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We’re Digging Yellowdig: New Discussion Platform!

Four NC State students talking and laughing.
Photo by Marc Hall

Fostering Online Student Discussion is Imperative

Look through either scholarly articles or practical publications about online teaching and you’ll find a wealth of research and anecdotes about isolation in online learning and tips to combat it. But if you teach an online course, you understand how challenging it is to foster rich, meaningful student interaction — especially in asynchronous situations.

Knowing that it’s important to get students to interact with each other in an online course, we naturally turn to discussion forums. We formulate an interesting and relevant question about the week’s topic, and assign a discussion: “Post your response to the prompt by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, and respond to at least two classmates by 11:59 p.m. Sunday.” Unfortunately, we often find that such assignments fail to produce the rich conversation that we are hoping for. Forums can end up being drudgery to grade, and students report that they are often drudgery to write.

Strategies exist for making online discussion forums work really, really well — you can find many such approaches in DELTA’s Teaching Resources article Discussion Forum Best Practices. Oftentimes these strategies have to do with modifying how discussion prompts are written, how often they are assigned, and how the assignment is structured.

For instructors who are looking for a different solution, NC State has a new tool that approaches online discussions in a wholly different way. 

How Yellowdig Can Help

Yellowdig is an enterprise tool new to NC State that completely reimagines how we encourage and facilitate discussions between students in our online classes. Yellowdig’s platform is based on this idea: students want to talk to each other. They have thoughts and ideas and they make connections between your content and what they already know, what they see and read in other places and learn in other courses. They want to share these thoughts and connect with each other. And, they can come up with things to discuss without anyone giving them prompts. In fact, very well-defined prompts might even stifle the conversation.

Through a familiar, social-media-like interface, students in a Yellowdig course community are invited to share their thoughts and contributions, which they tag with one of the course-relevant topics that the instructor creates. Students post whatever they want under an active topic as long as it’s relevant — it might be a question, a video recording, an image, a link, or they can even create a poll for their classmates. Posting to the community earns a student points, and if their posts generate more conversation, they earn more points. Additionally, commenting on a classmate’s posts can earn a student points. Instructors can award “accolades” for particularly insightful or helpful contributions. Students have a target point-earning goal each week with a built-in buffer. If they interact a little less this week, they can make up for it next week and recover points.

A number of faculty have been using Yellowdig through DELTA’s trial of the tool and have been pleased. One says, “It is a much more dynamic and satisfying platform than the traditional online forum, and in many ways the engagement has been richer than observed in face-to-face courses in the past.” Another notes, “I have found that the student-developed topics and discussions stay within the course focus and are more varied and deeper than any instructor-led techniques I’ve previously used.” A third writes, “Students ask meaningful questions, share experiences, resources, pictures and videos — all related to the course content.”

And, faculty members aren’t the only ones satisfied with this new tool. One student shared, “I love, love, love the use of the Yellowdig community in this class. This forum allowed us to share and communicate with the professor and other students in the class.” Another said, “Although this is an online course, the professor fostered discussion with her as well as our other classmates, which I found super interesting.”

Is Yellowdig Right for Your Course?

This tool may be right for you if your discussion goals include creating student-driven discussions where you are a member of the community (but not directing it). It also may be right if you want to encourage students to make connections with real-world experiences and knowledge from outside your course. As mentioned, you can award accolades and thus points for particularly insightful posts, but the vast majority of points are participation points. Yellowdig is not designed to assess learning, but rather to facilitate it.

Want to Learn More?

Please join DELTA and representatives from Yellowdig on May 11 at 11 a.m. for a thorough introduction to the theory and pedagogy behind the tool, a tour of the platform, and a discussion about best practices. Register for the workshop here.

More resources can be found through DELTA’s Overview of Yellowdig Knowledge Base Article.