What follows is a no nonsense, step-by-step guide to setting up a course in Yellowdig. If you follow the steps below, you will save yourself time, reduce the number of student emails in your inbox, likely improve your teaching evaluations, and start loving the conversations your students have.
Why abandon discussions for a community?
Yellowdig was designed to support active, student-driven communities where students converse freely, share knowledge, and become intrinsically motivated to learn from one another. Yellowdig's distinctive point system incentivizes sustained conversations and high-quality contributions without the need for prompts, manual grading, or other explicit forms of quality assurance.
We've collected and analyzed data from millions of student posts and comments. We have partnered with universities on data-driven studies, hosted guest webinars with university partners, produced numerous case studies in collaboration with instructors, and conducted long-form interviews with instructors. We have employed natural language processing, network analysis, linear regression, hierarchical linear modeling, and other techniques to analyze our data. We also have two PhDs and one JD on the team, all with university teaching experience. It's safe to say that we've rigorously studied how to develop strong student conversations and engagement from many different angles.
While our recommendations might not conform to the status quo, we urge you to trust our evidence-based recommendations. Indeed, you're far more likely to have underwhelming outcomes akin to classic "discussions" if you ignore our best practices. Our quantitative data, along with our conversations with instructors, clearly show that following our best practices is the safest and surest road to success. If you use Yellowdig the way it was meant to be used, you're almost guaranteed to drive successful course-relevant conversations. If you take your typical learning management system discussion pedagogy and import it into Yellowdig without changing anything, all bets are off and "your mileage may vary." We say this not to disparage any particular pedagogy, but to try to ensure that you and your students are getting the most possible from using our carefully calibrated technology. To draw a parallel, it doesn't make sense to use a Ferrari without shifting it out of first gear. We wouldn't be saying all this if we weren't extremely confident that following our recommendations will increase everyone's satisfaction and improve educational outcomes. After all, most of the Client Success team got into education and (eventually) ed tech because we care about learning and having a big impact on the world through students (We'd also have nothing to gain in spending our time writing best practices if we didn't think they would improve your outcomes!)
How to design your course with Yellowdig
- Create your Community from within your learning management system (LMS) using one (and only one) graded assignment link. Do not create separate assignment links for each week or module. Yellowdig is one Community for your course. You might think that separate assignments and links for each will be easier for your students, but it is more work for you and more confusing to students. Having multiple links to your Yellowdig Community actually leads students to make an incorrect assumption about how the point system works. That is, when they click into Yellowdig from multiple links they think that their points are earned in "buckets" that they fill up with points for each assignment/link. In fact, all points in Yellowdig fill up one large "bucket" which accumulates until they reach the total point goal. Bonus: This is really easy for you to setup.
- If you feel that you need reminders in each module to help students remember to participate in the Community, create standard web links in the modules that take students back to the one Yellowdig assignment link to launch it. This linking does make it so that students will have to make one extra click, which is typically not a preferred user experience, but that extra click helps clarify to students that their participation is all counted as a single graded assignment.
- Integration instructions for your LMS (along with answers to your frequently asked integration questions) are available here. Keep in mind that, depending on your institution's configurations, you may be able to skip the first few sections and proceed directly to the "Link to your Gradebook" section of the integration article. If your LMS isn't listed, we probably still support it. When in doubt, reach out to us or to your institution's Yellowdig administrator.
- If you are on Canvas, to use grade passback every student will need to click on a graded assignment and the links put in the left-hand nav cannot be graded links. For that reason we recommend not installing or hiding the left-nav links.
- Provide only one set of instructions with your one Yellowdig assignment. Copy the "assignment explanation" template from this article into your graded assignment. Our point system was not designed to enforce weekly prompt responses and deadlines or facilitate qualitative grading of assignments. These are not oversights. Those things reduce actual peer-to-peer interaction in your community, and we do not support them because of their negative impacts (which we've measured). Bonus: This is really easy for you to set up.
- We know some of you are saying, "But I really like my weekly prompts!" How about we make a deal? Try not using them right away. If you find that you need to add them, do it then. And if you do start using prompts make them optional and avoid using them on a regimented weekly cadence. Start with the assignment explanation suggested in the link above for step #2. If you feel like the discussion is sputtering too much, then perhaps dig out a trusty prompt. However, you should: 1) Keep telling your students that you want them to post their own content and questions; 2) present the prompt as optional, which makes it feel like a helping hand and not a straitjacket ("Respond to this if you are having trouble finding something you want to talk about"); and 3) post them at random times throughout the course without worrying about aligning prompts with the weekly maximum reset day. There are a lot of reasons for these recommendations, many of which are covered in this video. For more specific practical guidance, consult this instructor's advice, this case study, and this Knowledge Base article.
- If nothing else, think about it this way... If you build out a course with a lot of structure and then during the course you begin to think that the structure is limiting conversation, it would be very hard to remove those rules and the structure you had built into every aspect of the course. Alternatively, if you do not build the structure and have weekly prompts, but then find that you think students would benefit from a little more structure, it's possible to add that structure in on the fly. It would actually be easy to revert completely back to a prompt-based assignment: "I haven't been thrilled with the quality of the discussion so far this semester, so to earn your participation points this week for Yellowdig I want you each to respond to the following prompt." We don't think you will need to do this, but you have more options with a little less structure to start. Bonus: Not setting up something that is probably unnecessary is easier than setting up something unnecessary.
- Go to Settings --> Participation. Then configure points.
- Turn on points and go through the steps on the "Participation Basics" tab in order.
- Set the Weekly Participation Reset Deadline to Saturday at 4:00am. Students are less likely to procrastinate or be actively posting early Saturday morning, so they tend to spread participation out more throughout the week. If you don't want to do Saturday, at least avoid Sunday around midnight; our data show that Sunday deadlines result in the most procrastination and lowest participation.
- Pick a start and end date for point earning. (These need to match the day of the weekly reset deadline, so will need to be Saturday if the reset deadline is Saturday.)
- Set the Total Point Goal = # of active course weeks * 1000
- "Active course weeks" is the number of weeks between the course beginning and end date minus any weeks in which students might be on break or you don't want them to participate.
- Set the Weekly Maximum = 1200
- Click on the "Participation Rules" tab at the top and verify the point configuration. (Typically these default to the configuration below.) This configuration has been calibrated to produce balanced conversations and incentivize high-quality contributions. It also assumes that students are expected to earn at least 1000 points per week.
- Create topics that align with your syllabus topics, but do not refer to them by weeks or modules or require them for posting. We strongly encourage you to create thematic topics that pertain to the course content and to remind students they can use more than one topic tag for their posts. However, we strongly discourage you from naming them after course weeks, which encourages students to think about the topics as unrelated. In fact, the topics throughout a course on a specific subject are interconnected, and we want to allow students to explicitly draw connections between different parts of the course.
- Bad topics = Week 1, Week 5 Discussion, Week 8 - Othello
- Good topics = Collective Action Problems, Misuse of Data, Shakespearean Themes in Film
- Draw attention to the positive ways in which Yellowdig differs from LMS discussions.
- Yellowdig posts are not graded by the instructor. There is less waiting for feedback and less pressure. Students should write for their peers, and if they get good conversations going they will earn more points for less work. But if they don't earn points from peers, they can still always post and comment more to get their participation grade.
- The community will decide what is helpful. If you want to talk or ask questions about something, you can. And if other students have the same questions or interests, really good and valuable conversations will happen. This community is not about "checking the box" on an assignment; it is about everyone participating to help each other learn.
- Because students can earn their points for talking about topics across the weeks, there is never a time where there's nothing to talk about. The point system encourages students to initiate sustained back-and-forth conversations and to come in early in the week. It also disincentivizes procrastination which makes the experience better for everyone.
- Understand the grading system. The percentage shown as a student's grade is what is passed to your LMS. That percentage is multiplied by the number of course points for the Yellowdig assignment in your LMS. That grade percentage from Yellowdig is calculated based on how many points a student would need to be on pace to get to the total point goal for the semester. For example, a student in the second week of 10 week course with a goal of 10,000 points would need to have 2,000 points by the end of week 2 for their grade to be 100%. If the assignment in the LMS was worth 100 points toward the course grade and the student had 2,000 points at the end of week two their grade in the LMS would show them getting 100 points. This system automatically provides small, achievable goals on a regularly basis and students clearly see whether they are keeping up. It's just important that they know their grade can (and most likely will) fall backward as each new week starts. For more information see both the high-level and detailed guides to grade calculation and passback.
- Have fun! It may take a few weeks for the community to form and for you to get comfortable, but once you and your students are acclimated to Yellowdig and people start building some real relationships, you'll be surprised by the liveliness of the conversations and the quality of students' contributions. Be a part of the community but try not to micromanage and make yourself the center of it. We recommend earning the same number of points that you ask students to. Enjoy taking part in the valuable Community you've created!
As time allows, peruse our pedagogical and technological resources. We have a robust Knowledge Base (including a guide to best practices), detailed video tutorials for instructors and students, an active blog, an instructor podcast series, a diverse set of case studies covering different use cases, and an Instructor User Community inside the platform. You are also welcome to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or worries you might have.