Yellowdig's automatic grade passback feature is one thing that makes Yellowdig truly unique and exceptionally powerful in driving active and high-quality discussions. It is ironic, then, that one of the most common reservations in using Yellowdig comes from instructors and professors who want to try to use Yellowdig's automatic passback system to grade their students' activity in Yellowdig.
We don't recommend "grading" with Yellowdig.
Wait. Isn't it an automatic grading system?
Yes and no.
The Yellowdig point system does pass a grade to your LMS in the form of a student's proportion of the total points they've gotten in comparison to the goal for the course. This proportion tells your LMS gradebook how much a student participated in the Yellowdig platform in comparison to your expectations as the instructor (i.e., in comparison to their point goal). And if a student does not meet that goal, they will get a proportion of course points that reflects how close they were to achieving the goal. In the traditional sense of the word, this is a grade that reflects student effort. So, yes, if grading is enabled, then Yellowdig's point system is an automatic grading system.
However, Yellowdig's point system was not designed to be an assessment of the quality of students' work. It does not tell you what a student knows or has learned—though Yellowdig activities do positively correlate with grades. Nevertheless, the way Yellowdig promotes learning outcomes is different from the way graded exams promote learning outcomes. Graded exams assess student knowledge; Yellowdig does not.
What is the purpose of a grading system that doesn't assess students?
To answer this question, we would ask a few questions of my own:
1. What is the purpose of using a discussion platform?
Is it to create better a better learning community? To build a stronger sense of connection, community, and support between your students, you, and content relevant to your learning community? To provide your students a space where they can exchange ideas and information to improve their learning?
Or is the purpose of a discussion platform to assess your student's knowledge?
We would argue that it is the former. There are a lot of other, better ways of assessing individual student knowledge (e.g., tests, quizzes, paper writing). There are not a lot of other, better ways of creating an active community space where students can enjoy the benefits of interacting and engaging with each other and content that is important to their learning experience.
Yellowdig's point system is a gamification system—a system that uses game elements to facilitate or incentivize user interaction. Yellowdig was designed to use a certain amount of course credit, set by an instructor, as a motivator to get students to sign in to the platform and participate in Yellowdig. By rewarding activity that fosters useful conversations, the points drive students to behave in ways that create dynamic, interesting, and engaging communities. These communities, and the conversations that take place in them, provide a lot of positive benefits for learners and instructors.
The focus of the points and how you decide to reward them should push as many students as possible toward achieving 100% of the goal. Unlike a traditional assessment—which is actually worthless as an assessment if every student gets 100%—the points in Yellowdig should try to motivate every student to meet and then exceed the goal.
2. What is the purpose of attendance and participation grades?
Few instructors evaluate students solely on the basis of papers and exams. Often, instructors evaluate students partly on the basis of attendance and participation. Crucially, attendance and participation grades tend to be effort-based evaluations, not performance-based evaluations. If students speak up in class and listen actively to their classmates, they are likely to get an "A" in participation. And if students show up every day, they will get an "A" in attendance.
Rewarding students for Yellowdig activity is just like rewarding students for attendance and participation. If students regularly log in to the board, that's a form of attendance. And if students regularly create new Pins, comment on peers' Pins, upvote Pins, and so on, those are all forms of participation. Additionally, just as particularly insightful comments are acknowledged and rewarded in classroom settings, insightful Yellowdig Pins and Comments are acknowledged and rewarded through instructor Badges and student Comments.
Yellowdig points serve the same pedagogical functions as attendance and participation points: they ensure student engagement, incentivize student interaction, and promote the exchange of ideas. But unlike standard measures of attendance and participation, Yellowdig participation is easily and precisely quantifiable. Taking attendance drains valuable class time, and precisely quantifying in-class participation requires judicious note-taking or exceptional memory. On the other hand, Yellowdig gives instructors precise statistics on how students are engaging and the degree to which students are engaging. Yellowdig maintains the pedagogical advantages of attendance and participation grades without sacrificing evaluative rigor and objectivity.
If You Need to Use Yellowdig's Grading System as More of An Assessment
Needless to say, we strongly encourage you to use Yellowdig in the spirit intended. That said, if your use case requires more of a qualitative grading system, or more of a traditional assessment where you want to have a manually graded element to the course, there are a few things you should know or think about:
1. One recommendation is to leave the passback enabled and allow students to earn some of their participation points for "free form" posting. Then have a second gradebook column that is not synced for the manually graded assignments. Create posts that are pinned to the top which would outline the weekly posts that students respond to for grading. Then manually enter the grades for those responses into a second Yellowdig column.
2. When grade passback is enabled and grades are syncing to your LMS gradebook, Yellowdig sends grades every 3 hours and will overwrite whatever is in the Yellowdig column of your LMS gradebook.
- This means that if you are doing some kind of manual grading, you should not plan to manually edit the grades in the LMS gradebook column that is syncing from Yellowdig. The passback is one-way, from Yellowdig to your LMS gradebook. Changes made in your LMS gradebook will not influence anything you or your students see in Yellowdig.
- You can stop the grade passback under Basic Settings. However, do note that if you enable the passback, the system will start syncing again and overwrite any existing data in the linked gradebook columns.
3. As a method of taking some advantage of the metrics from Yellowdig for creating grades, you could also export various Yellowdig metrics from the admin tab as a CSV (see the bottom of this Knowledge Base article). For example, you could export the total number of Pins and Comments without having the points enabled. You could then import the CSV, after editing grades, into most LMS systems.
- There may be some aligning and arrangement of the CSV that will be required to match it to your LMS gradebook, but by manually altering the grades in the CSV and then importing them into a column in your LMS that is not synced to Yellowdig, you might be able to save time over manually grading and entering everything from scratch. Depending on how you plan to use the system, this may be a good compromise between our fully automated point system and doing it completely manually.
4. If you are not going to give some amount of points in your LMS gradebook to Yellowdig's automatic grading system but you are going to do some kind of manual grading, we recommend shutting off the point system (in Basic Settings). This will ensure that your students do not earn or see points in Yellowdig that are not going to be reflected in your LMS gradebook or their course grade.