If you are a long-time Yellowdig user, the grading system in Yellowdig Engage might initially take you by surprise. First, although everyone will still collect points inside Yellowdig, participation grades are now displayed as percentages. This percentage is passed directly to your Learning Management System (e.g., Canvas, Blackboard). Second, grades are recalculated after each week based on the points needed to get to the total goal. This has two important implications: 1) Student grades will decrease at the beginning of each week; 2) If students keep up with their required participation, they will reach a 100% participation grade at the end of each week. What's going on here?
Here's the quick and dirty version...
On the Engage system, if a student reaches the weekly max at the end of each week, their grade (in Yellowdig and in their LMS) will always be 100% at the end of each week, regardless of whether it is early or late in the course. But because this new system recalculates based on the number of elapsed weeks, students' grades will go down at the start of each week. We have already seen that instructors and students tend to like this new system more, but instructors should warn students that their grade will temporarily dip each week.
Here's how the grade calculations differ:
$$ \textbf{Yellowdig Classic grade} = \frac{\text{student's current point total}}{\text{100% participation goal}} $$
$$ \textbf{Yellowdig Engage grade} = \frac{\text{student's current point total}}{(\frac{\text{100% participation goal}}{\text{number of weeks in course}}) \times \text{number of weeks elapsed}} $$
Why we changed the way grades are displayed
Under the old system in Yellowdig Classic, students' grades were calculated as a proportion of the 100% participation goal, or the number of points students must earn to get a grade of 100% at the end of the course:
$$ \textbf{Yellowdig Classic grade} = \frac{\text{student's current point total}}{\text{100% participation goal}} $$
And Yellowdig grades were passed back to a student's LMS as a proportion multiplied by the points allotted to Yellowdig in the LMS:
When we set up this system, it seemed pretty straightforward. Grades were a simple proportion of the number of points accrued to date over the number of points needed to get an "A" by the end of the course. Easy, right?
Not really. Unlike traditional LMS assignments, Yellowdig is a single community for your course and is intended to be a single semester-long project. The 100% participation goal is a goal for the full term, and weekly maximums ensure regular re-engagement so that students participate throughout the term, which helps encourage sustained conversations. In Communities with weekly maximums, it was generally impossible for students to reach 100% until they were well into the course. Many students and professors expected that, if they reached the weekly max in week 1, their current grade would be 100%. After all, they did everything they could do for the week. But that's not what students saw in their LMS. If, for example, the weekly max was 10 points and the 100% participation goal was 100 points, a student's Yellowdig grade could only be as high as 10% after that first week. This gave students the impression that they were failing even if they had earned every point they possibly could to that point in the course. Obviously, no one wants to feel like they're failing when they are doing as well as they can! A change was clearly needed.
How we changed the calculations in Yellowdig Engage
Our new formula is designed to solve the main problem with the old system: that students appeared to be failing even when they were on track to ace Yellowdig. The notion of being on track is central to our redesign. On the new system, a student has a Yellowdig grade of 100% if they are currently on track to complete their Yellowdig requirement for the entire course. We now calculate Yellowdig grades as follows:
$$ \textbf{Yellowdig Engage grade} = \frac{\text{student's current point total}}{(\frac{\text{100% participation goal}}{\text{number of weeks in course}}) \times \text{number of weeks elapsed}} $$
And because we now display participation grades as percentages, it is also clearer that the Yellowdig grade which appears in a student's LMS gradebook is that student's participation grade out of the points allotted to Yellowdig in the LMS:
The new formula, while seemingly more complex, greatly simplifies matters for students. On the new system, if a student always reaches the weekly point max, they will always have a Yellowdig grade of 100% by the end of the week and will be on pace for full credit at the end of the semester. Therefore, the message for students is simple: get your grade up to 100% by the end of each week.
In addition, if a student falls behind, they will know exactly how far behind they are by the end of the week. If a student's grade is 90% by the end of the week, this means that, on their current pace, they are on track to get a grade of 90% at the end of the course. This signals to the student that, if they want a higher grade by the end of the course, they need to pick up the pace and become more active on Yellowdig.* On the old system, however, determining one's progress toward the 100% participation goal required some arithmetic.
*Note: to allow students who have fallen behind to catch up, the instructor must create a point buffer, which we highly recommend. More on that below.
Three concrete examples
To illustrate these changes, let's consider how one student's Yellowdig activity would be graded under three different systems: the Classic system, the Engage system without a buffer, and the Engage system with a buffer. Imagine that a student (let's call her "Jane") is a member of a 10-week-long Yellowdig Community. In weeks 1 and 2, she reaches the weekly point max by the end of each week. In week 3, she experiences TBI-related migraines and, as a result, earns only half of the weekly point max. In weeks 4-10, she reaches the weekly point max, participates beyond her requirements, and becomes one of the top contributors to the Community.
Yellowdig Classic (without buffer)
Consider Jane's experience under the Classic system. Let's assume that the weekly max is 1,000, that the 100% participation goal is 10,000, and that 50 out of 150 points have been allotted to Yellowdig in Jane's LMS. At the end of week 1, Jane has a grade of 10%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 1} = \frac{1000}{10000} = 10\% $$
Her LMS grade for Yellowdig is now 5 out of 50 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, end of week 1} = 10\% \times 50 = 5 $$
In other words, it looks like Jane is failing her Yellowdig assignment even though she has satisfied her Yellowdig requirements for the week. In her LMS, it might even look like she is failing the entire course!
At the end of week 2, Jane has a Yellowdig grade of 20% and an LMS grade of 10 points. At the end of week 3—the week in which Jane is incapacitated by migraines—Jane has a Yellowdig grade of 25%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 3} = \frac{1000 + 1000 + 500}{10000} = 25\% $$
And Jane has an LMS grade of 12.5 out of 50 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, end of week 3} = 25\% \times 50 = 12.5 $$
Finally, at the end of the course, Jane has a Yellowdig grade of 95%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 10} = \frac{1000 + 1000 + 500 + 1000(7)}{10000} = 95\% $$
And Jane has an LMS grade of 47.5 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, end of week 10} = 95\% \times 50 = 47.5 $$
There are several undesirable consequences of this system. First, it appears as if Jane is failing her Yellowdig assignment up until week 7 even though she earned almost as many points as she could have possibly earned. Second, once she fell behind in week 3, it was impossible for her to earn a Yellowdig grade of 100% even though she was one of the top contributors. Third, Jane would have to do arithmetic to determine what her final grade would be on her current pace prior to week 10.
Yellowdig Engage (without buffer)
Now consider Jane's experience under the Engage system. Let's assume, once again, that the weekly max is 1,000, that the 100% participation goal is 10,000, and that 50 out of 150 points have been allotted to Yellowdig in Jane's LMS. At the end of week 1, Jane has a grade of 100%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 1} = \frac{1000}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 1} = 100\% $$
Her LMS grade for Yellowdig is now 50 out of 50 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, end of week 1} = 100\% \times 50 = 50 $$
Under the Engage system, it no longer looks like she is failing her Yellowdig participation. Since she has completed her required work for the week, she has a grade of 100% thus far in Yellowdig, and as a result, it is possible for her to have a grade of 100% thus far for the entire course. Importantly, her LMS is no longer sending her misleading warning messages.
At the beginning of week 2, Jane's grade does take a temporary dip. That's because she has not yet completed her required work for week 2. Hence, Jane has a grade of 50%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, beginning of week 2} = \frac{1000 + 0}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 2} = 50\% $$
And her LMS grade for Yellowdig is currently 25 out of 50 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, beginning of week 2} = 50\% \times 50 = 50 $$
This temporary dip is a cue to Jane that she still needs to complete her required work for week 2. Once she accomplishes this, her grade will be restored to 100%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 2} = \frac{1000 + 1000}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 2} = 100\% $$
This rebound effect will persist throughout the course, though the closer Jane gets her total points to the 100% participation goal (i.e., later in the semester), the smaller the drop in her grade will be.
At the end of week 3—the week in which Jane is incapacitated by migraines—Jane's grade will be less than 100%. At the same time, Jane's illness won't appear to have a devastating effect on her grade. Rather, Jane's grade will accurately reflect what her final grade will be if she continues accruing points at her current pace:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 3} = \frac{1000 + 1000 + 500}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 3} = 83.3\% $$
Jane's Yellowdig grade is an indication that, if she continues to earn an average of 2,500 points per 3 week period (or ~833 points per week), her final Yellowdig grade will be 83.3%. If Jane wants to receive a higher final grade than 83.3%, she will need to increase the average number of points she earns per week.
Finally, at the end of the course, Jane has a Yellowdig grade of 95%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 10} = \frac{1000 + 1000 + 500 + 1000(7)}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 10} = 95\% $$
And Jane has an LMS grade of 47.5 out of 50 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, end of week 10} = 95\% \times 50 = 47.5 $$
This system significantly improves upon the old system because it no longer appears as if Jane is failing her Yellowdig assignment up until week 6. On the contrary, her grade is an accurate projection of her final grade given her current rate of progress. Because of this, Jane no longer has to do arithmetic to determine her rate of progress toward the 100% participation goal. However, once Jane fell behind in week 3, it was impossible for her to earn a Yellowdig grade of 100% even though she was one of the top contributors in every other week. This is why we recommend using a point buffer of approximately 20%.
Yellowdig Engage (with buffer)
A point buffer is a cushion that is factored into the weekly point max. The point buffer allows students to earn less than the weekly max in certain weeks and still receive a grade of 100% at the end of the course. Hence, if a student falls ill, experiences the loss of a family member, etc., that student will not be unduly punished. While it is possible in Yellowdig Engage to grant students points on an ad hoc basis, this can become difficult to manage, especially for large online courses. Instructors who want to spend less time negotiating changes to grades or listening to excuses about why people couldn't participate should implement a point buffer.
Let's consider Jane's experience under the Engage system with a point buffer. Assume, once again, that the 100% participation goal is 10,000 and that 50 out of 150 points have been allotted to Yellowdig in Jane's LMS. Now let us assume that the instructor has instituted a 20% point buffer. Hence, the weekly point max is now 1,200 points (1000 + 20% * 1000). At the end of week 1, Jane reaches the weekly point max and is on pace to earn 120% of the 100% participation target at the end of the course. Since LTI standards dictate that we cannot send back grades in excess of 100%, her grade is rounded down to 100%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 1} = \frac{1200}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 1} \approx 100\% $$
And her LMS grade is 50 out of 50 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, end of week 1} = 100\% \times 50 = 50 $$
Jane's Yellowdig grade signals to her that, on her current pace, she is on track to meet or exceed the 100% participation goal.
At the beginning of week 2, Jane's grade does take a temporary dip (though this dip is smaller than the dip Jane experiences under the non-buffer Engage system). That's because she has not yet completed her required work for week 2. Hence, Jane has a grade of 60%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, beginning of week 2} = \frac{1200 + 0}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 2} = 60\% $$
And her LMS grade for Yellowdig is currently 30 out of 50 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, beginning of week 2} = 60\% \times 50 = 30 $$
As in the last example, this temporary decline is a cue to Jane that she needs more points this week to get back on track to reach the 100% participation goal. This rebound effect will persist, as in the above example, until she reaches the 100% participation goal, at which point her grade will never again fall below 100%. (With a 20% buffer in a 10 week course, a student could reach the total point goal in 8 weeks). While it is not strictly necessary for Jane to reach the weekly max, she may do so because she is having fun and wants to be a little bit ahead in case she becomes ill or has a busy week later in the semester:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 2} = \frac{1200 + 1200}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 2} \approx 100\% $$
At the end of week 3—the week in which Jane is incapacitated by migraines and earns only half of the weekly point max—Jane's grade will be exactly 100%:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 3} = \frac{1200 + 1200 + 600}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 3} = 100\% $$
That's because a 20% point buffer was built into the weekly max. Jane's Yellowdig grade immediately signals to her that her illness did not significantly derail her progress and that she is still on track to earn a perfect Yellowdig grade. This also keeps Jane from emailing her instructor and requesting ad hoc point adjustments.
Jane goes on to continue participating actively, getting the weekly maximum each week. She ends up with 11,400 points, which is more than enough to net her a 100% participation grade from Yellowdig:
$$ \textbf{Jane's YD grade, end of week 10} = \frac{1200 + 1200 + 600 + 1200(7)}{(\frac{10000}{10}) \times 10} \approx 100\% $$
And Jane has an LMS grade of 50 points:
$$ \textbf{Jane's LMS grade, end of week 10} = 100\% \times 50 = 50 $$
This system improves upon both the Classic system and the non-buffer Engage system. In both this system and the non-buffer Engage system, it does not appear as if Jane is failing her Yellowdig assignment up until week 6. On the contrary, her grade is an accurate projection of her final grade given her current rate of progress, and Jane no longer has to do arithmetic to determine her rate of progress toward the 100% participation goal. But unlike in the non-buffer system, Jane can earn a Yellowdig grade of 100% even if she falls ill and, as a result, cannot quite reach the weekly point max during that week. In addition to providing additional flexibility, instituting a point buffer is a stress-free way to accommodate students with disabilities, with illnesses, and with unexpected family situations. For these reasons, we strongly recommend instituting a point buffer. There are many upsides (especially for students with disabilities) and virtually no downsides.
Grade calculation cheat sheet
The examples above are summarized below. For the calculations underlying these scores, please consult the examples and formulae above. If the YD grade is 100%*, Jane earned more points than necessary to have a participation grade of 100%; if the YD grade is 100%, Jane earned the exact number of points necessary to have a participation grade of 100%.
Pay particularly close attention to...
- how slowly Jane's grade increases in Classic versus Engage.
- how quickly Jane gets back on track during week 3 in Engage (with buffer) versus Engage (without buffer).
- how much better Engage (with buffer) reflects the extent to which Jane contributed to her Community.
Classic | Engage (without buffer) | Engage (with buffer) | ||||
100% Participation Goal | 10,000 points | 10,000 points | 10,000 points | |||
Weekly Max | 1,000 points | 1,000 points | 1,200 points | |||
Course Length | 10 weeks | 10 weeks | 10 weeks | |||
Points Allocated to LMS | 50 points | 50 points | 50 points | |||
YD Grade | LMS Grade | YD Grade | LMS Grade | YD Grade | LMS Grade | |
Start, Week 1 | 0% | 0 points | 0% | 0 points | 0% | 0 points |
End, Week 1 | 10% | 5 points | 100% | 50 points | 100%* | 50 points |
Start, Week 2 | 10% | 5 points | 50% | 25 points | 60% | 30 points |
End, Week 2 | 20% | 10 points | 100% | 50 points | 100%* | 50 points |
Start, Week 3 | 20% | 10 points | 66.7% | 33.3 points | 80% | 40 points |
End, Week 3 | 25% | 12.5 points | 83.3% | 41.7 points | 100% | 50 points |
. . . . . | ||||||
End, Week 10 | 95% | 47.5 points | 95% | 47.5 points | 100%* | 50 points |