Yellowdig: Rethinking Online Discussions

Students talking around a table

Discussion activities are an important element of learning. They help build a community and foster student engagement. In addition, interactions between students promote critical thinking and a deeper understanding of course material. Moreover, instructors can establish a presence to create a welcoming atmosphere that increases student success. At the same time, traditional forms of online discussion can sometimes be difficult to leverage into effective learning activities. Yellowdig, a new tool introduced during Summer 2021 at FIU Online, will have students and instructors alike rethinking online discussions.

What’s Yellowdig?

Yellowdig is an online discussion platform that leverages social media-inspired design. It utilizes a behavior incentivized point system to promote student engagement in discussion. The idea behind Yellowdig’s structure is to have students drive the discussion- no prompts required. It accomplishes this by awarding points to students for the posts they share. Meanwhile, reactions and replies generate points, which rewards students who create dynamic content that generates great conversation.

Yellowdig is available free to all students for Summer 2021 courses. Beginning in Fall 2021, students will pay $9.95 per course for use of the platform. The tool is already installed in all Canvas shells, and is enabled as an external LTI within a Canvas assignment. Your Yellowdig community will already be configured with the recommended best practices to get the most out of discussions. However, you can adjust any setting to your preference.

The Yellowdig Point System

Yellowdig’s point system is what drives the pedagogy of their discussion. Any comment or post by a student earns points- this promotes content creation. But students are incentivized to create thoughtful content by the points they can potentially generate from replies and reactions. This assures higher quality discussions as students strive to maximize their work and find interesting things to write about. 

A set amount of points can be attained each week. Students won’t be able to accumulate all their points at once. They have to be regular contributors to discussions each week to get a “good grade” by semester’s end. Yellowdig translates the final grade to Canvas from the points attained over the semester.   

There’s a lot of flexibility to this system. Students have a choice in how they earn points, and when they participate. This flexibility is a feature, as it improves student motivation and overall discussion quality. Students are more likely to contribute when it is not compulsory, and when they actually have an interest in what they have to say. Similarly, conversations will also ebb and flow naturally as a consequence. As a result, repetitive comments will be minimized, while exciting discussions can continue for as long as they are worthwhile to the community.  

Rethinking Online Discussions

While the discussions are intended to be student-driven, the instructor still has a role to play.  It is your course.   As the instructor, you have options to help you manage the community and guide discussions.  For example, in addition to setting up the points system to begin with, you can also highlight and award additional points to posts that you want the community to notice.  Creating topic tags is a good way to help students focus on particular content.  And of course, you can join the discussion and comment as well. Here are some other tips from Yellowdig to creating an ideal community.

  1. Don’t Use Weekly Prompts
  2. Be a Model Citizen
  3. Use Topic Tags
  4. Encourage Students
  5. Avoid Micromanaging

A Little More Conversation, Please

Yellowdig offers a multitude of resources to help instructors manage their community, including a handy Cheat Sheet of proven practices. The Instructor Certification Course is a short comprehensive self-paced learning module that will quickly get an instructor ready. You can also view the recording of FIU Online’s Yellowdig- Faculty Training and visit the FIU Canvas Yellowdig Support Page for more information. Your FIU Online instructional designer can provide additional guidance during a consultation meeting.

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Charles Roig is an instructional designer with the Learning Design Innovation team at FIU Online. His work includes researching new tools and collaborating with faculty to foster engagement in online learning.

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