Sunday, September 17, 2006

eat your own dogfood

I remember it as a quote from the open source movement, but maybe that's just where I heard it first

Very funny story by Joel, here, about Sudanese immigrants to America discovering dogfood on the supermarket shelves

As teachers, do we eat our own dogfood? Would we like to sit in a lesson that we teach and do the work that we set our students?

I can see the need for basic skills but maybe there has to be a high ceiling as well, as in "low entry, high ceiling", an old slogan for promoting the logo programming language. So that if we, the teacher, were sitting in the class, there would be something interesting for us as well

I remembered yesterday that this is one reason why I started the africaGame wiki. I wanted my year 11 students to do these things:
  • improve their game maker programming skills
  • design, make and critique their own game
  • work productively in a group
  • use a wiki to document their progress and collaborate with others
So, I thought it would be a good idea if I did the same, put myself through the same process that I was putting my students through.

It's been a good learning process for me.

I have improved my game maker programming skills by making, documenting and collaborating on new games (map game, name game). That has been hard work and sometimes slow and frustrating. But I now feel more confident about tackling harder programming problems.

I have been collaborating, mainly with mitch (the main author of the name game) and also obtaining some help on the Edna game making forum (wara) and tony is always helpful when I ask him a question. So that counts as group work but the actual collaboration has been patchy, not continuous. That's a good learning experience for me, it is probably the nature of most collaboration. But in School, I was expecting it to be steady, continuous. So, I need to redesign the learning so that the collaboration is allowed to be discontinuous. It is so hard for school to measure group work. Everyone knows that it is important but there is a measurement problem.

I haven't creatively designed my own game. The africa map game is a clone of a game I found on the internet. I couldn't do better than that so I am shamelessly copying it. That's another good lesson. One of my best students asked me, "How come you expect us to design our own games, when you aren't doing that?" Good question.

I haven't been able to keep to any sort of reasonable timeline. The game development always takes much longer than I think it will. I still haven't finished the map game, even though the class I started it with has long disappeared with the semester change over. Strict timelines in school must be a terrible burden on student creative endeavour. I think that students must get used to churning out "busy work" because that's what school demands of them.

Using the wiki. I've been good at that I think. Not only are the games developing through the wiki but I have been developing other pages as well, the links to existing games found on the web and links (about africa) have been regularly updated. A friend, Paul, has regularly sent me links which have been useful. There are other useful pages on the wiki as well, even though they haven't been updated so regularly (game ideas, programming languages, mail received)

If teachers regularly ate their own dogfood we would have a better education system.


Lynette said...

I completely agree with the idea behind your analogy of "eat your own dog food". It sounds like the process has been a valuable learning experience in your case.

I am a drama teacher and often "eat my own dog food" alongside the students, and sometimes out of the same bowl when I work with them to workshop scripts and rehearse scenes. The majority of the work I do is group work, and I am often involved in the collaborative processes involved in performance.

I was prompted by your comment "It is so hard for school to measure group work. Everyone knows that it is important but there is a measurement problem." and wish to offer a suggestion: I have found that presentation panels are quite effective in measuring students learning from major group tasks. In the context I have used them, I get individuals to present to a panel (comprising of the teacher, a peer and at times a second staff member chosen by the student). Students need to present their product and then discuss the process/es they undertook toward the development of the final piece. Students are asked to discuss how they collaborated with others throughout the development of the project, how their ideas developed and any problem solving that was undertaken toward the development of the final product. When students have been actively involved in the project they are able to do this quite easily, if they have tagged along it becomes evident.

Bill Kerr said...

thanks lynette

I'm not surprised that a really helpful suggestion for measuring group work in computing has come from a drama teacher

With my year 12s last year I got them to present their games to the class and that led to some discussions about the process of making them

I like your idea of a panel and the way it is composed but it is going to be hard to fit it all into the one semester year 11 course - game maker skills, design and make game, record process in blogs, wikis and then a panel presentation as well. I think the blogs and wikis could provide some valuable material along the way to the panel presentation and having that as an endpoint would give the whole process more point as well

great idea, thanks again