of the terminology and steps are included. For example, I recently worked on a course with a small-scale literature review. It was only 3-4 pages and students submit a draft and then a final later on in the course. In the instructions of the "final" submission, we require them to address any issues from the draft in a small reflection. This small reflection piece was not included in the rubric - so students weren't completing it. It was in the directions - but not the rubric. Here's an example of unclear expectations.

  • Do not make assumptions. This is one that I'm guilty of - and probably a lot of you are too without knowing it. We recently switched to a new LMS (Learning Management System) and during our first running of courses - we found that we were getting feedback from students and instructors stating that students were just ignoring the instructions. Asking questions that were clearly stated in the directions, the rubrics, etc. This course also happens to be one of the first classes for new online students to take... so, is it because students are being lazy (we all know at least one student who is this way) or is it because there is a problem? So, we dug deep and took a look at where the issue could be. One - the assignments used to be on the left-hand navigation and now are located at the top-bar navigation. However, we had addressed this in multiple areas of the course and students were submitting assignments - so it wasn't that they couldn't find them... just maybe the instructions for the assignments. So, we dug even deeper. We pulled up the assignments list (see image below). Pretty clear right? Here's the listing of the assignments...but, we didn't consider one little (major) thing...

While the list of the assignments are clear - actually getting to the directions involves clicking on title of the assignment to access the directions and rubrics. A small, additional step students were not used to. Once the student clicks on the assignment title, the following screen appears.

And boom, there was our major issue. The one little click that caused so many problems. Students did not realize that they had to click on the title to access the instructions. Because, if you go back up to the first image - you'll see next to the assignment title is another link that says "Not Submitted" - so students automatically assumed that is where they needed to submit the assignment. Which - they can. Students can submit assignments in a number of ways that we (as designers and instructors) did not realize yet. This minor step was only found by going through the process and looking at it from a student's point of view.

While I have a lot more to discuss on this topic, I really want you to look at the original post that really got me thinking about this topic... Dogfooding: How Often Do You Do Your Own Assignments? I think there is something to be said about thinking about what you are reading - related to ID or teaching or not, and letting it sink in. Can any of the concepts be applied to ID? In your own field? What works and what doesn't?

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