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Setting Up Yellowdig Discussions

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Dr. Tawnya Means, Assistant Dean of University of Nebraska-Lincoln

A start-up guide authored by Dr. Tawnya Means (Assistant Dean for Educational Innovation and Chief Learning Officer, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign). This guide may be freely copied, modified, and distributed — with attribution to Dr. Means — for your university context and your LMS.

Yellowdig is a social learning platform designed to support student engagement in discussions around content relevant to your course. This platform allows students to share videos, articles, and other web-based content. The configurable grading supports instructor creation of automatic grading based on the number of words in pins and comments, likes, instructor badges, and even allows you to require students to participate consistently over the entire semester.

Yellowdig is available to all instructors to add to their Canvas course site or any other LMS. Here are a few simple steps to set Yellowdig up (this should take less than 30 minutes).

While a faculty member of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dr. Means shared her experiences using Yellowdig during a webinar and in a panel presentation.

Getting Started with Your Yellowdig Community for your Virtual Classroom

To Enable Yellowdig Engage in Canvas

  1. Go to Settings in your course.

  2. Click the Navigation tab.

  3. Drag up the Yellowdig Engage tool to the course navigation or click Enable.

  4. Don’t forget to Save the settings.

To Configure Yellowdig

Yellowdig can be set to automatically grade student participation.

You will create one (and only one) Yellowdig assignment in your Canvas course. (Unlike a traditional discussion board with threads, Yellowdig is your community gathering place):

1. Go to Canvas Assignments and click to add a new assignment.

2. Name the assignment. I recommend that you name the assignment Activate Yellowdig Discussions at the beginning of the course, then edit and rename the assignment Yellowdig Discussions after the first week so it makes more sense in the grade book.

3. Follow these templates to explain your Yellowdig assignment to your students in the assignment description, an online announcement, and your syllabus.

4. Set the number of points you want for the entire semester or term. I usually set it for 10% of the course grade. I use Yellowdig to replace traditional “participation” for my course.

5. Display the grade as Points.

6. Choose the External Tool submission type and select Yellowdig Engage.

7. Set a due date for when you want students to complete the first week of discussion. I change this due date every week to keep it on the students’ Dashboard To Do list.

8. Don’t forget to Save and Publish to make it visible to students.

9. Name your community and configure your points rules by going to Yellowdig Settings → Participation. For best results and to save yourself effort in set up, use the default settings.

  • Students appreciate large point values even if you scale them back considerably in Canvas. I set the community point goal to 10,000 points, but scale it back to 100 points in the Canvas gradebook.

  • Pick a start and end date when students can earn points. Calculate your points based on the active number of course weeks * 1,000.

  • Choose a weekly point limit if you want to encourage students to participate on a regular basis throughout the course. This is necessary to get the conversations going, but after students start to engage, they usually go far beyond the “needed” points in their interaction. I usually choose 1,200 to allow students flexibility.

  • Creating a new post and commenting on another user’s post are both behaviors that students are used to doing in a traditional discussion board. The difference in the case of Yellowdig is that students are incentivized to participate in discussions instead of just generating content.

  • Receiving a comment from another user means that the student has posted something interesting that people want to discuss and therefore they should be rewarded for that behavior.

  • Receiving a reaction means that students are reading each other’s posts (otherwise they scroll past it, this is common in social media).

  • I usually hide the left navigation Yellowdig link in Canvas until after everyone has completed the Activate Yellowdig assignment, posting for the first time. This prevents errors as the system uses single sign on so that students do not have to create an account.

10. Create Topics based on the ideas you want to discuss (not the weeks of the course or chapters in the textbook) and set the topic labels to be required. I choose required so that students have to consider why they are sharing the item.

Topic List in Yellowdig

11. Start discussing! Model the behavior you want to see in your students. Don’t try to read or comment on everything! Look for interesting posts and participate in the conversation.

12. The discussions will now be automatically scored and passed back to the gradebook in Canvas.

How to Encourage Student Engagement and Discussion

Use accolades effectively

Students who contribute valuable insight want to feel heard and be rewarded for their efforts. Instructors can use accolades as an incentive for students to write meaningful posts and comments that contribute to the conversation rather than it feeling like a typical discussion board post. You can also set the point value to "0" for accolades so the instructor doesn't influence the points students earn. Selectively giving accolades rewarding exceptional posts and comments is a great way to encourage student engagement.

Quick tip - Create an accolade called "Verified Response" to communicate an instructor-approved response or for Q&A style topics.

Bring conversations into the classroom

There will be times when a Yellowdig discussion is relevant to the in-class discussion, so bring those Yellowdig conversations into the physical classroom. Not only is this a great way to praise a student in front of their peers for their great contribution, but it is also a good opportunity to connect the conversations on Yellowdig to your course material. This makes the work the students did on the Yellowdig platform feel relevant to the learning process.

Remind the students that higher quality posts equals less work

Not many instructors will say that doing less work is a good thing, but it is beneficial for both the student and instructor. Students who post a conversation-starter and respond to the comments they receive will build points quicker than creating a weak, uninspiring post. This is great for both instructors and students because instructors get more thought-provoking discussions and students who create great posts are rewarded with less work.

Encourage only responding to engaging posts

Not only would it be a lot of unnecessary work for students to read through every post in your Yellowdig community, but it also isn't necessary in creating good discussions. Encourage students to only leave thoughtful remarks on the posts that they find engaging. Allowing the students this freedom fosters community building because they will spend more time engaging with content that is meaningful to them.

Be yourself

Students like to see their instructor's personality, so don't be afraid go to off topic or be funny in certain situations (within reason).

Additional Resources

Schedule a Live Demo of Yellowdig


Dr. Tawnya Means is the Assistant Dean for Educational Innovation and Chief Learning Officer in the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. With 20 years of experience in higher education, course design, and educational consulting, Tawnya has also taught courses in entrepreneurship, strategy, technology, and leadership in remote teams. Tawnya received her B.S. in Education, M.S. in Educational Technology, and Ph.D. in Information Science and Learning Technologies with an emphasis on learning systems design, all from the University of Missouri. She completed the AACSB Post-doctoral bridge program in Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida. Her research interests are in online and blended learning, active learning, learning space design, technology for teaching, access to digital learning resources, and faculty preparation to teach. She has long been a leader in campus initiatives and committees and actively presents at conferences and other institutions and organizations on technology-enhanced learning.

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