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A Q & A on Shifting from Prompts to Topics

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

I worked as an instructor teaching online communication classes for more than a decade and can remember designing courses and putting in hours to come up with the “right” discussion question(s) each week that tied to weekly outcomes. I was creative and asked students to connect course ideas to their own personal examples. Through the years, I changed from requiring students to include APA citations to including images, links, videos, and other materials. Focused on coming up with creative and engaging prompts, I would change these as needed over the course of the class. Yet, students were still posting responses at the deadline, and there was little in the way of real conversation happening. When a week was over, we were done talking about the course question for the week and moved on to a new topic, just at the time that students were starting to make connections. Then along came Yellowdig. With it, our wonderful Instructional Design team at my institution and our partners at Yellowdig told those of us who were using it, “You don’t need to include prompts.” What? How? Is this possible? Once I did, I quickly saw the engagement increase in the class, and the conversations became lively and engaging. We were making greater connections in our class and covering more of the course content.

This article is intended to help you discover, as I did, how you can move away from prompts and provides answers to some common questions.

Q: How will learners know what to talk about?

A: When starting a Yellowdig community as a part of your course, it’s easy to let learners know that Yellowdig is different from a discussion board. As your course starts, let your learners know that in Yellowdig they have agency to start their own conversations, ask and answer peers' course questions, and share their own experiences and observations, taking abstract course concepts and finding connections to make course concepts relevant to their lives. In Yellowdig, an instructor can create Yellowdig Topics based on the course concepts to guide these conversations in the community.

Q: I prefer the prompted route - why doesn’t Yellowdig recommend this?

A: When requiring prompted discussions, instructors typically assign only one or two ideas from the weekly content for learners to address. In Yellowdig when allowing learners to lead conversations about course content, there will be a variety of ideas to explore both widely and deeply. Yellowdig creates the opportunity to cover more information with more diverse and robust conversations and doesn’t limit conversations to a single week. Rather than each learner posting a response to the same question, learners have the opportunity to explore a variety of ideas through longer conversations.

Additional technical information: It is important to note that Yellowdig was designed with the expectation that learners would mostly be the ones starting conversations. The design of the feed algorithm, the point rewards, and the hierarchy of comments all are based on students creating posts. Therefore, we very strongly recommend against having students respond to assignments by commenting on posts you have created. If you are going to do this, instead, create a Yellowdig Topic for the assignment and then ask your students to use that topic when creating their own posts.

Q: How does Yellowdig take into account the quality of posts?

A: The gameful learning point system is designed to motivate learners to create quality posts and generate conversations as learners are rewarded with additional points from peers for valuable contributions to the community. Instructors and facilitators still have the ability to easily flag, review, edit, and/or remove any posts and comments that are inappropriate. Instructors can also easily call attention to valuable conversations by commenting or through the use of accolades.

Q: My discussion questions have always been tied to outcomes. How is this measured in Yellowdig?

A: Yellowdig allows the instructor or course designer to shape conversations to Yellowdig Topics based on course concepts, ensuring that learners are having conversations related to the learning outcomes. Yellowdig provides instructors with a multitude of data and reports related to learner interaction in the community, as well as learner interaction on Topics. You can view the percentage of Topics tagged and search by Topics. This data can be used as a formative assessment, providing a window into their learners’ interactions so instructors can provide ongoing feedback. Yellowdig Topics also allow instructors to see how their learners are making connections between multiple concepts as the term goes on.

Q: Can I use Yellowdig for a summative assessment?

A: We recommend creating an assignment outside of Yellowdig for your summative assessments. Yellowdig was designed to encourage conversations about the course topics and provides excellent formative assessment information. Rather than telling learners what to talk about, Yellowdig gives them the space and opportunity to talk about readings, videos, theories, etc. that they want to explore further or have questions about. This gives critical insights on what learners are understanding and helps instructors to guide the learning accordingly.

Q: Am I able to redirect Yellowdig conversations?

A: Instructors can leverage an off-base conversation as a learning opportunity by adding a comment to guide learners toward the correct concepts and extend that conversation. If necessary, instructors and facilitators have the ability to add or remove points and flag posts. As with any classroom management, instructors and facilitators can contact learners to provide guidance and support the students.

Q: I am very intentional about creating safe spaces where my learners can discuss the course material and am concerned about inclusivity. How does Yellowdig help?

A: By its gameful and social nature, Yellowdig generally creates a safe space for learners and rewards them for providing thoughtful contributions to the community. When following Yellowdig’s best practices, poor behaviors rarely occur as these behaviors are not rewarded. In addition, learners have the ability to post anonymously to the community (while the instructor can still see who they are) to provide a feeling of safety to learners who might otherwise feel uncomfortable sharing their questions, experiences, and thoughts. Yellowdig is designed to encourage engagement and deeper thinking of learners. It gives learners a safe space to think about what they are learning and make connections to the material. Each learner has the opportunity to participate equally in the community.

Q: Do you have any examples of learner led posts that you could share to help me better envision how conversations happen about course topics without a prompt?

A: Sure! Let’s look at three posts from three different learners that were posted in a Public Speaking class which included information about ethos, logos, and pathos and how they are included within a speech. Notice how each learner presented a unique example and perspective on the material.

We are happy to consult with you on ways to create an engaged Yellowdig community.

To work with a Success Manager, please email


About the Author, Janeen Galligan:

Janeen Galligan, Masters of Applied Communication. After 20+ years, Janeen switched from teaching a variety of Communication and Business classes in multiple higher education institutions to working for an educational technology company. In her role as a Success Manager Janeen is fortunate to support instructors who use Yellowdig and provide their learners an opportunity to grow and connect with one another.

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