Dogfooding – I’d never heard of this term and wasn’t too surprised to find a full explanation when I googled the word. Officially – it’s eating your own dog food or using your own product. Organizations use this practice to test their products (often software programs) in real-world usage – away from controlled labs and board room promotions.

So, what is dogfooding for faculty? Let me simply ask you this: When was the last time you took your own course? I don’t mean creating your course. I mean, when was the last time you read your lectures, completed your own assignments and took your own tests? This is the question posed by Jennifer Gonzalez in her Cult of Pedagogy podcast.

Gonzalez proposes using this practice on a regular basis as part of instructional design. She concludes that this practice is like “teaching a course in beta” and encourages this practice as a way to keep courses fresh. In doing so, you find the glitches. One of the common glitches faculty discover is an unrealistic expectation of the time it takes to complete homework and projects. When faculty were challenged to do their own assignments, they found very quickly that they couldn’t complete them in the time they assigned.

A second discovery was that they couldn’t easily follow their own instructions. They had another person read them the directions and tried to follow them exactly. This uncovered simple steps that were missed. Performing their own activities – especially those assigned to be completed outside of the classroom – helped them to understand how to better organize the assignment because they recognized simple pitfalls and time-wasters, along with information that students would need to learn before they could complete the lesson.

Creating their own assignments and taking their own quizzes also helped instructors offer examples of what they wanted to be completed, which in turn, helped students better understand the expectations of the assignment and get started with less confusion and fewer questions. Overall, the more you troubleshoot your own assignments, the fewer issues you will have during the course so it is time well-spent.

It is easy for instructors to ask students to complete tasks that they are familiar with because it is their background. These same tasks may seem simple to the instructor and very difficult for the student who is unfamiliar with the background needed to complete the assignment. Often this background is something that they would have learned in another class. For example, how to narrow an essay topic, how to create an analogy or complete analysis. Because instructors have done this as part of their education and teaching background, it is easy to forget that their students might never have done this and will need help at this basic level to get started and to complete the assigned task.

Lastly, she suggests that you ‘dogfood’ any form you ask students to complete. The faculty who do this typically find that there isn’t enough space allotted to complete the form. It may be a little thing and it is another little thing that will frustrate your students.

The more you troubleshoot your own assignments, the fewer issues you will have during the course so it is time well-spent.

Site and podcast by Gonzalez:

Academic UpdatesDogfooding? How does that apply to my teaching?