Dogfooding XR Prototypes in the Time of Corona
By Talal Alothman
- Dogfooding means formally testing your tool with your team early in the development process
- Dogfooding classroom XR applications can help you refine the application and focus on your learning objectives
- Dogfooding using XR hardware in the midst of a pandemic requires extra considerations to protect your team’s safety
Building tools that address the needs of their users is a lengthy process. It involves spending a good amount of time before a single line of code is written to identify core problems/pain points that your potential tool could help alleviate. Before deploying to a larger audience, teams usually have a tool with a core set of features that identify basic functions and a core tool loop. At this stage, the typical method of identifying whether or not you’re on the right path is to get others (ideally users within the target audience) to test your tool. This provides your team with valuable feedback that they’re able to iterate on and refine before your tool is deployed to a larger audience. This approach is pretty standard across product development teams.
One step in this lengthy process that occurs early on, before testing with target audiences, is dogfooding. Dogfooding means getting others on your own team to use what you’ve been developing in the goal of identifying and fixing issues early on. You can dogfood pretty much any component you have (partially) running but ideally, you’d have your basic tool loop done to get feedback across multiple components and to bother your teammates less. This can be done in an open-ended manner with teammates providing general qualitative feedback and bug reporting or by defining clear heuristics (think of these as criteria) and testing against these heuristics.
Dogfooding with Classroom Tools
At the XR Clinic, we help faculty develop XR tools that are deployed in classroom settings. In the early stages of development, we consider how an XR application may operate in the classroom as a part of our dogfooding process. XR tools change the way teachers and students interact with content and a goal of the XR Clinic projects is to document this change and assess the effect that XR tools have in the classroom. In addition to the development goals, our teams also have learning objectives for students. We employ dogfooding to alleviate the design uncertainties that occur early on and consider how design choices affect each teams’ learning objectives. In our experience with XR development, interaction remains the component we dogfood the earliest and the most frequent. This is because common interaction approaches in the XR space remain relatively novel to most users and require the most work in refining.
Figure 1: Workflow for designing software for the classroom
Dogfooding During the Covid-19 Pandemic
In the context of a pandemic, dogfooding XR classroom tools becomes even harder. During these times, it is important to understand that approaching individuals to participate in the dogfooding process requires caution and teams must keep participants safe while sharing hardware. As mentioned before, the purpose of dogfooding is to gather feedback within a team, not with students. (For groups that would like to collect student feedback, we advise that groups first speak to the university’s IRB office to ensure that more rigorous dogfooding protocols do not qualify as the IRB’s definition of human subjects research.) Second, every team in the XR clinic shares hardware. Ideally, everyone you know would have access to the needed hardware to test out your tool but we’re not in 2035, access to hardware remains sparse. A simple hardware sharing protocol should involve the following:
- Clean hardware outer body with non-abrasive alcohol swabs
- If it’s a headset, use a micro-fiber cloth or lens pen
- Manufacturers don’t recommend chemicals on the lenses
- Add disposable headset mask that can be removed later
- Optionally, invest in UVC headset cleaning products