About the author

Lisa Brown
Assistant Director, University IT, Teaching and Learning Systems
Adjunct faculty at Warner School of Education, University of Rochester

About the Tool and Class

TitleTeaching with Yellowdig Engage
ToolYellowdig Engage (http://yellowdig.com)
(UR IT support for Yellowdig –
Tool DescriptionYellowdig Engage is a social media-like discussion board that can be used to supplement your Blackboard course. It offers a more social experience for students and faculty by allowing participants to “like” and “love” each other’s posts, and offers a game-like experience by offering points for weekly activity in the discussion board. The faculty member can set up the board to provide topics for students to assign to posts, with points based on different activities (posts, comments, receipt of comments, etc.). Students earn points as they post and comment, setting up an environment that encourages interaction and learning.
Class/ Target LevelEDE 484, Graduate studies
Course TitleOnline Teaching and Learning (plus two others in spring 2019, offered by other instructors)
Background Information About the Class
This course is the first in a set of required courses for the Masters in Online Teaching and the Advanced Certificate in Online Teaching that is offered at the Warner School of Education. Additionally, many graduate students, both from Warner and other schools, take it as an elective to supplement their studies and give them some pedagogical background for future online teaching.
This course is offered as a fully online course with synchronous sessions during the summer, and as a hybrid course (a few sessions are in-person at the beginning and end of the term) during fall and spring. The majority of the course is online.
Lesson TimeYellowdig Engage was used throughout the semester as a conversational discussion board.
Number of StudentsThe course hosts anywhere from 8 to 20 students per semester.

Lesson Plan


In the first module of the course, Yellowdig was introduced. Students were asked to connect to Yellowdig from within the Blackboard course and post an introductory paragraph about themselves. This allowed the instructor to verify that students could connect and understood how to post and comment.


Throughout the course EDE484, this tool was used to allow students and instructor to exchange up-to-date articles and videos related to the weekly topics and have conversations about online teaching and learning, thus broadening a student’s perspective beyond the original content provided by the instructor. Each weekly module asked students to add to the conversation by finding new materials related to the topic we were covering (or previous topics) and summarize / reflect upon that material. Students were encouraged to read each other’s posts and ask questions or make additional comments. Points are assigned based on participation.


Students earn points throughout the semester. There is a weekly maximum number of points, thus forcing students to continue the conversation through the term.


The Yellowdig points in EDE484 were worth 10% of the final grade. A student could choose to participate less, but would potentially forfeit earning an A in the course. Most students earn the maximum or majority of the points.



Yellowdig is an online tool that meets WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards (https://help.yellowdig.com/hc/en-us/articles/215040688-Accessibility-and-High-Contrast-Mode). In EDE484, students have an option to not participate, but this would potentially affect their final grade. Yellowdig is the equivalent of class participation in a face-to-face course; however, students have full control of the points awarded, and transparency to the grading scheme throughout the semester. They see the points they earn, as they earn them.


Reflection from instructor

In a survey of faculty that used Yellowdig in the spring of 2019, all faculty agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with using Yellowdig, that Yellowdig was a better tool for online discussions than traditional Blackboard discussion boards, that is was easy to use, and that it enhanced student learning in their courses.

Some comments from faculty included;

“YellowDig provides significant advantages to Blackboard discussion boards, and I plan to completely replace Bb discussions in all courses.”

“I think it’s an excellent platform for discussion in our online courses … I have had requests from faculty and students to add it to courses. I also highly recommend it.”

“I like the overall look of the platform and consistency in how it is graded. Additionally, it encourages student interaction and engagement. Students read and find relevant information regarding a topic that is aligned with student learning outcomes.”

“The students were very engaged in discussions throughout the course, and it was very easy to track their engagement. The point system provided a meaningful analytic of engagement, and I was able to identify and have discussions with students who were less engaged. The informal social media style tools really helped support engagement as well. The polling tool provided a fun way to check in with students, the @tags helped to engage individuals in discussions and helped increase back-and-forth interaction, and the likes allowed students to indicate interest.”

Preparation time/materials

Yellowdig is an integration within the Blackboard LMS system. Faculty can create a link to the platform by adding the tool and connecting their course. There is an initial setup screen to create the discussion board and then the faculty member can configure topics, points, and notifications.

Benefits and challenges of the tool

One of the benefits of the tool is the points system and automated grading. Students get points for various types of participation. The points system was also found to be one of the challenges. Comments from faculty included:

“Students find it confusing having multiple ‘point settings’ if they use the platform for more than one course. Overall, I feel like we are still figuring out the best way to rate the points. There might be reason to change points depending on the type of activities in yellowdig- case studies vs. finding/posting resources. Faculty may need additional guidance related to this.”

“Faculty need more guidance in how to set up the point system. Participation in group discussions is worth 25% of the final grade in my online course. I worked with … to set up the point allocations, however I do not think final discussion grades accurately reflected performance. Almost all students received full credit, despite varying levels of engagement and quality. In addition, there does not appear to be a good way to account for spring break, so some student’s accumulated points, while others did not. Given that almost all ended up getting the maximum points that may not matter though. I just wouldn’t have been able to justify point allocations if a student challenged them.”

“A collection of best practices and instructional design resources. More standardization on setting up points – there will be a need for consistency across courses in academic programs (or students will get confused).”

In-class experience

None. This is an online tool.

Ease of use/Ranking

Beginner to intermediate.

Reflection from students

In a survey of students across three courses using Yellowdig in the spring of 2019, participants were asked to rate a number of questions on a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 represented strongly disagree and 5 represented strongly agree.

Overall, students strongly agreed that the tool helped develop a sense of community (4.30/5.0) and helped them to feel engaged in the course (4.32/5.0).

Specifically in EDE484, this tool was used to allow students and instructor to exchange up-to-date articles and videos related to the weekly topics and have conversations about online teaching and learning, thus broadening a student’s perspective beyond the original content provided by the instructor. Students strongly agreed that this helped make connections between course concepts and practical applications (4.57/5.0)

One student commented, “I liked how similar to FaceBook it was. It was easy to navigate, I could easily search for my posts and those of my classmates, the notifications were appropriate and kept me current, and I liked how the posts could be organized by topics.”

Another student noted that “The ease of use with Yellowdig was beneficial. It was just like using a social media forum and I enjoyed that it felt less formal and constricting than the blackboard discussion board.” Yet another student remarked “I liked that it encouraged more frequent posting and interaction than Blackboard did.”