Instructor Certification Course Presentation Transcripts
Presenter: Dr. Brian Verdine, Head of Client Success
PRESENTATION #1: UNDERSTANDING YELLOWDIG'S POINT SYSTEM
One of the most important things about getting great results from Yellowdig's point system is to really understand the purpose of it. So our point and notification system is really meant to make your communities more valuable for its members. And when students find value in participating in something, they do it willingly and they do a really, really great job. So our system is really meant to encourage large changes in the overall value of the learning environment by making many smaller modifications to individual student behaviors within that environment. I think the key idea here is that by getting each student to do just a little bit better, think a little bit harder, make a little bit more interesting of a comment or a post, you can get every student to really have a much better learning situation and see a lot more value in their time participating.
One thing that's really unique about a peer-to-peer assignment within any course is that each student's behavior impacts the learning of every other student. So we definitely want to be thinking about that as we are designing Yellowdig into any course, because it's really the overall behavior of the group that influences everybody's experience, rather than the individual behaviors of any one student.
Yellowdig's system really changes student behavior with three different ways of earning points. The first is through participation. So this is points, students will earn just from creating posts or comments with some specific word minimum. The idea here is entirely about getting students to come to the community and start participating. It's just like, you know, an attendance grade for a course, right? We need to get students to come in order for them to start experiencing any aspect of us.
The second set of ways that we drive behavior change is through social points. The social points in Yellowdig reward articulate and thoughtful contributions that start and sustain good conversations. So you should think about these points as being rewarded to students who actually get good conversations going or spend time to keep them going. And the idea here is that students that create posts will receive additional points any time another student comments on their posts or reacts to it. If they comment, and other students react to that comment, they also gain additional points. And by sustaining those conversations, those students who are actually fulfilling the idea of a discussion assignment to actually discuss things with each other are gaining additional points.
The third way is through your own input, right? So instructors are able to put configurable accolades on different posts—you can comment, you can react to students—that gives points just like any other person in the community will give them points.
And finally, you can adjust points for any reason, both up or down. So your feedback is definitely part and parcel of this system. And while some of it is automatic, it's really helpful to have additional inputs from the instructor, and we encourage you to do that.
One other interesting thing to think about is that the feed is sorted by content that is new, or recently interacted with. What that does is that anytime a post is commented on, it sort of goes back to the top of the feed. So students that are sort of keeping their post at the top of the feed are able to earn some more points from other people reading and interacting with that content. And that mechanism there is what really keeps the most interesting, most relevant content, most discussed content at the top of the feed. And that mechanism helps ensure also that students that are actually taking part in good conversations and posting content that gets good conversations going are actually going to reap the rewards of that.
One thing you'll notice about Yellowdig's point system is that you don't have a lot of control over whether students create a certain number of posts or comments, or really how they participate. There is a weekly maximum, but there's not really even weekly deadlines. And if you give a buffer, students are able to sort of participate in more in one week versus another. All of this flexibility should really be seen as a feature of the system rather than a flaw. Agency and self determination are really important in motivation. And also students that are able to sort of co-create part of their learning experience are really able to find things that are important for their learning and spend their time doing those. The other side benefit is that by giving students some freedom of choice, the conversations in Yellowdig can ebb and flow naturally. So they can die off if everything has been said, or they can continue as long as really, there's interesting things to talk about. That really helps make the conversations in Yellowdig feel much more natural.
There's a few things we see people do with Yellowdig that we would consider rookie moves, and we just wanted to cover a couple of those here.
One common first-timer mistake is overvaluing posts. So a lot of times people want their students to spend a lot of time writing good posts so that they contribute something really valuable to their community. And that is a really good goal. Unfortunately, if you give students a lot of points for creating posts, especially relative to comments, they'll do nothing but create posts, and they won't really have good back-and-forth conversations. The other thing is if you really want to reward better posts, and students who spend more time and more thoughtful about how they create their posts, you shouldn't just reward the creation of the posts remaining a minimum word count. You should reward more social points—students that actually get other students to respond to their content. In general, I would say that the importance of content generation is over emphasized in these communities. It's really more important that your students are reading the things that are posted and then taking part in good conversations around them. And I would definitely focus more on the ideas of having conversations than on, you know, emphasizing posts as being an important part of that.
A second common rookie move is turning off the social points. I think a lot of instructors do this because they really want to avoid a popularity contest. I would strongly argue that popularity contests are actually a good thing. So students who are trying to think about what other students are going to think and respond to are going to create better, more thoughtful, more articulate posts. And when they create those posts, and they sort of stay at the top of the feed, and there's interesting conversations going on around them, you want those students to be rewarded for that. And if we consider that each student's behavior again impacts the learning environment of every other student, it's really important that every student is kind of trying their best to post things that other students are going to respond to and want to talk about, because that makes the whole overall value of the community much higher.
It's also true that students who are not popular (quote, unquote) are still able to post and comment to earn their points, right. So they can still create more content, in order to be able to make up for not being popular, so to speak. But it should also be noted that they'll be increasingly rewarded as they learn new writing and new social skills that really make their contributions more popular within the community. The fact of the matter is that being able to write things that other people are going to respond to is a skill, and students need to learn it, you know, in order to really function well in their future careers and future environment.
Finally, you can really have an impact on whether a student is popular if you give accolades that draw attention to good content. You can also comment on posts and ask questions to try to drive more additional discussion about those things that you like. So you can have a lot of influence on sort of what content really does gather people's attention.
PRESENTATION #2: WHY FOLLOW OUR PROVEN PRACTICES?
Yellowdig has had a lot of experience to draw on as we think about how to design good communities and good experiences for students. We average one engagement per second every day in our platform. We've been working with over 100 institutions across the full spectrum of the higher education market, with educators of all levels and propensities, and, you know, teaching all different kinds of subjects. In those experiences, we've really been able to drive increases in student engagement and persistence, lowered course drops, and really improving student satisfaction. And a lot of the pedagogical recommendations we make are drawing on that experience in order to really create, you know, much better and healthier communities for all of our clients.
From our research on the platform, we've been able to see that weekly assignments actually caused lower participation. And I do use the word "cause" because we've seen again and again in different experiments where we compare Yellowdig to other kinds of situations that Yellowdig's single-community design, and putting everything in one single-scrolling feed, actually gets students to read and participate more. And at the end of the day, what ends up happening is students will continue conversations they've previously had and end up participating, you know, upwards of 50% more. You know, this particular data that's on the slide here is showing one institutional pilot with five courses and 900 learners. But we've we've replicated these results across a number of different partners.
We also see that weekly assignments cause procrastination. And you know, on this slide are two examples of two different communities with very similar point setups. In the left-hand one, you see a community with prompts. And the vertical dotted lines in these images are the weekly rollover date. In the community with prompts, the instructors were telling students they had to respond by that day and time. And you can see that students wait until the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) to create their posts and comments. What you also notice is actually that at the beginning of the semester, the students were not procrastinating quite as much, and they actually learn to procrastinate over time. And the baseline of activity in between those deadlines is really quite low.
On the right-hand side, we see an open-ended community where you do still get a few procrastinators there coming right in at the end, but you get most of the activity coming in at the beginning of the week. The important thing about that is then those students have posted, they start getting notifications as other people respond, and the baseline of participation in between those sort of weekly rollover dates—which I wouldn't call deadlines in an open-ended community—but those weekly rollovers are much higher. And so, compared to the community on the left, the activity in the community on the right is actually almost twice as high in terms of the number of posts and comments. So what we really want to do is get students started early so that they will start actually having conversations with one another. And it really reduces the amount of procrastination that happens.
The typical social assignment in a course features a prompt by the instructor that all the students respond to. And at least for discussion assignments, it's usually one post and two comments, right? But any framework that is using, sort of, weekly assignments is subject to some problems that are created by those deadlines and those assignments. So first of all, everybody is responding to the instructor. And students are thinking of the instructor as the audience, which means they're not thinking about the other students that they're supposed to be talking to as the social partner in that exchange.
Another problem is that the go-getter students that come in at the beginning of the week don't have anybody to talk to. And they respond to the instructor's prompts, but then they basically learn: there's no good reason for them to come in early; they're not going to be having a good conversation with anybody else; they're going to have to come back later; and so they learn to just wait and wait and wait and actually become procrastinators throughout the course.
The third thing to think about is the experience of that procrastinating student that is already procrastinating at the beginning. So maybe that student is least interested in your subject; maybe they're least prepared for college; maybe they're really super busy with other things outside of college. Whatever the case may be, this student is probably among the more at-risk students in your course for struggling to complete it. And they're also, you know, going to still respond to your prompt, but they're going to do it right before the deadline. What happens to that student is they're responding to you, and they're responding to other students, but nobody's ever reading any work that they do, and nobody's ever responding to them. So they don't try as hard to write something that will be interesting because nobody's going to respond to it anyway. And they're not really having a social experience whatsoever. So this assignment that you've put into the course to be a social experience for your students is not a social experience for any of the students that are procrastinating, and you're actually encouraging procrastination so that most of your students by the end of the semester are those procrastinating students.
This is a problem with the framework more than it is a problem with, you know, anything to do with the instructors, their prompts, or the student's motivation. It's truly a problem with the framework itself.
Yellowdig was designed with a much different framework in mind. The idea behind Yellowdig was that students are encouraged to start their own conversations, ask their own questions. And when they get good conversations going, to be rewarded for doing so. The instructor certainly has a role in this community. We would suggest that you model what you want students to do: bring news articles in; bring journal articles in; if somebody asks you a question in the course, bring that into the community and maybe continue the conversation.
There's a lot of different ways that you can start conversations in Yellowdig communities. But the important thing is that you're not the only one that should start conversations. You want to get students posting, get students bringing interesting things in. What that does is actually expands all of the things that can be talked about related to your subject. And what you'll find is that students end up bringing interesting things in that even you didn't know about. It can help expand your own knowledge and interest in the field itself. And what we see is that that framework, and that idea, really makes the community all around more valuable for all of the community members. And they end up participating because they're interested and they're having interesting conversations, not because they need to check the box on an assignment.
One thing we've seen from professors that first start using Yellowdig is a little bit of a hesitancy to sort of dive in headfirst and really, you know, follow all of our best practices. And we did an analysis to look at how different communities have used our best practices that were able to do that from our database and to look at the different outcomes that come from that. And there were a couple of really interesting findings.
First of all, as communities use more of our best practices, their overall health scores tend to go up. And those health scores are based on how much students are posting and commenting, how much they're going past the word requirements, how much they're going past the total point requirements. So certainly in communities where they're following more of our best practices, instructors are finding generally more successful, more healthy communities.
One thing that we thought was really interesting is that we found it's actually really much more risky to ignore a lot of our best practices. And if you look at the red line on each of these graphs, what we found is that there are no communities below that line. So as people adopt more of our best practices, their health scores for their communities are ending up, you know, above the median in general. And that's true, no matter the community size. But what we actually find is that in those larger communities, anything over 100 board followers, the pattern is even, really, more clear. So if you're running a large community, and you feel like it's really risky to try some of Yellowdig's, you know, best practices, what I would suggest is that it's actually much riskier, and you're more prone to failure, if you don't. So definitely consider that as you're designing your next course.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai. Transcription edited by Samuel Kampa.