Ed Tech #12: Yellowdig

What is it?

Yellowdig is an “online learning community” designed specifically for use in college classes. According to Yellowdig, before Yellowdig, professors had two options for virtual collaboration and discussion. They could use existing social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter – which are social and familiar to today’s student, but aren’t specifically designed for academia. Or, they could use discussion platforms that are specifically designed for academia, such as a Blackboard or other LMS-integrated discussion board. But these are often clunky and forced, and lack the interactivity that students are used to encountering in social media.

This is the gap that Yellowdig was created to fill. It’s an intuitive, social media discussion platform designed specifically for the university environment.

How does it work?

Once logged in, you can create a Yellowdig board for your course. You can select it to be open to your university, or closed to a specific class. This board is essentially a virtual “pin” board that students can use to communicate. It’s like what you’d see on other social media sites, so students can comment on pins, add articles or other media of their own, or request the professor to add new boards.

This is what the demo board looks like:Yellowdig Screen Shot


Yellowdig also tracks student participation through points. This provides professors with an easy and objective way to grade student participation.

Yellowdig is integrated into a number of learning management systems (Blackboard, Canvas, etc.), so it’s easy for instructors to set it up so that the points students earn on Yellowdig are automatically entered into the LMS gradebook.

Yellowdig is also mobile friendly, so students can really use it like a social media platform, and check on it, discuss, and collaborate on their phones or tablets wherever they are.

Strengths, Limitations, and Applications

I think one of Yellowdig’s primary strengths is how it can easily be used to pair class discussion with real world applications. If students come across an article or video or something online that reminds them of what they’re learning about in class, they can simply pin it to Yellowdig for discussion. (Compare this with a common alternative: emailing the article to the professor, who then has to disseminate it to the class). This enables students themselves (not just instructors) to bring in real-world examples and really apply what they’re learning.

As far as a limitation- and this is a pretty significant limitation- as far as I can tell, you have to be associated with an institution that has a Yellowdig site license in order to use it in your course. Yellowdig is not at all transparent about how to create an account or pricing options, so I’m not even completely sure about that. It only gives you two options when you first get to the homepage – you can either “login” or “request a demo.” I “requested a demo” and received an email video demo and the contact information for the Yellowdig account manager for my university. It would be nice if Yellowdig had a demo course already built up that potential users could explore, without the commitment of specifically requesting a demo first. And, even more, it would be nice if Yellowdig had a basic account that people who are not associated with a Yellowdig university could still use it. Otherwise, the use of Yellowdig is limited to professors at universities with Yellowdig site licenses. For those professors, however, I would certainly recommend Yellowdig as a powerful discussion platform for both face-to-face and online courses.

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Ed Tech #11: Canvas Commons

What is it?

Canvas is a cloud-based Learning Management System (LMS) used by over 3,000 institutions. As an LMS, Canvas can be used for all the typical LMS tasks, like sharing files, calculating grades, hosting an online course, etc. What I’d like to focus on in this blog post is one particular feature that Canvas offers: Canvas Commons. Canvas Commons is a repository of Open Educational Resources (OER). Teachers using Canvas can easily find, import, and share educational material through Canvas Commons. Materials in the Commons useĀ Creative Commons licenses, so teachers don’t have to be concerned about breaking copyright when they copy, remix, and use the material in their own courses (of course some CC licenses still require attribution or no derivatives, so be sure to keep those parameters in mind).

How does it work?

If you don’t already have a Canvas account through your institution, you can get a free account by visiting this website. Once you’re logged in, you’ll see a “Commons” icon in the global navigation menu on the left-hand side. Click on that icon. Once you do, you’ll see something like this:

Screen Shot of Canvas Commons Home Page

You can search for courses, modules, assignments, quizzes, etc. You can also filter by grade level (from Kindergarten up to Graduate), and filter by “latest,” “most relevant,” or “most highly rated.” If you find content you’d like to use in your course, you can click on it, and then easily import it directly into your Canvas course. Once it’s in your Canvas course, you can modify it to suit your specific learning outcomes.

If you’ve created a module, assignment, quiz, etc. that you feel is particularly well-done and you’d like to share your work with other teachers around the world, you can easily do that through Canvas Commons. For example, here’s a sample module I created for another course:

Screen Shot of Sharing to Commons in Canvas

You see that next to each section, you have the option to “Share to Commons.” Once you click on that button, you can choose a license (copyrighted, CC-BY, etc.), add a title, description, and tags, and choose a course image and set the grade level. You can also set outcomes for K-12 (Common Core and by state).

Strengths, Limitations, and Applications

It’s completely free! That is obviously one of the primary benefits of OER – when content is free of charge and copyright-free, it is easy to use and remix it for educational purposes. It gives teachers the flexibility to modify and adapt materials to suit their specific needs and learning outcomes.

Canvas Commons is useful for teachers who are already using Canvas, since all the materials you access through Commons are designed for use in Canvas. Instructors who aren’t using Canvas could theoretically use Canvas Commons materials (if they created a Canvas account), but they would probably find it simpler to look for OER elsewhere. Canvas Commons does also seem to have more K-12 resources than higher ed resources, but it’s still worth a look by faculty.

For teachers who are using Canvas, Commons is a very neat resource. A few examples of how it could be used:

  • Teachers within the same school could share their quizzes to Commons, and then import each others’ quizzes into their courses. This allows for easy collaboration between co-workers.
  • An instructor has created a new learning module. He could share it to Commons and tag it with “community review.” This will encourage other users to review and provide feedback on his learning module.
  • An instructor in a history course wants students to learn about the basics of writing a research paper before they begin a final project. She could add a Commons module on this topic, freeing her to focus on the actual subject matter of her course. No need to reinvent the wheel if another subject matter expert has already created a useful resource!

Canvas Commons makes it easy to access open resources that can be seamlessly integrated into a Canvas course. The search options make it easy to find exactly what you want, and it’s also very user-friendly. If your school uses Canvas, I recommend checking it out!

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