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University of Minnesota

Interviews with Zach Sheffler, Bodong Chen, and Russell Funk

Information Systems for Business Process Management,
Technology and Ethics, Learning Analytics (undergraduate)
Big Data at the Carlson School of Management (graduate / MBA)

Meet The Interviewees

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Zach Sheffler

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Bodong Chen

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Russell Funk

Interview with Zach Sheffler


His Use of Yellowdig


"I was assigned a fairly large class and the course concepts that were being covered were fairly broad.  And since this was an introductory course, I wanted to give the students the leeway to explore the class concepts through their own interests and through their own lens.  The way I used Yellowdig was, I had them post articles that they came across on the internet, over the course of their own browsing, that were related to both their interests and the course [content] for that week and the topic of that week.  So I gave them an optional prompt to get them thinking and I would use Yellowdig as a way of making sure that they were engaging with the course materials, but also as a way for them to communicate with each other."


How Yellowdig Usage Changed Throughout the Semester


"Originally, my intention was that Yellowdig might be one possible way to participate in class.  As the class went on, it became clear that most people preferred Yellowdig, just because it was kind of at their own pace. There was less pressure as far as, you know, talking in front of other people.  The expectations were clear.  As I went on it, I think, people started using it more and more.  Around midterms and finals, I think it might have actually picked up a little bit, just because there was the opportunity to explore the concepts through a different lens.  Actually on the midterm, a number of people referenced Yellowdig posts from students."


Types of Students, Types of Posts


"I think the introverted students were much more likely to participate [in Yellowdig] than they might in class.  I feel that the groups of people who tended to congregate in class tended to not necessarily comment on each other’s posts.  I don’t know if this was deliberate on their part or probably that they’d already seen it.


There was one specific example [on Yellowdig] of a digital marketing scheme that I actually incorporated into the lecture in a more robust way.  I think one of the side benefits of Yellowdig was that it allowed me to see what people were interested in, but also that there are things that I wasn’t aware of that I was then exposed to.  One of the real benefits was that it allowed me to be more engaging as an instructor.  I wanted them to post things that they found interesting while they were browsing the internet aimlessly.  If you’re on Reddit, if you’re on Facebook, and somebody posted an article that you think might be related to the lecture then post that, was kind of my preference.


And so I got a lot of content that I would never have come across because my social networks are not the same as theirs.  I don’t have the same internet browsing habits or the same world view, let’s say.  And so, it allowed me to incorporate things that I would never have been able to figure out or see on my own.


I spend my time in one corner of the internet, even when I am wasting my time and just browsing aimlessly.  They spend their time in another corner of the internet.  If I talked about my interests or the corner of the internet that I’m in, during class, then I don’t think it’s as interesting to them as [when] I can specifically address where they are coming from.  And I think it was powerful to have insight into where they are coming from and what their interests are."



Interview with Bodong Chen


How He Uses Yellowdig


"I used the Canvas discussion forum and other discussion boards before but I found that the discussion relied on me too much.  So every time students would expect me to post a question and then everybody would reply to me instead of replying to others.  I think Yellowdig has been tremendously helpful in terms of transforming a discussion to be more student-centric.  [The students]  are in a community and they are talking with each other without too much reliance on me, so I think it’s a powerful tool for discussion.


Every week when I review their discussions, there are different threads that are very vibrant.  There is a lot of participation."


How His Approach Changed Throughout the Semester


"My class was really structured on a weekly basis. Every week there is a discussion so there are no changes that I noticed across different weeks.


There are definitely some exceptional students who posted more and I used the Yellowdig points, which is very motivational for students.  And there are some students who would always exceed expectations and post more and also post content with a lot of cognitive presence.  So not just replying to my reflective questions, but going beyond and talking about things he or she thought about.


And going beyond with data analytics, we are also going to analyze their constructive criticism when replying to each other.  I want them to be more critical with each other but also constructive.  And that’s something I noticed--- reading some of these replies, there are some students who can do that.  But it’s really hard because this is purely an online course.  They don’t meet with each other.  They don’t meet with me.  There’s less trust that the discussion can draw on and that’s something that I am relying on Yellowdig for, to build a community of trust which I expect to support more in-depth discussions."



Interview with Russell Funk


His Thoughts on Yellowdig, and How He Used the Platform


"I was really happy with Yellowdig.  I envisioned it as a way of continuing class discussion outside the classroom.  There were a few reasons why I wanted to do that. I teach a fairly large class.  I have 3 sections of 65 students each. It’s an ethics class so we’re talking about different situations that businesses have found themselves in and debating different issues.  The discussion is really important.


At the same time, with that many students, it can be hard to give everyone a chance to participate.  Also with a class that large, some students are very reluctant to raise their hand in front of 65 people.  The idea was to use this board as a way of continuing class discussion outside the classroom.  I got a lot of comments from students saying they really liked being able to use the board for that purpose, especially students that might not spend that much time talking in class. T hey felt that Yellowdig was offering a way for them to participate.  They could still be part of the conversation even though they weren’t raising their hand in class.


Another way I used Yellowdig was that I asked students to post a link to an article relating to an ethical issue or dilemma.  The only requirement was that it should be thought-provoking.  By making these posts over the course of the semester, the class built up a repository of cases that students could go to and look at for ideas.  A few assignments asked students to do a case analysis, either as a group or individually.  And so Yellowdig was a place they could go when they were trying to think of what they wanted to study for their case project."


Observations During the Semester


"Yellowdig definitely helped students exchange ideas and information with people they wouldn’t normally encounter.  I teach three sections and the board was open to everyone across sections.  Students might never have a chance to talk to folks outside their section, but on the board, they were seeing everyone’s posts.  That’s one way they could access a bigger set of information and ideas.  And I did see students interact with people they didn’t know—it wasn’t just replicating offline friendship networks.


I was actually surprised by how much people used Yellowdig throughout the semester. I assigned 15 points to Yellowdig activity, which equated to roughly 5% of the course grade. Essentially if you use Yellowdig throughout the course, you could get the points. I was worried that because the assignment was only graded at the end of the semester, people wouldn’t use the board until later in the term. But the Yellowdig board was very active throughout the whole semester. Most people actually ended up using it throughout the semester, which I was happy with, but also found surprising."


Memorable Discussions and Increasing Inclusivity


"Oftentimes if we talked about something in lecture or I brought up a case, I would see people follow up on Yellowdig by posting similar cases.  For example, if we were talking about a company that had introduced a new sustainability program, the next day I would often see people posting articles about sustainability programs at different companies that we had not discussed in class.


The next week, if we were talking about pharmaceutical companies, I would see a steady stream of posts on issues relating to that industry.  I thought it was nice as an instructor—sometimes it’s hard with bigger classes to know when you’re getting through to people and when you need to spend more time on a topic.  It was nice to see students picking up on and further exploring things we had discussed in class.


My general tendency is to be as inclusive as possible.  That translates to both inside the classroom and outside the classroom.  I’m really trying to get students to put things out there. Yellowdig has been a big help in that area."

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