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Yellowdig Offers Genuine Community for Learners and Educators

Interview with Ben Leffel


University of California, Irvine

Instructor, UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Sociology

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One piece of advice from Professor Leffel to fellow Yellowdig instructors:


It is possible to make the online course as interactive as the traditional in-person course. Each week should have a “Topic” label that students are required to use in order to post, there should be a weekly point limit, and if you cannot respond to everyone’s posts, then post “highlights” of your personal responses to a handful of specific students’ posts. Much like replicating the Socratic method in large lecture halls for use in the digital learning environment.


How Ben Leffel Uses Yellowdig:


Between Fall 2017 and Spring 2019, Ben Leffel used Yellowdig as a Sole Instructor for 3 sections of “China and the Global Order” and as a Teaching Assistant for 5 courses on economics and geopolitical risk at UCI’s Merage School of Business. His online “China and the Global Order” course had an average enrollment of over 200 students. Yellowdig was a graded component of Ben Leffel’s courses.


Ben Leffel prefers Yellowdig to other discussion platforms because he finds Yellowdig more conducive to genuine conversations between students. He also favors Yellowdig’s precise quantification of student participation, and he uses Yellowdig to automatically measure participation in his large online communities.


Ben Leffel’s Results:


The average conversation ratio (Comments / Posts) in courses for which Ben Leffel served as a T.A. was 3.22. In contrast, the average conversation ratio in Ben’s solo-taught “China and the Global Order” courses was 5.86. By instantiating a number of Yellowdig best practices and expertly steering his course Communities, Ben increased his Communities’ conversation ratios, thereby achieving his goal of facilitating more genuine and sustained conversations among large numbers of students.

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In comparison to his Spring 2017 Community, Ben’s Spring 2018 Community was more closely connected, which was achieved by limiting the amount of points students could earn per week. In Spring 2017, Ben had experimented with removing weekly point limits from Yellowdig, allowing students to earn the total number of points for the course in a shorter time if they chose. As a result, many students simply attempted to earn 100% participation for the entire quarter in as short a period as possible. Of those Members who were connected to at least one other Member, the average Community Member was connected to 11.1% of their fellow Members (~10 out of 86), with many students participating in spurts and with low baseline activity levels. In Spring 2018, however, Ben recalibrated Yellowdig with weekly point limits, resulting in an increase in engagement: The average Community Member was connected to 21.5% of their fellow Members (~53 out of 246). Students’ baseline weekly activity was higher on average and less variable, and peaks in activity became less dramatic over time. This pattern is more conducive to student engagement and community-building, since students are interacting steadily over time and connecting with more of their peers. Overall, we think Ben did a fine job of building robust and intimate communities in large online environments.


About Ben Leffel:


Ben Leffel is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at UC Irvine. His dissertation research centers on global climate change policy. He has published 4 peer-reviewed articles and 14 op-eds and commentaries on climate change mitigation, U.S.-China relations, and city diplomacy, among other topics.

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