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Improving Course Success and Retention with Yellowdig

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Think back to when the world was in the early stages of COVID-19— it was predicted that the virus would have such massive impact. Universities were caught totally unprepared. Instead of having a plan in place, they were forced to scramble and cobble together different programs overnight to try and keep class in session. Change was not gradual, and this watershed moment should be embraced by institutions who want to teach the learners of the future.

Online learning solutions are not just a solution to the COVID crisis, they are the engines that will power education going forward. The universities that adopt hybrid models today will be the winners of the future. The schools that go back to brick and mortar will crumble over time because they’ll be relying on an outdated approach that doesn’t meet the needs of modern students.

Yellowdig can be the solution universities want to take them into the future. Arizona State University saw an opportunity to use Yellowdig as early as 2016, and there have been sweeping benefits ever since.

Yellowdig and Arizona State University collaborated on a report to explore the relationship between Yellowdig participation and course outcomes (primarily grades and withdrawals) by analyzing over 20,737 student grades.

Specifically, they wanted to answer 3 questions:

  1. Is greater participation in Yellowdig communities associated with better grade outcomes and improved course retention?

  2. Are there specific ways of interacting in Yellowdig communities that improve grades or retention?

  3. Are there community settings or properties that propel student achievement and can inform our best practices and recommendations for future implementations?

They started to collect data on the behaviors of communities in the form of the following metrics:

Conversation Ratio - the number of comments a student made per pin that they posted. The higher the conversation ratio, the more a student engages with others rather than just creating new content.

The Proportion of Posting Average - This is the degree to which a student’s number of posts is over or under the average number of posts per student for the community.

Point Differential - The point differential is the number of points the student earned minus the point goal set for the community. This number reflects the number of points the student scored above or below the point goal.

The Proportion of Course Goal - The proportion of course goal is the degree to which a student’s total earned points is over or under the total point goal for the community. This number reflects the student’s level of effort relative to the total points expected by the professor, and is an indication of intrinsic motivation and value provided by the Yellowdig platform.

By analyzing these variables, ASU was able to make the following determinations:

For the 20,737 students with grades matched to Yellowdig behaviors, correlations were positive between Yellowdig activity and student grades. Active Yellowdig participants clearly did better than inactive ones. Conversersely, ASU’s study proved that disengagement from Yellowdig communities predicts student dropouts.

“Students who are posting more than the class average tend to get grades of B or above with those who disengage from Yellowdig being the students who also tend to perform poorly or withdraw from a course.” -case study results.

Based on student satisfaction metrics and client feedback, this ratio appears to be strongly connected to engagement because a high comment-to-pin ratio is indicative of students having actual conversations that are interesting, engaging, and fun. In other words, communities with high conversation ratios are promoting a learning environment that is quite different from a standard discussion board experience. They are replicating the kind of vibrant conversations that occur in a classroom on the Yellowdig platform.

The six best practices for how to set up a virtual classroom that are captured in the dataset are:

  1. To have points and automatic grade passback to the learning management system enabled.

  2. To have a weekly point maximum configured.

  3. To have automatic “nudge” notifications enabled that alert students via email when they remain inactive for too long.

  4. To make comments worth more points per word than original pins.

  5. To award points when students receive upvotes.

  6. To award points when students get a comment on a pin they created.

“The intended purpose of the gamification point system in Yellowdig is to alter behavior, not assess it, and to get students interacting with their peers. Yellowdig is designed to inspire quality posting and pro-social interactions that lead to healthy learning communities by rewarding those behaviors.” -case study results.

Certain community settings definitely propel student activity in Yellowdig. Communities that use these settings and avoid restrictive assignments tend to inspire more students to engage in Yellowdig well beyond the point requirements.

“Conversations happen when students comment back-and-forth. Those conversations are strongly tied to how engaging a community is and appear—given correlations between participation and grades—to provide more learning opportunities for students who participate.” -case study results.


If you are interested in learning how you can improve course outcomes with Yellowdig, reach out to us at If you want to get started right away, sign up for our free 6 month trial!

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