This list of tips are the things that our Learning and Academic Support Manager, Brian, thinks are the most important things you should do if you want to get your students talking:
1) Definitely use all of the point categories.
A lot of people make a huge mistake and turn off points for Upvotes and for getting Comments on Posts because they are worried about a "popularity contest." But those points actually give an incentive to come to Yellowdig to post early and to post high-quality posts. These things start and sustain a vibrant discussion.
2) Use points and grade passback to the LMS, and don't grade student posts.
When you grade them, students cater their posts to what you want, not what the other students will read and talk about. Instead, spend your normal grading time discussing course content with students and adding to what they learn as part of the discussion.
3) Do not use weekly assignments that make conversations focus on a single course topic.
Allowing conversations to cover all of the class topics and to continue from week-to-week allows active conversations to keep going as long as they are interesting and to change organically over time... which is what real conversations do!
4) Always ask yourself if you think you'll want to read the responses to any assignments you want to post, and rewrite them if the responses won't be diverse and interesting.
You need students to read the posted content to have a discussion about it, so prompts need to produce interesting content to read and discuss. It might sound counter-intuitive, but to promote a real discussion, it is more important that students read Posts and Comments than create Posts and Comments. They'll want to post after they read interesting, thought-provoking things.
5) Definitely set a weekly point max to get people into the discussion on a more regular basis.
The weekly max prevents a student from coming in at the very end of the class and earning all their points, and it gets more students into the board on a regular basis.
6) Do not set the weekly max rollover deadline on Sunday night.
Set the rollover for early mornings toward the end of the work week—Friday night or early Saturday morning—or just before your last class of the week. With a Sunday night deadline, most students wait until Sunday night to post, and there's no time for a real discussion. When the deadline is during the week, students tend to space out their posting, which leads to a more natural, back-and-forth discussion.
7) Definitely turn on the "nudge" notifications.
Notifications work; they only go to students that need them; they help the students that most need the help; and they only go out once per week so students won't get annoyed by them. There's almost no risk and a lot of potential reward.