Student Reactions to Yellowdig and How Instructors Can Leverage Them for Learner Satisfaction, Self-Regulated Learning, and Cognition

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Brief Abstract

Researchers explored student experiences in Yellowdig in twenty courses from January 2021 to the present using validated inventories and thematic analysis. Data suggests that instructors can leverage Yellowdig to increase learner satisfaction, social presence, self-regulated learning, and cognition.


Aimee L. Whiteside is an associate professor at the University of Tampa. Her research interests include social presence, blended and online learning, technology-enhanced learning, experiential learning, academic-community partnerships, and academic and professional writing. She co-authored and co-edited the book, Social Presence in Online Learning: Multiple Perspectives on Practice and Research with Drs. Amy Garrett Dikkers and Karen Swan. Her work has been featured in several peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Interactive Online Learning (JIOL), Online Learning Journal (OLJ), International Journal of E-Learning and Distance Education (IJEDE), and EDUCAUSE Review. Additionally, she has written chapters in several books, such as Emotions, Technology, and Learning and Computer-Mediated Communication across Cultures: International Interactions in Online Environments as well as special volumes in the Advances in Research on Teaching and the New Directions in Teaching and Learning series.
Suzanne Ensmann is an Assistant Professor and Advisor for the Instructional Design and Technology MS program at The University of Tampa focusing her research on incorporating students’ hyper-communication and ubiquitous computing skills (like gaming) to improve learning. Ensmann’s research also focuses on incorporating emergent technologies like wearables into her curricula to personalize data collection for students while having them get-fit-to-persist.

Extended Abstract

How can students learn the importance and value of their peers, continue to connect with each other, and extend discussions about the content material? How can instructors leverage intentional technology for meaningful and measurable results? 

Bruff (2019) details the importance of course communities for learning. He suggests, “Structured ways for students to learn from and with each other can enhance the learning experience for all students” (Bruff, 2019, p. 144). The obstacle many instructors face is how to help students discover Bruff’s contention of the importance of course communities. Students, particularly undergraduate students, clamor for the instructor's attention, not understanding or valuing their classmates’ background, skills, or knowledge. 

Session Goals and Interactivity

  • Introduce the session. Ask conference participants to brainstorm about the instructional value of learning communities in online courses using Mentimeter [5 mins]

  • Engage willing participants in a hand-ons, immersive experience as a student in a Yellowdig community. Explain basic features of the tool and how it was implemented by the instructors  [10 mins]

  • Explain the longitudinal study, methodology, and methods [5 mins] 

  • Offer preliminary results [10 mins]

  • Connect to the importance of course communities and social presence. Offer research-based best practices  [5 mins]

  • Answer audience questions [10 mins]

How Yellowdig was Integrated into Courses

Yellowdig--a gamified, community-building discussion board platform--coupled with instructor’s pedagogy and careful planning offers one potential solution for helping students see the value they offer each other. This tool offers traditional discussion board features in an aesthetically pleasing environment that allows images, links, poll, and other features.  Yellowdig takes a gamified approach, requiring students to achieve a certain amount of points each week. Yet, how students earn their points is entirely up to them, simultaneously thwarting the tried-and-failed, age-old weekly discussion board paradigm of beginning the week with the instructor's post. Yellowdig’s approach allows students more autonomy; they can create new posts and continue discussions throughout the course. This, in turn, allows instructors more time to focus on teaching the materials and extending the course discussion in meaningful ways. Additionally, students can earn points by using social media reactions (likes, loves, claps, and various emojis and graphics). 

About the Study

This interactive presentation showcases a longitudinal study of five terms of two instructor’s courses from 2021-2022 at a mid-sized, private four-year residential urban university. This university, in the southeastern region of the United States, is predominantly a face-to-face institution, slowly moving toward more hybrid, blended, and online options. It serves 10,500 students from all 50 states and features students from 130 countries.

Student participants using the Yellowdig discussion board were enrolled in nineteen courses over Spring 2021, Summer 2021, Fall 2021, and Spring 2022, and Summer 2022. Courses include Research and Writing, Professional Editing, Technical Writing, Discovering the Leader Within, and Senior Portfolio at the undergraduate level and Global Communication Design, Introduction to Instructional Design, Inquiry and Measurement, Design of Online Collaborative Learning, Introduction to Distance Learning, Trends and Issues, and Management of Change at the graduate level. 

This study explores students’ experiences with a gamified, community-building discussion board called Yellowdig. Drawing from the Social Presence Model as a theoretical lens, researchers explored student experiences with Yellowdig using three validated inventories--one for student satisfaction, one dedicated to self-related learning, and one for cognition. Additionally, researchers triangulated the data by examining students' individual posts in the tool and examining open-ended survey responses through a thematic analysis.

Research Question

What is the student experience when Yellowdig, a community-engaged platform designed with social media and gamification in a course community, is mindfully incorporated into courses to improve learner self-regulation, cognition, and satisfaction?

Researchers selected social presence as the lens for this study because of its unique focus on the importances of learning communities. Thus, the guiding framework for this study is the Social Presence Model (SPM), which consists of five essential, overlapping elements: Affective Association, Community Cohesion, Instructor Involvement, Interaction Intensity, and Knowledge and Experience. We define social presence as participants’ motivation to take an active role in their own and their peers’ meaning-making processes (Author, 2007, 2015, 2017a, 2017b, in review). Figure 1 illustrates the Social Presence Model and its five components. 

Figure 1 

Social Presence Model



This study employs a mixed-method approach to discover students' experiences with Yellowdig within their course community.  Beginning in January 2021, data was collected with a Qualtrics questionnaire with closed and open-ended questions. It was administered to both undergraduate and graduate students across over a dozen courses at a private, mid-sized university located in the southeastern United States. Quantitative results are run through SPSS, and researchers examine and code open-ended questions and posts using grounded theory analysis (Yin 2014; Strauss and Corbin, 1990). 

This study explores students’ experiences with a gamified, community-building discussion board called Yellowdig. Researchers explored student experiences with Yellowdig using three validated inventories--student satisfaction, self-regulated learning, and cognition--and triangulated the study with thematic analyses. The first inventory is Ritzhaupt’s (2019) Electronic Learning Satisfaction Survey (eLSS). This instrument allows learners to rate their experience using bipolar adjectives at opposite ends of a five-point Likert scale. Examples of questions include negative to positive, unnatural to natural, ineffective to effective, and unsupportive to supportive. The second inventory is based on Zimmerman’s (1990; 2000; 2002; 2008) self-regulated learning theory. Finally, the third inventory is called the Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor (CAP) Perceived Learning Scale (Rovai et al., 2009). 

Researchers also included two short-answer questions to complement the quantitative data with qualitative data and provide an opportunity for participants to further elaborate upon their experiences. Researchers administered the surveys to the student participants in the final two weeks of the term by pinning the survey to the top of the Yellowdig communities for each course.


Initial Findings

Initial findings across multiple courses suggest that instructors can leverage the gameful experience and social media-like engagement in Yellowdig to increase learner satisfaction, self-related learning skills, and critical connections.  

As of Spring 2022, this study features participants (n=145) from a total population of 297 for a 48.9% response rate, consisting of graduate (30%), senior (25%), sophomore (23%), junior (11%), and freshmen (10%) students. They identified as female (75%), male (23%), and transgender male (2%). The majority of participants identified as white, non-Hispanic (75%), followed by equal numbers of Hispanic/Latino (6%), black or African American, non-Hispanic (6%), and equal numbers following in the two or more races including Hispanic (3%) and two or more races, non-Hispanic (3%) Asian, non-Hispanic following (2%), and equally a limited amount of Asian, non-Hispanic, white (1%), and two or more races including black or African American, white, Hispanic and non-Hispanic (1%).

Researchers will be compiling the results of all three inventories. Table 1 offers an example of those results for Ritzhaupt’s (2019) Electronic Learning Satisfaction Survey (eLSS).

Table 1

Overall Learner Satisfaction Levels

Thus far, participants found satisfaction with Yellowdig. One student participant explained, “It was just an easy way to ask questions, and get feedback.”  Another student noted, “It was helpful and raised many new ideas.”

Initial findings across multiple courses suggest that instructors can leverage the gameful experience and social media-like engagement in Yellowdig to increase learner satisfaction, self-related learning skills, and cognition. Best practices, thus far, from the data include repeating the game rules often, reframing the purpose beyond the points, helping students appreciate their course community, guiding students to lead their own posts and gain reactions, and thwarting those trying to game the system.  Researchers will address in the presentation specific ways to leverage these evidence-based results in the online, blended, or virtual classroom. 

Selected References

Author (2007).

Author (2015).

Author (2017a).

Author (2017b).

Author (in review).

Bruff, D. (2019).  Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching. West Virginia University Press.  

Ritzhaupt, A. (2019). Measuring learner satisfaction in self-paced e-learning environments: Validation of the Electronic Learner Satisfaction Scale (eLSS). International Journal on E-Learning, 18(3), 279-299

Rovai, A. P., Wighting, M. J., Baker, J. D., & Grooms, L. D. (2009). Development of an instrument to measure perceived cognitive, affective, and psychomotor learning in traditional and virtual classroom higher education settings. The Internet and higher education, 12(1), 7-13.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research. Sage publications.

Yin, R. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods. 4th ed., London: Sage. 

Zimmerman, B. J. (2008). Investigating self-regulation and motivation: Historical background, methodological developments, and future prospects. American Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 166-183.