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 best possible outcomes from 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 set up.
- 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.
- Integration instructions for your Learning Management System (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, we hiding the left-hand navigation link to Yellowdig for at least the first few weeks, as students must launch into Yellowdig via the graded assignment link (not the sidebar link) at least once to enable grade passback.
- 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 periodic reset deadline. There are a lot of reasons for these recommendations, many of which are covered in this video. For more specific practical guidance, consult these instructors' advice, this case study, and this Knowledge Base article.
- 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 do not have weekly prompts, but then find that you think students would benefit from a little more structure, it's possible to build that structure on the fly. In fact, it would be quite easy to revert 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'll have more options later if you start with less structure now. Bonus: Not setting up something that is probably unnecessary is easier than setting up something unnecessary.
- Go to Settings → Point System. Then configure points.
- Turn on points and go through the steps of the Point Wizard in order. We strongly recommend following all of the Point Wizard's recommendations. A detailed guide to the Point Wizard is available here.
- We recommend setting the Rollover Date to Friday at 9:00pm to ensure that students spread participation out more throughout the week. At the very least, avoid Sunday deadlines. Our data suggest that Sunday deadlines result in the most procrastination and lowest participation.
- Create topics that align with your syllabus topics, but do not refer to them by weeks or modules. 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, Emotion AI, 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 always post and comment more to reach the periodic max.
- 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, 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 Learning Management System course. That percentage is multiplied by the number of course points allocated to the Yellowdig assignment in your LMS. A student's Yellowdig grade is equal to their current point total divided by the number of points you've prescribed for them at this point in the course. In other words, a student's Yellowdig grade is a measure of what they are currently on pace to get by the end of the Community. It is important that both you and your students understand that Yellowdig grades fall backward as each new week starts and the points needed to be on pace for the new week are added into the denominator. For more on the grading system, we recommend these student- and instructor-facing videos as well as this article.
- 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 or make yourself the center of it. We recommend earning the same number of points that you ask students to earn and model the behaviors you want to see. 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 pedagogical questions or worries you might have.