Get Your Students Talking with Yellowdig

Yellowdig is an online discussion platform that puts students in the driver’s seat. It’s designed according to the Community of Inquiry framework, which highlights the importance of cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence for deep learning. By putting students in control of their discussion area, and by offering a platform that reflects the social media layout to which they are accustomed, Yellowdig especially supports the social presence of students, defined as, “the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community of inquiry, thereby presenting themselves as ‘real people’” (Rourke et al., 2001).

A diagram of the Community of Inquiry Framework. Visit for a text-based explanation.

Image attribution: The Community of Inquiry framework. Image used with permission from the Community of Inquiry website and licensed under the CC-BY-SA International 4.0 license ( The original image is located at

In this article:

How to get started

Step 1: Decide if Yellowdig is right for you

Including a Yellowdig discussion community in your course requires a bit of a paradigm shift if you’re used to student discussion in Moodle Forums.

In many Moodle Forums, the instructor poses a question and students respond to the question and comment on each others’ posts. There are deadlines for posting and responding, and requirements for word counts. The instructor grades students’ contributions according to some set criteria. Moodle forums are often used as a formative assessment, and the content of the posts are often graded for accuracy and understanding of a concept.

Yellowdig is a wholly different approach to online discussion. Instead of posing a question, the instructor simply creates broad topics for the course about which they’d like students to start their own discussions. Students start conversations about whatever is interesting or relevant to them within those topics. Instead of deadlines and manual grading, Yellowdig uses a gamified approach where students receive points for being active in the discussions and community, and the point system does require them to be active weekly in order to earn an A for the activity. Importantly, Yellowdig is not an appropriate tool to use as an assessment. It should be used as a learning activity, a form of participation, and a way to build a community of learners.

Screenshot of an example Yellowdig Community Home Page
Screenshot of example Yellowdig Community home page. Source:

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the Yellowdig platform

Step 3: Add Yellowdig to your course at the start of a new semester

A Yellowdig community is a semester-long activity, and it’s only created once for any given course. There is one grade for the activity, calculated as a percentage of possible points that a student has earned over the course of the semester. It’s best to start using Yellowdig at the beginning of the semester so that students have time to get used to it and build community. When you’re ready to start, read these two Knowledge Base Articles (KBA’s):

Best Practices

Community Set-Up

  • Use the default point-earning rules. Yellowdig has some default settings for point-earning rules. The first time you use Yellowdig, it is recommended that you use these default settings, which were thoughtfully and intentionally chosen. They might seem a little counterintuitive to you, but experience has shown that they do a good job of motivating students to participate meaningfully in the community.
  • Set up topics for the course ahead of time, and require that students post under a topic. There are some creative ways to use topics to guide discussion in your course. It’s interesting to note that you can enable and disable topics during the semester, and you can disable point-earning from topics as well. You might consider creating a purely social student “lounge” topic, for instance, where students can post and share about things outside of course topics, but that won’t help them earn points.
  • Set up accolades according to what you value. Accolades in Yellowdig are a way for instructors to reward especially good participation. Awarding an accolade for a post puts a little badge on the post and gives some bonus points to students. Accolades are a great way to show that you are active in the community and also to communicate the kinds of participation that you find especially meaningful. Read more about accolades. Yellowdig has some default accolades, but you can add more or change these to reward that behavior that YOU want to see. 
  • Set expectations. Decide on and communicate any community standards you’d like students to adhere to in the community. Note that any student can “flag” a questionable post for your review, which removes the post from the community feed until you have approved it.
  • Explain Yellowdig to your students. Yellowdig offers some great resources and recommendations to help you ensure that students understand how the platform works and what its purpose is. See Telling Your Learners About Yellowdig.

During the semester

  • Be present, but don’t be TOO present. When an instructor is too active in the community, student conversation can shut down, or students can start writing with the instructor in mind as their audience. The goal is for students to be writing with each other as the audience. Likewise, if an instructor is not present enough, then it might appear that they don’t value the community or care what is going on there. Use your own points in the community to guide your involvement, aiming for (but not exceeding) the same level of participation that you expect of a learner each week. Model what you want to see through a combination of posting, commenting and reacting. When you post, do so as a member of the community rather than as a voice of authority. 
  • Award accolades judiciously. Yellowdig recommends using accolades to recognize both outstanding contributions and also contributions that reflect what you value, for example, taking an intellectual risk or making a great connection between the “real world” and course topics. Awarding too many accolades can diminish their meaning and value.
  • Attend a mid-semester Yellowdig workshop. These are designed for faculty currently using Yellowdig to support them in looking at and interpreting data from their communities, and provide support or suggestions as needed. Register for a Yellowdig Mid-Semester Check-In (offered early October and March).


Join the NC State Yellowdig User Community to see an example of the Yellowdig platform and how it works for a student.