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Incorporating Real-World Learning with Community Simulations

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Bob Ertischek 0:00
Alright, hello, welcome. We'll be starting in just a couple of minutes. Go ahead and carefully find your seats. Make sure that your beverages have covers on them so they don't spill. And we will be starting momentarily. If you're looking for yellow digs incorporating real world learning with community simulations with Dr. Benjamin Rifkin, you are in the right place. And we have a few other upcoming webinars that you can check out here. I won't be going back and forth between these two. But welcome. If you want to throw in the chat where you're from or what you do, that would be cool. Like I said, Well, we'll get started in literally two minutes, less than two minutes. We just want to let people find their seats. And we'll go from there. By the way, then I'm in Rochester, New York, as you probably knew, and I think it's probably the sun or some sort of yellow thing is in the sky. I'm not quite I haven't seen that thing in a while. So I'm assuming it's the sun. How are things down and today,

Benjamin Rifkin 1:12
we've had partly cloudy skies. But that means also partly sunny. So and we're gradually moving towards whether that might be consistent with a stereotypical image of spring. Not quite there yet in terms of the actual temperature, but soon,

Bob Ertischek 1:29
you know, they have names for things like fake spring or second winter and I don't know, I just had snowed like two days ago. So

Unknown Speaker 1:39
we had we had some very nice weather earlier. But you, then it became very wintry again, but not nearly as bad here on Long Island as I heard that. Being up to New York, I think 10 inches of snow. 10 inches. Yeah, that's what I heard. Yeah.

Bob Ertischek 2:01
What my daughter just traveled through there the other day. Interesting. I'll have to ask her. She hit that. Anyway, somebody who was at let's see. Alicia Allas is mentioning the swimming pool already. And you know, a little jealous there. Like I said, we were I think we're gonna get just get started right now. But thanks for the fun little chat. And thanks for chipping in on the on the chat as we get going. So without much further ado, welcome today. I'm just having trouble switching slides. There we go. Here we are. And Dr. Rifkin, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, and I'll do the same so we can get started?

Unknown Speaker 2:47
Sure, my name is Ben Rifkin. That's what I asked folks to call me although I sign all of my publications as Benjamin and I'm a professor of Russian at Hofstra University and I have been focused in my research for my entire career on dynamics of learning and teaching primarily in the world language classroom. But recently, I've expanded to be teaching history as we'll be talking about today. And in other topics as well including including literature, writing in English and, and film.

Bob Ertischek 3:23
In Ben, just a little bit more about the your, the background that you have in Russia, and you want to share a little bit about how you got into the field.

Unknown Speaker 3:31
Sure. So I stumbled into a Russian class as a sophomore in college fell head over heels in love with Russian in a way that was completely surprising. I decided to major in Russian studies and get a PhD in Slavic. And I spent as a college student I spent a semester studying in what was then called Leningrad. And then after college before starting my doctoral program, I spent two years living and working in Moscow, and earned my bachelor's degree from Yale University and my doctoral degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. So yellow Dix colors work for me, not only from for the perspective of Hofstra University, where I currently teach, but also my doctoral alma mater of blue and amaze.

Bob Ertischek 4:16
And just for the audience out there, just for fun, we don't have any awards to give out. But if you can tell us the other names for the city that was formerly known as Leningrad. That would be fun. So just

Unknown Speaker 4:30
know that city was founded. No, no, no, you let them Oh, sorry.

Bob Ertischek 4:34
And see if they see if that audience gets it. Right. So what was the former name? Okay, we have a couple that we have one response. There's another former name. Oh, you see those men in the chat too.

Unknown Speaker 4:47
So those who wrote St. Petersburg, you know, when the award of my special pat on the back, which is given virtually Stalingrad is currently known as Volgograd.

Bob Ertischek 5:00
sand. There was one other name for St. Petersburg that we would have been, I guess

Unknown Speaker 5:03
between is that for me between 1914 and around 1924 9025, when the city was named after Lenin who had died in 1924, that city was called Petrograd, Petrograd or Petrograd. Because during World War One, the the Russian Empire was fighting against Germany, and it was decided that the Imperial capitals should not have a name. That sounds German, you know, St. Petersburg sound, it's actually I think, designed to sound more Dutch than German. But nonetheless, there you have it. Not a very Russian sounding name.

Bob Ertischek 5:43
All right. Well, thank you. And thanks to all who participate in our silly little game. I'm Barbara's Czech, I'm Yellowdig, Senior Community success consultant, I've been with Yellowdig for about two years. That's not really important. What's important is that I came to Yellowdig. From a background in higher education. Before the turn of the century, I transitioned from a career as a lawyer into teaching, like teaching a lot more than I liked practicing law to be honest. And a little bit after the turn of the century, in 2001, I started work as an instructional technologists, faculty developer, helping instructors put their courses online, whether that was distance format, fresh from VHS tapes, or even then we were experimenting with blended learning, hybrid learning, putting elements of face to face courses online. And while I love the promise of online learning, I felt that the tools and the pedagogy didn't really provide the student engagement or the learning community that I was looking for. So I left that and I went back to teaching and I taught political science for over a decade after that. And in my own courses, I tried all kinds of wacky experiments, outside of the learning management systems, to create better engagement and community with my students. And they all came with their own set of problems. So when I found Yellowdig, it was what I had been looking for all those years. And now, while I love to do this, these webinars, mostly my time is spent helping our partners understand our best practices and supporting them in any way that they can. And I would also be happy to meet many of you to talk more about how you can use Yellowdig and get more out and understand our pedagogy, etc. All right, so what is Yellowdig? What is Yellowdig? I'll answer that Ben. Yellow DAG is a learning community tool. It's a pedagogy and a platform that is social in nature. As you can see, in this little gif image, it looks like social media, it's not social media, but it looks like it so students know how to interact with it. It's gainful, there's a point system that incentivizes and encourage students to come in regularly, and create good content, to share their own relevant experiences, ask questions, all that kind of thing. It's data driven. There's a lot of information for faculty members to inform teaching, and it can impact active learning, student engagement and student progression. And as you can see, at the bottom there, there's a lot of little logos there showing that we're FERPA compliant, and ADA compliant that will work with whichever LMS that you have. So moving on from there just wanted to give you a sense of what we're going to be talking about here, because then you're you're in this simulation was in Yellowdig. Right.

Unknown Speaker 8:22
Right. So I guess, you know, before we go any further, let me just say that I'm currently using Yellowdig in an asynchronous course, where Yellowdig provides the platform for what would be our face to face discussion. And I think that that application of Yellowdig is more consistent with what was envisioned sort of as a primary function of Yellowdig. But what we're going to be talking about today in this webinar is actually a different application that I used that, that I use Yellowdig for a different purpose in a class that was meeting face to face. And that class was a Russian history class. And before I talk about the essential learning outcomes on the slide here, I just want to give a little bit of background about what I did. So this was a Russian history class, focusing on Russian history from the Crimean War, which is the middle of the 19th century to the present day. And most textbooks for Russian history, really don't talk enough about the experience of non Russians in what I call the Russell phone lands. And I use that term to include the Russian Empire, before the revolutions of 1917, the Soviet Union after 1917 until the end of 1991, and then the post Soviet Russian Federation, they're over in the Russian Federation today, there are close to 200 recognized ethnic groups, and many more that are not recognized efficiently by by Russian law. And a lot of these are major groups in terms of the numbers of people. Every group is major in terms of its dignity and culture. But interestingly terms of numbers of people, there are quite large groups. And the textbooks really just don't spend enough time. And so we really have a vision of Russian history from the perspective of the colonizers of this region, rather than all of the different peoples. And so the purpose of this project was to have the students focus some of their attention on the experiences of groups that are not ethnic Russians. And so even though we have up

Bob Ertischek 10:29
question, so, no, go ahead. I'm sorry. Okay.

Unknown Speaker 10:33
So every student was assigned a social identity of an individual from one of these ethnic groups. And as we went through the course, the chronological course, the students had to post on Yellowdig, how they in their communities, were responding to events described in the textbook and in class discussions as coming out of the capitals, or sort of the big history.

Bob Ertischek 10:59
And so and then what did you hope to accomplish by doing that

Unknown Speaker 11:04
is where I'm going here. Yeah, so thank you, Bob. So in the design of this part of the course, I was very much thinking about the essential learning outcomes of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. That's what that acronym stands for. And I was focusing on first, the intellectual and practical skills you see here that I wanted to emphasize in the class, because by contributing and posting to Yellowdig, about their group's perspective about their, the perspective of their community that they were representing individually, then in class time, we would have some discussion every week, about, you know, what various things meant for my for minority groups in general in the restaurant lands. And this reflected their writing assignments, the conversations we had in class, and I also had a project on information literacy. Um, so if we could go to the next slide.

Bob Ertischek 11:58
If I can hold on a second. There we go.

Unknown Speaker 12:01
So the other big area for the essential learning outcomes that was important for me with this Yellowdig project was this the personal and social responsibility skills that you see listed in the bullet points here. And you know, here for me, it was really important that my students didn't not that necessarily, they would come away from this course, with a mastery of, you know, the nature of the history of the peoples living in the restaurant lands, or specific information about Uzbek culture. Uzbeks being one of the peoples that were in the rest of homelands, and still are, as well as, of course, in the Republic of Uzbekistan, but also that they would be able to use this experience and lifelong learning to understand that when they talk with someone who is from Spain, that person might not be Spanish, if they turn talk with someone who is from Australia, that person may identify as in, you know, in from an indigenous nation. And so to, you know, to use this experience, to open up to the breadth of human diversity. That was that was one of my major goals. And if it could go on,

Bob Ertischek 13:17
I just wanted to ask you a quick question. Well, you know, what, actually, I'll wait until you're done with the slide.

Unknown Speaker 13:23
Okay. So then the other thing is, I connected with the American historical associations tuning History Project, which has other learning goals, and and they're listed here with bullet points. And, you know, when we talk about Russian history, especially since 1918, when the capital was moved from Petrograd, Leningrad, St. Petersburg, to Moscow, which is what we see in the in the image on this slide, that really Russian history in the textbooks is very Moscow focused, because that's where the seat of government is, it's also the place where there's the most important decision making about industry and policy. And it's the cultural and financial capital of the Russian Federation today. So, in in accordance with some of the learning goals of the tuning history project, I really wanted to help my students achieve the goals that are on this bulleted list here. And so those are the purposes with which I developed the Yellowdig project for my history class.

Bob Ertischek 14:26
And I'm just going to stop sharing so we can focus on each other for a minute. And I'm curious, how did you introduce this to your students? What was their reaction? And frankly, how did you assign that ethnicities to the students?

Unknown Speaker 14:44
Um, so I made the decision to do this project before my students showed up in class. So there it was on their syllabus from the beginning, as you will be graded for this course in the following ways. So you've got these papers, and class participation in these quizzes. and your Yellowdig project. And here's how the Yellowdig project works. And one of the things that was really helpful for me is that Yellowdig has this wonderful pass through system for the grading. And basically what it means is that when students post on the discussion board that is Yellowdig, rather than the Discussion Board of say, Blackboard, or canvas, points are assigned automatically by Yellowdig. And they move into at least on Blackboard, which is what my campus uses into the Blackboard grade center. So every week as the students are posting, they see that points that they're earning towards their Yellowdig project, though, into their Blackboard Grade Center, as well as you know, from not only their own posts, but this is very important, the responses to their posts by their fellow classmates. And so it really incentivizes a discussion among the students on Yellowdig. Now, when I ran this project, I was simultaneously doing another kind of project in a literature class. And I would like to just take a moment to describe that. So I was teaching a seminar on Crime and Punishment. And I assigned every student a role of a minor character in that novel. And using the discussion board on Blackboard every week, they had to post something from the perspective of that minor character. But they, as if they were sending in news to a gossip column in a local news, St. Petersburg newspaper, and the students love the activity, which is similar in some ways to the one I did on Yellowdig. But here's the big difference. The hours I had to spend, calculating the points of the students who are making those contributions on the Blackboard discussion board, versus the automatic process from Yellowdig was huge in terms of me. And the other thing was that I had no way to reward students for posting something on Blackboard, that would, that would reward them for eliciting responses from their classmates. So on Blackboard, what I wound up getting was a lot of here's my thought, here's my thought, here's my thought. And on Yellowdig, what I got was, here's my thought, Oh, that's so interesting that you think that because I think this will really now that you say that I have this to add from my perspective, and it was much more of a conversation. And then in Blackboard,

Bob Ertischek 17:33
and with that in mind, how did you get your students to have their heads around their roles, you know, when you're introducing, right? Because you can say, you know, hey, you're a junior, and who's back, you're, you're a tartar, you're a Ukrainian, you're a Russian. But you know, that there's gotta be more there to get them into that role.

Unknown Speaker 17:53
Right. So, so we talked about it in class. And, you know, I told them that part of their responsibility is to use the internet responsibly, we talked about information literacy, and look for information about their culture, and also to pay special attention in the textbook, when something is mentioned. And also in class, I might give a mini lecture or we would have discussions about particular topics, where something is mentioned that has relevance to their the region where they live. So for instance, you know, we spent a fair amount of time talking about a phenomenon that is called the Holodomor, which is the famine that Stalin inflicted upon Ukraine in the early 1930s. And so that was a topic of discussion in class. And my students who had Ukrainian identities, talked about it on Yellowdig. And they, you know, they brought it up from the perspective of, you know, individuals with family in Ukraine, one of the things that's really important to understand about about this project and Russian history is that Russian history more than the history of a lot of other countries is full of trauma. And so I made sure in my introduction of the project to begin with, that my students understood that I was going to intervene to pull them out of trauma from historic trauma. So I had characters who were Ukrainian, that I just

Bob Ertischek 19:23
couldn't cut it in for just a second. One thing about the nature of your question, I'm not sure you totally expressed here is that the temporal nature of it that you move students throughout history as as as it was going along? So, you know, at the outset, obviously, the communist government wasn't in place, it was the czarist regime. Right. And so the perspectives of people would change as time went on, and I wanted to make sure that that was clear. And maybe you want to address a little bit of that, too. Oh,

Unknown Speaker 19:52
yeah. Thank you. So So each week, you know, the the course as a history course moves forward and the chronology from the middle of the 19th century to actually what was the present day at the end of the fall semester. So we didn't get to the February 2022 invasion of additional, a full scale invasion of Ukraine. But but we started in the middle of the 19th century, and each week we were, we were moving forward either a decade or a couple of decades. And so, so I intervened so that for instance, I had students assigned Jewish characters in what we call the pale of settlement that would include, for instance, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine. And these are, these are areas that were occupied by the Nazis, where there was full implementation of the Holocaust. And I told everybody in the beginning, so that nobody would worry about this, that I would be intervening to get students geographically out of the harm the way the harm's way of history, so that I would not have any student reporting on. Okay, so here's what's happening at Bobby er is the Germans are shooting us, or I'm dying from the famine in the Holodomor in Ukraine. So what would happen is that I would post to Yellowdig to the students who are in in roles and in geographies where his significant historical trauma is coming. And I would say, oh, there's a medical conference in Tashkent that you have to go to now. And I think it would be great for you to take your whole family. And so then they wind up in Tashkent. And they could report back on their impressions of what was happening in their, in their place of origin without having to be there. So there's enough trauma in people's lives without having more the students found the project to be really compelling. Yeah, and

Bob Ertischek 21:39
I just want to say that I see that there are some questions are coming into q&a in the chat. I think. Nice. They're relevant, we definitely want to answer these questions. I think we're gonna hold off some of them, especially the Yellowdig, you know, nuts and bolts kind of questions until it's towards the end, if that's all right. But I, what I'd like to do at the moment, Ben is, is share the screen. One unique thing about this course is because the students all have sort of different identities, we're not violating any FERPA stuff by by showing it. And

Unknown Speaker 22:16
can I interrupt for just a second and also say that from before the class began, I got IRB approval, because I knew that I would want to do some research on on this. So there's also IRB approval, as long as we don't show names of students, and none of the students names are here. If you do see a name, it's made up.

Bob Ertischek 22:36
So I just I'm looking at a post that apparently is in the Soviet era, probably 1970s version of ice there. So people are talking from the perspective of their, you know, their role in the 1970s. And I see a buy in Bharati in what what group was this person from.

Unknown Speaker 22:58
So not a great name, but this is somebody who's a Buryat. And the Buryat people live in, not in the Buryat Autonomous Republic, which is near Irkutsk in central Siberia. And these people are ethnically related to Mongols Mongolians, and they. So they're, they they speak not only Russian because that's their colonized language, but also Buryat is its own language. And they can have a variety of religions, including Islam, Buddhism, and shamanism.

Bob Ertischek 23:39
And so what was notable to me about this comment is a student comment in there quite a number of comments on this particular post, as you can see, and Ben had a relatively small class too, so it's really notable, but But I when I received this, I'm reading it in a voice that that really feels authentic to me. Things are not better. I mean, I can't do a Russian or Mongolian accent. But things are not better for me. I hope you've all become fat and healthy. But still the Russians have pressed us let Lately there has been at least peace they have come to our villages less frequently. The only downside to this is the infrequency of their visits means my groceries don't exist. I fish all year turnips and tomatoes in the summers and that's it. Drink wine and liquor, love my family hate Russia. Now I've neglected How about independence, or at least some freedom. You know, to me, that person is has really taken on that role. Yeah, and you know, and that's not unique. So, so the point here is the folks who are in you know, true Russians are having a better time of it at this particular time. Right. But the other is

Unknown Speaker 24:49
None None of the students were assigned the role of a Russian.

Bob Ertischek 24:53
Oh, okay, great. So so the people who are doing better are perhaps the Bella trusens Or maybe Ukrainians at that time because they're more centrally integrated. I mean, you are, obviously understand that better than me. But but but people are having different experiences based on their ethnicity, their

Unknown Speaker 25:13
right, right. And, you know, the point was for the students to understand that, you know, when we talk about Russia or the Soviet Union, we're not only talking about Russians, and the experiences of these people are distinct, which is, you know, so important now for understanding the war in Ukraine. Because Putin is arguing that there is no such thing as Ukrainian people. That's not what I taught in my class. That's not what my students learned.

Bob Ertischek 25:41
And beyond that, I mean, my understanding is, throughout Russian history, at least my relatively modern Russian history. The internal passport, whether it was in the Soviet Union, or modern Russia, requires them to identify as that particular ethnic group, which has it. So I want to point out one thing we're looking at, what is this called, again, Yellowdig. I knew it, I knew what it was called. And one of the ways that we sort of keep these conversations on track is through the use of these topics, I just want to point those out, because there was a question about that. These topics are assigned by you, as the instructor, you create them, and students need to add them to every single post, to provide context to allow people to filter down into that, and to provide data to you as the instructor to see which of these topics students are spending time on. I don't want to spend too much more time on that. But there was a question about that. So I wanted to mention that. And Ben, you participated occasionally in the community? In when you did that, what was your What were you trying to do when you participated?

Unknown Speaker 26:45
So I was trying to provoke more conversation, or occasionally to gently steer the conversation into a more productive or a more accurate engagement with history. So in case somebody posted something that was just, you know, way off, you know, to try and be like the bumpers in the bowling alley for the for the kids, you know, or to, you know, point out? You know, yeah, this is really interesting. And have you considered this to kind of spark their, their, their thinking in new ways, if I thought that they were missing something that was important to consider, but I don't think that I did that very often.

Bob Ertischek 27:31
And, you know, I mean, I think that's the right strategy. I think that when students are having great conversations, and they're where they need to be, then the instructor should sort of step back a little bit. However, when when there's an opportunity to extend a conversation and to take new new direction, that's a place where instructor can go and really be valuable in this. I also wanted to point out this post, because I know, you know, the idea of taking on those roles, and, frankly, empathy, get understanding, like you said, in the first place, right, about the empathy that, you know, feeling empathy for a unique group that you don't have. I mean, I think that to some degree is demonstrated right here, right? What we're looking at is we're talking about Jews in Russia, and Muslims in Russia, and they're both sharing the sort of unique but but also common experience in severe prejudice. You want to add anything about that?

Unknown Speaker 28:32
Well, you know, so the Jewish population of the Russian Empire in the Soviet Union until World War Two, was quite significant. And, in fact, most Americans of East European Jewish background have at least one ancestor from the Russian Empire. After 1815, the majority of the world's Jews were living in the Russian Empire until World War One, and with significant emigration out of the Russian Empire to the United States, to Palestine, to Canada, after the 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander the second in the pogroms that really picked up in frequency and severity after the assassination of the Tsar. what many students don't understand is that actually the second largest religious group in the rest of phone lands is Islam, that it has always far outnumbered the number of Jews, but because the Jews are ethnically related to American Jews, myself included. They they tend to get more attention and the you know, the the Jews in the Russian Empire and Soviet Union are largely not exclusively largely European. There is there was a significant Jewish population in Central Asia, the Bukharan Jews and others living in Central Asia and they are a Sephardic Jew But, but there are millions of Muslims in Russia today. And it's the second largest religious group. And it's not discussed nearly as much as it needs to be for us to understand not only the Russian Federation, and its place in the world, but also the demographic trends that frightened Russia, the frightened the Russian government, because the population growth of those peoples within the Russian Federation is significant, and ethnic Russians are having fewer babies. So, so having a greater understanding of the Muslim experience, and the recipe lands was definitely one of my goals for the course. And the student who played the role that he identified as Uzbek cobbler, didn't get it didn't create a name for himself, you know, did a great job learning about Uzbeks, and about their experience in the Russian Empire and in the Soviet Union, and in the post Soviet Russian Federation. And the interactions between Uzbeks on the Russian side of the Russian Uzbek border with Uzbeks in his Pakistan.

Bob Ertischek 31:09
And, you know, when when I think about all this, and playing these various roles, and you already mentioned this, you know, the idea that, that they can students can take this experience, and sort of put themselves whether it's in Russia, or if it's in Africa, or South America, or here in the United States, and sort of take this experience and look at all of these things through the lens of not only my narrow vision, but you know, but what would what would it be like to be in those particular shoes? And isn't that in a large degree, the purpose of a liberal education in general, right, you know,

Unknown Speaker 31:46
absolutely. And if we go back to, you know, if you remember the slide, one of the first slides that I showed, you know, one of my most important goals was to teach students empathy and compassion for people from different cultural backgrounds. And to be ready to understand that identities are intersectional. And coming from, you know, being a citizen of the Russian Federation, doesn't mean that you're Russian. And so, you know, for me, what counts most in teaching history class is things are things like empathy and perspective taking, which are higher order skills, according to Bloom's Taxonomy, versus the memorization of names and dates, you know, yes, it would be nice. I would like my students to know who Peter the Great is, and that Peter the Great, was it Tsar before Lenin came along and overthrew the Russian Empire. Yeah, it would be nice for them to know that. But that's information that is memorizable, and can also be quickly found on, you know, through Google on the little computer that students carry around in their pockets, purses, or backpacks. And empathy and perspective taking are not things that you can get from the computer, you have to really work on that skill. And I believe it matters. And so that's why I embedded in my class in a way that's graded. So the student knows students know that this matters, because if we don't count what we value, then we wind up valuing only the things we count.

Bob Ertischek 33:29
So it's really well said, I think that's that's the way that many of us want, you know, we think of it to ourselves that that's what we're doing in the classroom, we're helping our students think critically and gain empathy and all that kind of thing. But sometimes we end up just making it a numbers game and counting, you know, how many multiple choice questions they got right on the various facts, or what have you.

Unknown Speaker 33:54
It's far easier to create a multiple choice test. Yes, it is, right. And, of course, it's easier to grade it. And it is to do something that provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate higher order thinking skills. But if we don't do the work on higher order thinking skills, then we're not, you know, that we're not truly valuing it. And if we don't assess that, then the students quickly realized that it's not important, and they won't spend time on it.

Bob Ertischek 34:23
You know, I want to let you go where you want to go a couple of other questions that I haven't you don't have to answer them right now. But we can move on towards them as you get there. As you know, with that assessment, how did you I mean, the Yellowdig points system, certainly, it like you said, will move their interaction into the gradebook, but but in a big picture sense. How did it inform your teaching? In other words, how did you know where your students were?

Unknown Speaker 34:53
Well, so there's let me let me say that there's a number have issues that this connects to. So the first thing is that at the beginning of the course, I required all my students to write a two page paper was 500 to 600 words on an intercultural conflict of their choice in which they had to present, you know, what are the perspectives of the two sides, or at least two sides of this intercultural conflict. And they didn't have to do anything related to Russia. This was, you know, something that it could be related to, you know, some kind of cultural conflict here on Long Island. Some of my students are South Asian, they wrote about Kashmir. And, you know, it could be anything. And I assessed those papers from the using the rubric from the ACLU, for inter intercultural knowledge, or global global understanding was one of those two, I can't remember which one. And I didn't give them that in the information of the feedback on that I did give them some feedback on their writing, so that they was called the diagnostic essay for them so that they knew when I was going to be grading their papers, you know, how I would be responding to their writing. And then in class, informally, based on what was going on, on the Yellowdig discussion, I was, I would be checking in with them about their impressions of the relationships between the colonizers and the colonized within the rest of Finland. So that came up in face to face discussion. And then I asked them to compare what we were discussing in class with other things they knew about from world history, or American history. And because my students were themselves diverse, had taken other courses, or were reading the newspaper, they had things to say about, well, this reminds me of something in you know, that happened with slavery in the American South, especially when we were comparing slavery with serfdom. In the in the Russian Empire, and with the collapse of the the governments of 1917 students compare that to what they saw in Afghanistan. So there were there were always connections being made in terms of imperialism. And, you know, we had to definitely do some work at the beginning of the course about thinking about Russian as an imperialist road, the Russian Empire, as an imperialist country, even though it didn't get colonies in Africa or the Americas, aside from Alaska, which is which it's sold, you know, so, you know, whereas, you know, France and Spain and Portugal and of course, England, and the Netherlands, you know, are more commonly thought of

Bob Ertischek 38:02
as colonizers.

Unknown Speaker 38:05
Right, so we established that, and then at the end of the semester, they had to write another intercultural conflict essay, and this one, I encourage them to write about something related to their Yellowdig role, but they could choose to do something related to other peoples in the Russian Empire, Soviet Union, post Soviet Russian Federation, and those were graded not only on their writing, but also on the compassion scale from the ACLU. And that's the data that I'm using to make the comparison of how students grew in terms of empathy and perspective taking

Bob Ertischek 38:45
very cool and a couple of things. You know, I think one thing that you did, that I would recommend to anyone using Yellowdig is not leaving the community in and of itself, the tying it into the class, bringing it into the synchronous parts, and having those conversations where students can obviously step out of character and relate to their characters as well as or each other's characters and, and I was curious what you thought of, I think that we're, we're saying that it was good, but I want to I want to just get your impressions of the actual conversations that students had in Yellowdig. In these roles, did you get what you wanted? In Yellowdig?

Unknown Speaker 39:26
Absolutely, because, you know, the textbooks that I had to choose from, and you know, whenever you're, you're ordering a textbook for us, for a class like this, that's a survey course. There's compromises to be made. You know, one of which is you know, just availability, one of which is cost. And another of which is you know, readability because none of my I didn't anticipate that any of my students would be going on to get a peek getting a PhD in Russian history. So you know, this needed to be something that would be accessible to a student who'd Never had a history, of course at all, as well as accessible to a student who had had history courses, but no exposure to anything Russian at all. Right. And I had, I had I had freshmen and seniors in that class. So so that, you know, in looking at the textbooks that were available, they were all very Moscow centered and very Russian centered. So I, I, I felt very strongly that Yellowdig really helped me achieve my goals of getting students to be aware that we talk about the Russian Federation, today, we're talking about people about a country with 200 or so recognized ethnic groups. And one of the first events in class was that I gave them a list of ethnic groups, that I could fill in two columns on one page. And I assigned students in groups to find information on the web, about the ethnic about five ethnic groups that I assigned each group from that list. And they were just astonished at how different they were. And I, you know, I did deliberately picked for each group ethnic groups that were in different parts of the country that were ethnically not related. And they, they were just astonished. And I said, and this is the you know, and then we didn't do all the ones on the list. And the ones on the list of the only ones I could fit on one page. And so that just blew their minds. And so that, then the Yellowdig, just really reinforced that and got them able to dig deeper, I should pardon the expression into one particular cultural experience.

Bob Ertischek 41:40
You know, when I think of this, to some degree, my mind goes to it's sort of a study abroad, but not only a study abroad of a particular place, but also have time, it's really a really cool thing. We've had a few other simulations that people have used Yellowdig for University of Michigan, they use that as a health crisis, opioid crisis simulation, which was also really interesting. And, you know, you said, you measured them before and after and you're checking them, what what did they show the empathy? That yes, if

Unknown Speaker 42:17
they became more sensitive to cultural difference? Awesome. Now, you know, what I can't control for is the fact that they might have, they might have been doing that, because they thought I was looking for it. Because it's in the course goals. But okay, I'll settle for that, too. You know, I can't guarantee that any one of those students wouldn't go out into the world and say something hateful tomorrow. I just can't. But at least in my class, they had an experience of learning about the world from the experience from the perspective of an other marginalized, cultural community.

Bob Ertischek 43:01
I think that if you talk to this is just my supposition. But I, I'm pretty sure that I must be right. If you talk to any of these students who took this course before the Ukraine crisis started, I imagine that they're very deeply feeling this now and sharing that kind of a thing with each other or with their families and or friends as far as that goes, because they have now a personal stake to some degree in it. One way or the other. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 43:31
You know, the thing is that we did cover in the class, the invasions that started in 2014. So they have that as background for what happened in February of this year.

Bob Ertischek 43:44
All right, we've only got about 15 minutes left, and I want to make sure that we address any questions that people may have. I know that my colleagues, Breanna and Melissa had been answering some of the questions that we've gotten, I believe there was something about the point system that people wanted to have answered. And so I just want to talk for a minute or two about what the Yellowdig points system is and how it's designed to work. The Yellowdig point system, which it's not really an assessment tool, is it per se, it's more I mean, you're certainly moving on to a you know, you're you're motivating students to come into the community, you're providing them with the points for their content creation and addition to their content creation, for the reactions they get to other students from other students. And what this does, what it's designed to do, is designed to get them to come into the community regularly because there's a weekly sort of earning period, meaning that if they go in earlier in that earning period, they're they're more likely to have their posts seen by others and getting those reactions and those those To interactions, those comments and reactions from their peers, which will make it easier for them to get to their goals, but also encourages, and I hope you'll agree with this a better conversations because if they put up something that's not relevant, not important, not related to what's going on, their peers are less likely to be involved in that it was at your experience as well.

Unknown Speaker 45:20
Absolutely, absolutely. And so, you know, the points or the incentive system, and you know, just if I could compare, again, to the Blackboard discussion board that I used in my other class. So what happened was that everybody figured out that if they just posted something themselves, that they would get, you know, enough, if they did enough post themselves, and didn't get any responses, it wouldn't matter, because they would have enough points on their Blackboard discussion page. And so we had a lot of people talking, but no one listening. Does that make sense? Yeah, absolutely. There was no discussion, it was like

Bob Ertischek 45:54
a student run,

Unknown Speaker 45:55
I call it run, post and run. And so we really didn't have discussion so much as we had, you know, post and run in that other class. And it just took me so much time to go through and count because in both the classes, the simulations were anonymous, or confidential, rather, so I knew who was playing what role, but the classmates didn't realize we had the Uzbek cobbler, I know who that student is. And I picture him in my mind, and I know his name, which I won't say because FERPA but no one else during the class knew who the Uzbek cobbler was. And so when we talked about the contributions in class, then, you know, people would say, well, the Uzbek cobbler said, Yeah, did you notice what you know, the bordet guy said, and you know, so not knowing who was who in the class would

Bob Ertischek 46:45
be the cobbler, for example, ever say something like views back cobbler said,

Unknown Speaker 46:50
Yes, yeah. Yeah. So, you know, so they brought their own stuff up without, you know, in the third person. And then in the, in the Crime and Punishment class to same thing. But, again, you know, the students had, you know, I'm, you know, the, I'm the, the servant of the landlady, I'm Raskolnikov, landlady, and so forth. But they didn't have they didn't know who was who. And at the end of each class, we had a reveal where people they were and so that was, you know, that was fun. And, you know, that was, you know, that that was that was fun. Yeah, you know,

Bob Ertischek 47:28
I'm wondering, ultimately, well, not ultimately. And it's just one of the other many questions. I know that when I was teaching that teaching evaluations were part of what I had to go through. And, you know, I was pretty good, pretty decent evaluations. So imagine you did, but But what was the student, ultimately, what was the student feedback that you got, whether it was anonymously, or, you know, you know, face to face, or whatever, about the simulation in general, and Yellowdig. Also.

Unknown Speaker 48:03
So face to face, some students told me that they really enjoyed it. And, in particular, I would like to point out that some of the students who might feel less comfortable speaking up in class felt more comfortable. You know, one of my most prolific posters is a student who has significant social anxiety. So, you know, for him being able to post on this platform, that's like, social media was a godsend, because, you know, he got to participate in a way that was difficult for him to do so in class. And then anonymously in the course evaluations, I got very positive feedback, everybody liked it. There were a couple people who just didn't participate at all, and then their grades were hurt. Right? And, you know, but that's, that's kind of the pattern I have with every class, I teach, that there are a couple people who just don't, you know, I'm not going to submit the papers. Okay,

Bob Ertischek 49:01
we've all been there. I mean, that's just, that's the way it goes not in your best to, to, you know, serve all of our students. And, you know, to some degree, we can reach out to them as much as we want. But if they're not going to do it, there's sometimes there's little that we can do about that.

Unknown Speaker 49:18
As I explained to all my students every semester, it's very hard to fail a class with me, but if you work hard at it, you will succeed.

Bob Ertischek 49:27
So we've got about 10 minutes left. I'm certainly wanting to see some questions. I see one now or the topic options. Before you do that. Yeah, sure. Let

Unknown Speaker 49:37
me say one other thing about so one of the things that's really a benefit for me, as somebody who uses Yellowdig is that I get to work with the team at Yellowdig with any questions or problems I have. And you know, Bob has just been you know, he's he's been working with me since the beginning and he's been terrific and, and he helped me work through how to assess Mine points to the various things that students can do. And how to set up my guild to community in a way that worked really well both for the course I taught last semester, which was the history class. That's been the focus of today's webinar, as well as the the course I'm teaching this semester on Russian literature 20th century, where we're using Yellowdig, as is the replacement for face to face discussion. And it's, it's going fabulously just fabulously. And and, you know, one of the things that Bob helped me do, you know, this particular class, it was a sort of a, not a normal semester, LinkedIn. So Bob, and I talked through how to change the point values for each week, so that I would be incentivizing a different, a higher degree of participation than a regular semester long course, because this course is three credits, but only in 10 weeks. So I really need the students to behave as if it were a four, four credit course, in terms of their engagement. So working with Yellowdig, the Yellowdig team has been terrific in terms of having their expertise guiding me through how to how to assign, you know, what points to assign for what kind of post and response and, and the accolade system, which has been really helpful again, for motivating students to do to do more interesting things on the on the website.

Bob Ertischek 51:20
Hey, Ben, what are accolades? We didn't talk about that? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 51:23
So accolades are when I see a comment that's post from a student, that's particularly helpful. So maybe it's one of the first posts on a topic, so that they're not given an early bird accolade. Or it's really thoughtful observation. Really interesting. Point, a question. You know, that's really good. And it just gives them more points, and the students want to get the accolades. So, um, you know, and it's not just for the points, it's like the, you know, I feel good about that. It's, it's kind of, you know, I think of it as analogous to, when I, you know, make a comment on an essay that a student has submitted, saying, This is an excellent observation. I really like how you phrase this great use of evidence from the text.

Bob Ertischek 52:13
I want to talk about accolades from the perspective of one of the things that they allow you to do as an instructor is to be present in the community without needing to type we view the accolades as a great way to model the behavior that you want to see from students. Because all of them, first of all, their their point bearing, so students get extra points when their award and you can wear them not only to post but to comments, which I think is very valuable, because commenting is certainly the way that we extend conversations or post and run kind of model.

Unknown Speaker 52:44
And sometimes the comments are longer than the posts that they're commenting on. And sometimes the comments are more profound.

Bob Ertischek 52:49
Absolutely, absolutely. In the point system, actually, to go along with that. I think it allows students to find their own path in getting to there, not everyone needs to start a conversation, right? Right. People can get where they need to be by finding the conversation that's that fits what they're looking for. Maybe they're, like you said, the sort of person with social anxiety, maybe they're not comfortable with starting a conversation, but they're more than happy to contribute to, to extending that conversation along those lines.

Unknown Speaker 53:18
And if I could just pipe in for a second by comparison, again, with the Blackboard discussion board. Everybody just started the conversation. Well, right, that's a post. And that's what that's where they got the most points. So that's what incentivize them to do, rather than to maintain a conversation by responding to someone else.

Bob Ertischek 53:36
And I just wanted to go back. First of all, I wanted to thank you for your kind words about the work that we've done together. And I feel like it's been a real collegial relationship. To be honest, I've learned a lot, maybe a little bit of a friendship I'm not going to get into. But I do know that Ben only has french fries once a month, but we'll talk about that. But um, you know, from our perspective, we view Yellowdig is not just a tool that we just, you buy and we leave you with it, we work with you we view Yellowdig as is a pedagogy along with the tool itself, the platform itself, and we're happy to work with you to our best practices, that I think we have the data to show that they've sort of proven themselves to get these good results, using our default point setup and enabling the social points, using accolades, having an instructor presence in the communities. And Ben, you know, frankly, you knocked it out of the park to use a sports metaphor there in this, and just want to say we appreciate working with you and hope that you I'm gonna guess that you'll want to use Yellowdig for the next time you teach that? Yeah. Okay. Thank you. All right. Wonderful. So we've got a few minutes left. And any last questions, maybe. Brianna, Brianna, and Melissa can surface those for us because I'm having trouble locating them.

Brianna Bannach 54:58
Sure. So we do have One question from Dan, who asks, What is the difference between Yellowdig discussion and an LMS? Discussion, I think you did a pretty good job of answering that. But if you want to give like a one to two minute or

Bob Ertischek 55:13
so. So, you know, we consider Yellowdig to be a community that has conversations rather than discussions. And I know that that distinction is is is narrow, but but the idea is that students have much more agency in Yellowdig. And in a regular sort, of course, communities as opposed to maybe the Benzi. But even in Ben's community, to to bring in what's important to them, what's relevant with their own experiences related to the course concepts, real world events as they come in. You know, it provides a social presence laid out in the community, the inquiry framework, where students can ask and answer each other's questions. Basically, you as the instructor have a role. But like I said before, we encourage you to consider your role as someone modeling the behavior you want to see, rather than leaving the community in a way that you would lead a classroom. And this leads to students having the ability to get what they need out of the class to find more boards, while you still have the, the ability to focus them on your course concepts through these four topics, and through the point system, etc, and accolades to get where you want them to be. I hope that was coherent.

Unknown Speaker 56:25
If I could just add to that, you know, my experience using the Blackboard discussion board, which I imagine is analogous to Canvas, and Sakai and Moodle, and all those others, it just was so much easier for me to have the Yellowdig points automatically assigned than having to go and calculate points for contributions on the blackboard site. And then using topics, which is not possible in the in the LMS is really helpful for organizing the, the posts to Yellowdig. So one of the things that I did for because the topics are things that the professor, you know, selects at the beginning of the Elijah community, although I in some cases, I added some along the way, when I realized, Oh, we you know, we really should add this topic

Bob Ertischek 57:14
is that practice, by the way, then we would encourage everyone to create their own course relevant topics.

Unknown Speaker 57:20
And I built those topics into what the what the prompts were for the assign the writing assignments for the course. And students were allowed to quote from Yellowdig in their writing assignments, and that, you know, by being able to sort by topic, it really helped them figure out, you know, if there were quotes that they could use, and I haven't done it yet, but I will be giving points on essays for students whose comments have been quoted, wow. So if somebody I haven't figured I figured that out this week, that I could do this. So I'm going to start that in the fall. So if somebody quotes you, you get a point on your essay. Awesome. So that encourages more class, you know, class discussion and yellow table reading.

Bob Ertischek 58:10
I mean, that's one of the great things when you look at just students don't just post and run, like we talked about a million times, but they're actually reading and absorbing the content. And then

Unknown Speaker 58:18
rereading that, you know, if it's connected to the, if it's connected to the essays, then they're going to reread.

Bob Ertischek 58:27
So I know, we only have two minutes left, and I just want to thank Dr. Rifkin, Ben, just so much for participating in this webinar, but also working with us all this time and coming up with a very unique and cool. You know, I think important experiment, learning experience for students. Brianna, I was wanting to put up the slide that shows the upcoming events, I wondered if you wanted to quickly talk about those at all.

Brianna Bannach 58:55
Sure, we have one next Tuesday that will be featuring four students from different universities talking about their yellow day experience and also just their experience in general over the past couple of years, but the pandemic. And then we also have another one where we are partnering with the US Distance Learning Association, where we'll be talking about distance learning with two awesome faculty members. I believe I saw Deb in the chat that she's also attending here. So we have a mathematics professor and a criminal justice professor talking about their experience as well.

Bob Ertischek 59:29
And just again, thanks, everybody for joining us today. I think we'll stop the recording. But Ben, do you want to hang out for a minute if people have some more questions, hang

Unknown Speaker 59:38
out if people have questions? Yep. Awesome.

Bob Ertischek 59:41
Thanks a lot, everybody. See you next time. You

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