Dogfooding, what is it? It may or may not be a word you have never heard before.

You may be thinking, how does dog food have anything to do with teaching? How could that help me better my learning plans for my students? Well, ‘dogfooding’ is a phrase that has nothing to do with food for dogs but everything to do with improving what we already do. It is a strategy originally designed to improve instructional design for products developed, modified, and sold by large companies.

However, we believe it could just as easily be adapted to teaching and should be considered a way to improve our educational program. This article will provide an insightful look into what dogfooding is, how you can improve your classes with it, and the benefits this strategy provides.

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What dogfooding is

Typically speaking, dogfooding is a term used by software designers. Companies have used it to better their products and firsthand evaluate their software’s design. It refers to the act of using your product as a consumer as a way of seeing what your customers are receiving and then being able to work out any glitches or issues it may have. You can see what you’re putting into the world from a new perspective. Using your product as a consumer allows you to think like one. This will give the insight you need to see what issues may frustrate and ultimately push the customer away, as well as see potential upgrades and improvements you could make. This new set of eyes you now has might allow you to think of what you would want to add to your product if you were buying it from someone else. These new, personal, and insightful ideas will help software developers who use this technique stand out from the competition. It is, essentially, the metaphorical equivalent of “eating your dog food.”

Although it originates as a strategic technique for companies such as software providers, it’s a valuable way of helping people improve their work. They give consumers a transferrable quality that could greatly enrich the education system. Think of the students as the customers, the teachers, the software designers, and your lesson plans as the product. How much more insight would you gain and be able to use to improve if you could see your lessons through their eyes and receive and retain the information you give through their brains?

Using the term ‘dogfooding’ in teaching encourages teachers to self-evaluate their lessons regularly. Try to learn from yourself by practicing your lessons as if you were a student. This will allow you to see the following:

  • Any parts that may be more confusing or difficult
  • Any topics that may need further explanation
  • Any lessons that may not be delivered as clearly as you had hoped
  • Opportunities for further explanation, interactive learning, and more exciting, engaging delivery

How can I improve how I teach with dogfooding

There are many ways you can incorporate dogfooding in your learning plan to better your teaching approach. Below we have explained seven ways you can do this:

Set realistic expectations

It’s easy to get a little carried away when creating tasks for your class, especially on a subject or topic you are interested in. We often want to reach for the stars. Then maybe it’s better to climb toward them slowly and surely. That’s why when you’re at the idea stage of your lesson plans, you should try to do the task you’re setting yourself. This will ensure you’re not asking too much of your students while also keeping them challenged and engaged. Creating unrealistic expectations for your class won’t do either of you any favors. It makes students feel less motivated and less inclined to try in your class as they feel it’s a losing battle. Avoiding this is the best way to keep them engaged and learning.

Write better instructions

You may have missed something if you’ve created a task that includes step-by-step instructions. Because you’ve created it yourself, you know the end goal, so instructions may not be as straightforward or thorough as they should be for people who can’t see into your mind. By taking a step back and looking at it as a student, imagine you have no prior knowledge of the lesson plan; you can see if it’s as straightforward as it needs to be, avoiding as much confusion as possible.

Troubleshoot complex activities

As stated earlier, dogfooding will allow you to resolve any issues that may arise in your learning plan and help you to eliminate many kinks. When planning a more complex activity, such as a lab, a workshop, or another hands-on learning exercise, it’s very useful to use this approach to troubleshoot beforehand. This will draw any issues with equipment or logistics to your attention beforehand and allow you to put the correct solutions in place. This will improve the efficiency of your lesson and allow for more time for learning rather than trying to solve issues that could’ve been prevented.

Get your timing right

It takes plenty of practice and experience to understand how time should be allocated across your lesson. It is difficult to predict how long a learning experience will take accurately. Even veteran teachers still struggle. Through dogfooding, you can get a much clearer understanding and idea of how long an experience will take. This will help with productivity and efficiency in your classroom. It will help you to see beforehand how much you should achieve on that day, allowing you to monitor progress more closely.

Create models

Dogfooding an assignment can allow you to make prototypes of finished products, which can help students see what is expected of them. This means that in more significant assignments where they may need to make a diorama, presentation, or report, for example, you can make one first which will allow them to see the standard they should be aiming for, the correct layout, and presentation and see the skills they will be learning through this assignment first hand, before learning them. It will give them an insightful overview which is beneficial for them.

Revisit the mind of a beginner

To get the most out of dogfooding, the most important thing to do is revisit a beginner’s mind. If you’re teaching a subject you know and understand and have practiced for years, it’s easy to forget what learning it for the first time is like. How things may be perceived, and what discovering it feels like. That’s why you need to channel the mind of a novice and remember that this is their first time seeing this topic. By seeing it through their eyes, you will be able to educate them more precisely and have the opportunity to see new things and skills that can be developed that may have been overlooked before.

Tweak your design

And the last way to apply the dogfooding approach to your teaching is to tweak your design. When dogfooding, you are exposing yourself to seeing your approach’s flaws and any new opportunities you could capitalize on to improve before you deliver it to your students. This is a gift that you should use. Use what you learn from studying your tasks to better them. Go back and make the changes or additions that will elevate your class’s learning and, ultimately, your teaching style.