Improving Discussion on Health Measurement with Yellowdig

Improving Discussion on Health Measurement with Yellowdig


Feinberg School of Medicine provides training to clinical professionals to facilitate career transitions to conducting research.

Introduction to Health Measurement Science is an elective class for Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) and required for Health Sciences Integrated Ph.D. program (HSIP).

Limited class time is used for outside speakers, in-class exercises, and “labs,” such as light data analysis.

Issue: Because the main goal of the class is to transmit a set of skills, it does not always lend itself to discussion.

Goal: find a way to encourage questions, discussion, and integration of understanding by applying the class concepts to other research, real-world, and news contexts.


I added Yellowdig to the course curriculum. Yellowdig is a continuous discussion board within Canvas that allows users to post articles and internet links, which can then stimulate a discussion by means of comments and replies. Here’s an a sample page:


To encourage use, I assigned 1-2 students as discussion leaders each week.  During this week they were expected to post and respond more frequently. At the beginning of each week, I sent reminders to the assigned student.

For grading purposes, I set a low minimum (5 comments, 1 post), but encouraged more frequent posting. My guidelines on the nature of the posts were very general:

articles, videos, news items, webpages and an associated question we would like the class to address

any questions about the readings

general discussion questions

To model online engagement, I also frequently posted comments, questions, articles, and links. In class, I took the time to continue discussion that was started online (or vice versa).

After the class, I administered a 7-item Canvas survey, using a 5-point scale to indicate agreement. Sample questions included:

Yellowdig discussion enhanced my understanding of health measurement concepts.

Yellowdig allowed me to get a better sense of my classmates’ interests and opinions.


Student Engagement

Yellowdig provides all users with a point system to track activity; briefly, one comment earns 5 points and one post earns 10 points. The average point score for students was 52 (minimum 16, maximum 104). Most students (69%) earned at least 40 points, suggesting a fair amount of engagement.



Posts initiated by students stayed within the topic of health measurement.

A sample of student-initiated posts:

Can smartphone drug trials improve medical care?

Is Seasonal Depression a Myth?

How do we measure autism severity?

Double Mastectomy Doesn’t Always Improve Patients’ Quality Of Life

Here’s an example of an article posted by a student:



Student Survey

Eight students (61%) responded to the survey. Students were very divided in their answers;  the mean range was 3.1 points on a 5-point scale. Mean scores on each item are below:


Given the small class size and number of respondents, little can be concluded from the survey. However, the data did suggest some patterns:

Yellowdig seemed best to facilitate learning and engagement with each other

Students who liked Yellowdig overall also (appared to) learn more about the class material (average r = .79)

Students who were disengaged from the social aspects of Yellowdig also found it to be too much work (r = .63)

Free responses also suggested some improvements:

Very conducive opportunity to having discussions outside of the classroom context. Sometimes hard to follow as the posts/updates were at times not date sorted.

The participation requirements on Yellowdig were not very clear, considering this was factored into our grade.


The Yellowdig project worked well in the sense that students used the app fairly frequently and for the purpose I intended. The online discussions were wide-ranging but within the health measurement concepts of the course.

Yellowdig encouraged students to learn more about fellow students’ perspectives on these issues. The continuous discussion allowed me to transition from online to class discussion (and back), which is helpful when classes meet infrequently.

The student survey suggested a range of opinions on how well the tool as liked.  However, students who liked Yellowdig also learned from it. It also suggested that students who were disengaged from the social aspect also found it burdensome. This point deserves further study.

Lessons learned

Yellowdig appeared to allow for wider social engagement and also enhanced the learning of the material. Nevertheless, not every student liked it and some found that it added too much work on top of other responsibilities.

Future studies may examine whether there is a relationship between frequency of posting and other variables (such as struggling with workload).

Finally, I recommend clarification of grading criteria; the Yelllowdig point system can help in this respect.


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