Dogfooding: Learning About Teaching by Being an On-line Student

Tom Worthington

Tom Worthington

Slides and notes:
For ANU Human Centered Computing Seminar, Canberra, Room N335, CSIT Building, 1pm, 15 May 2017 & ASCILITE Technology Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group Webinar (TEL edvisors), date TBA.

Description: In January Tom completed a MEd in Distance Education studying online in North America (Worthington, 2016). He will discuss the experience of being an international on-line student and the implications for Australian Higher Education. Tom argues that we can expect 80% of university education to be delivered on-line by 2020 and has produced a book on "Digital Teaching" available free on-line, to help get there (Worthington, 2017).

About the Speaker: Tom Worthington is an independent educational technology consultant and an Adjunct Lecturer in Computer Science at the Australian National University (ANU). He is a Certified Professional, Fellow, Past President and Honorary Life Member of the Australian Computer Society (ACS). Tom previously wrote IT policy for the Australian Government. He has a Masters of Education in Distance Education from Athabasca University, a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education from the ANU and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment from the Canberra Institute of Technology. Tom is author of the book "Digital Teaching in Higher Education", the award winning e-learning course "ICT Sustainability" and blogs as the Higher Education Whisperer.

These are the notes for the presentation using HTML Slidy. If viewing the slides you can press "A" to display these notes (and press "A" again to hide them). To advance to the next slide, press "page down", or click the left mouse button.

Tom Worthington: How I Got Here

Tom Worthington preparing to depart the USS Blue Ridge by Military Helicopter during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97

On the USS Blue Ridge, Coral Sea, 1997.

Tom Worthington: Recent Education

Tom Worthington receiving a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education from Professor Gareth Evans, Chancellor of the Australian National University, 19 July 2013.

Grad Cert from ANU Chancellor, 2013.


'Back in the 1980s when actor Lorne Greene served as the pitchman for Alpo dog food, the TV commercials were careful to point out that he indeed fed Alpo to his dogs. Consequently, the idea that someone would use the products they were making became known as "eating your own dog food.'

From Harrison, W. (2006). Eating your own dog food. IEEE Software, 23(3), 5-7. Retrieved from

Dogfooding, is a term coined by Harrison (2006), for the practice of using the product you are advocating. Teachers need to learn teach on-line by being e-learning students themselves.

Being an On-line Student of Online Education

Lindley, D. (2007, November). Computer professional education using mentored and collaborative online learning. In SEARCC 2007, Proceedings of the South East Asia Regional Computer Conference (pp. 18-19). Retrieved from

After seventeen years working as a computer professional for the Australian Government, I decided to become a private computer consultant in 1999. My job would be short term projects for companies and government agencies, about their computer strategies and policies. This role would involve extended periods of time working alone in my home office.

To give some continuity, I volunteered to help out at local universities and was appointed a Visiting Fellow in what is now the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University. In return for a desk and status as academic staff, I helped out with research and teaching. I found myself drawn to the issue of how to use computer technology for the teaching. It seemed obvious that computers and the Internet should be utilized for teaching computer science students, but how and what?

The answer to the what and how came in 2008, when I was asked to design an online course in ICT Sustainability. I was mentored in e-learning design on-line by David Lindley, using an approach adapted from OUUK (Lindley, 2007). The resulting course was run by ACS and I attended on-line instructor meetings with other ACS tutors of the next few years.

In 2011 I took Assessment, Evaluation and Learning EDU5713 and Online Pedagogy in Practice EDU8114, online at USQ, as part of a ANU GCHE.

In 2013 I undertook Recognition of Prior Learning and E-learning for Cert IV T&A at CIT.

From 2013 to 2017 I studied for a Masters of Education in Distance Education on-line at Athabasca University (Canada).

As I wrote in my MEd ePortfolio "I can now make a more credible case for the use of e-learning for international students, having been an international on-line student. Also, I can apply this approach, of leading by example, showing I use the tools and techniques I am advocating others should use."

AU MEd Structure

Main campus building of Athabasca University

Students undertake five core courses and two of 24 elective courses (using Moodle and Mahara). Then either:

Finally, students write up a research thesis, or e-portfolio, for the oral defense.

AU MEd Courses Selected

The DE courses are structured much like those of other "open" universities: 12 weeks grouped in modules of three or four weeks, with three or four major assessment items (some group work) and about 25% assessment for forum contributions. Each course has a cohort of about 25 students at the beginning, with a loss of about 25% of students in the first few weeks. There are one or two instructors. Students are typically mature age teaching staff of colleges, private training providers, and military organizations, mostly in North America or expatriates around the world. Most courses are primarily asynchronous (non-real time), some with a small synchronous component.

The Moodle Learning Management System is used to provide electronic notes to students and for submission of assessment. Paper-based textbooks are proved, supplemented by a reading list of research papers and videos available on-line. Assessment is by traditional written assignments, as well as multimedia materials (such as course modules produced by students), submitted via Moodle.

These are conventional distance education courses, with the advantages and disadvantages of materials designed through a rigorous process and intended to be used unchanged for several years.

MEd E-Portfolio

Capstone e-portfolio with oral defense via webinar

Select 5 artifacts to show 47 competencies in 6 categories:

  1. Problem Solving, Analysis & Decision Making (11)
  2. Instructional Design & Development (7)
  3. Communication Technologies and Networking (5)
  4. Communication & Interpersonal Skills (8)
  5. Research (11)
  6. Management, Organization and Leadership (5)

From: Hoven D. (2015) ePortfolios in Post-Secondary Education: An Alternate Approach to Assessment. UAE Journal of Educational Technology and eLearning, 2015 Jan 7. Edition 1, 11-24. Retrieved from

My on-line studies were largely of a conventional nature, with course design which would have been familiar to a last century distance education designer. Courses mostly relied on textbooks (paper or electronic), downloaded text-rich notes and readings from academic books and journals. Courses were administered using a Learning Management System (LMS). ANU, USQ, CIT and Athabasca University all use the Moodle LMS. Students had limited interaction by asynchronous Moodle based chat forums. Most major assignments were individual, with some group-work and most material was submitted as a word-processing document. Exceptions were courses on mobile learning and learning technology, which used a greater range of tools and techniques.

The most significant and different learning experience was the last: the Athabasca University MEd capstone portfolio. The Capstone e-portfolio requires the students to reflect on their learning using five artifacts, which usually are a subset of the assignments already submitted in coursework (Hoven, 2015, p. 23). Rather than just leave the student to work this out for themselves, the e-portfolio is structured as a twelve week course in the student's last term (I took this concurrently with my last course). There was an instructor and the student completes the e-portfolio in sections. Students receive feedback from the instructor and provide comment on each others draft e-portfolios. The last task is for the student to present an hour long defense of their e-portfolio: thirty minutes presentation and thirty minutes answering questions from staff and students, via a webinar.

A copy of my Capstone e-portfolio is available. An extended version is available as a book: Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment.

My E-Portfolio


MEd(ED) ePortfolio

Export generated for Tom Worthington on 06 December 2016, 3:23 PM, from their portfolio at Athabasca University e-Portfolio

For background, see "Pioneering Global Open Education at Athabasca University".

How to Teach Online

Provide: eBooks, discussion forums, tools for inquiry and assessment.

Pictographs by Carlos Sarmento from the Noun Project (CC BY 3.0 US).

In five years of studying education I read many theories and techniques for distance education. One conclusion from my studies is that designing an on-line course is much the same as face-to-face. However, there is not the time or resources to teach all of this to the tutors and lecturers who do the teaching at universities. Something simpler and quicker to teach, understand and implement is needed.

The cover of my book "Digital Teaching" is illustrated with the four pictographs by Carlos Sarmento (from the Noun Project CC BY 3.0 US). This summarizes an approach with four steps:

  1. Provide eBooks and other curated content on the topic;
  2. Facilitate discussion between the students;
  3. Teach tools and techniques for the student to explore the topic; and
  4. Assess, including formative feedback, to help them learn.

The instructor can get away with making up a face-to-face course as they go along, but an on-line course needs to be carefully designed and tested in advance.

Keep in mind that what students like is not necessarily the same as what helps them learn, or what they will actually use. Offered the option of face-to-face lectures, students will say they want them, but most will then not turn up. Students prefer high quality videos, but video quality make no difference to learning.

Blended Learning is Now

ANU Union Court Redevelopment

New ANU Buildings (artists' impression).

ANU Students attend less than half of the lectures

ANU is demolishing the central lecture theaters

Replacement buildings are for flexible learning

Generally, I suggest (not current ANU policy):

  1. An "on-campus" student will be in "class" 10% of the time
  2. Flipped-learning will halve the formal teaching space needed

Five years of on-line study made me appreciate the value of classroom teaching. The typical university student will still want to meet face to face with other students and an instructor. However, this time should not be wasted on lectures, or tutorials, where the student sits passively.

ANU found that after the first two weeks only 30% of students attend a typical lecture. In semester, that works out to less than 50% attendance.

ANU is demolishing the central Manning Clark Centre lecture theaters in late 2017, to be replaced by "a number of multi-purpose, multimodal, flexible learning spaces which will be embedded with new digital infrastructure".

No preferred learning approach has been set centrally by ANU. However, I suggest replacing lectures with a flipped classroom, will provide better learning experience, while halving the teaching space required. A typical "on-campus" student can be expected to be in "class" for no more than 10% of their study time. For a full time student studying 40 hours a week, this would be 4 hours. A full time student might spend as little as one day per week on campus, a part-time student, one day a month.

Improving Engagement of On-line Students

UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre

UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre, Photo by Tom Worthington CC-By 3.0 2015

On-line students are less engaged, less likely to complete and less satisfied,

Need to design engagement with university & other students into the assessed curriculum.

This engagement will also help notionally "on-campus" students.

On-line students are more focused on each course and each assessment task. This is partly due to their being physically remote from the university. The student does not perceive the "university" as more than an administrative entity. In addition on-line students are more likely to be older, part time and undertaking studies for work purposes. As a result these students are focused on completing course related assessment. The result is isolated, unhappy students.

The solution is activities to introduce the students to the on-line services the university provides and getting the students to help each other. These have to be compulsory, formal, assessed, for-credit activities. It is not enough to have optional extra-curricular activities, as the task-driven on-line student will not do these. It is also not enough to have one introductory activity, as the student will revet to their previous isolated behavior.

Educational designers who know how to produce such activities for students. The challenge is to convince discipline specific academics to make room in degree programs for these "soft skills".

While the problem with engagement has been seen to be with distance education students, with the increasing use of blended learning the problem will also increase with notionally "on-campus" students. The same techniques can be used to help enguage these students.

With this approach the soft-skill activities wrap around the classroom time, much as the new glass and steel of the Irving K Barber Learning Centre, wraps around an old stone building at the University of British Colombia.

The Real University is Virtual

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,  Robert M. Pirsig, 2006

"...the real university exists not as the physical campus, but as a body of reason within the minds of students and teachers ..." From Chapter 13, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig, 2006

More Information

  1. The presentation notes are at:
  2. Slides for these notes are also available
  3. Blog post about being a student
  4. MEd Capstone e-portfolio
  5. Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment (book), 2017
  6. Tom Worthington

Version 0.1, 20 April 2017, Tom Worthington

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Dogfooding: Learning About Teaching by Being an On-line Student by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.