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August 1, 2018

Meet Yellowdig's New Learning and Academic Support Manager

Photo of Brian Verdine

Brian Verdine has a B.S. in Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College.  He went on to a postdoctoral fellowship in University of Delaware’s School of Education, where he was later appointed as an affiliated Assistant Professor.  He will be helping to ensure instructors are able to quickly learn how to use the platform and to ensure that instructors and learners are getting the most possible out of their experiences with Yellowdig.

From Brian: 


I have always been interested in how technology can influence our capabilities and the learning process.  In my academic research I’ve studied how GPS, television, first-person video games, and tablets influence learning in children and adults.  Thoughtful educational technology has an important role to play in providing enriching experiences for learners at more times, in more places, and with less expense.


Yet, in spite of the promise of technology for transforming education, few good educational ideas seem to make it into educational technology.  This gap between promise and practice is why I initially started to work outside of academic research; I did a lot of free consulting just to ensure my findings had an impact on learners.  Since then I have increasingly embraced roles translating good educational ideas into practice.


But why did I become interested Yellowdig specifically?  


To answer that, I’m going to tell a story.  A friend was getting rid of their 10 gallon fish tank and gave it to me, complete with a “Nemo” and a piece of coral.  I knew nothing about coral. I didn’t even realize that the piece of “coral” I got was really just a dead skeleton. Fast forward four years from then and I was keeping 100’s of coral varieties in a 270 gallon tank, using medical dosing pumps to adjust water parameters, and propagating corals to prevent natural reef destruction.  


I learned some of that by studying in the traditional sense; literally reading textbooks.  However, studying really only got me part way there. How I really got hopelessly (and joyously) immersed in that hobby was through a local reef club.  It was filled with smart people who were interested in keeping coral. I attended monthly meetings where members talked and expert guest speakers presented.  I could ask questions when I was stuck. The time between meetings I spent sorting through our club message board, where people I knew were posting about problems they had or new equipment they were trying.  These people all brought in different expertise and ideas (we had chemical engineers, carpenters, biologists, doctors, etc.). And the “old guard” of the club was really great about passing down their knowledge.  Most of what I learned came from these discussions and most of my enjoyment stemmed from interactions with club members.


I know from this experience and from research that learning from others is important, but I also know that assembling these relationships and communities can be really hard.  And not every student has the social wherewithal or the time to do it.


How Yellowdig Helps


Each Yellowdig community board is always there, ready to accept a new question, new information, or support a new discussion.  It supports almost any type of information format you can imagine, from posting YouTube videos to displaying code blocks and LaTeX.  That information is then easily categorized, searched, and discussed. Learners can each bring their own backgrounds to the party and share their unique combination of knowledge and experience.  And instructors can easily help by being the “old guard” in the community; volunteering information and guidance easily, as needed, and with little hassle. Finally, students who are not as outgoing or would be embarrassed to talk in class are provided an alternative way to become part of the learning community… and maybe make a few friends in the process.  All of these things will influence learning and student retention. And I love the idea that if I do my job well at Yellowdig, I’ll have the opportunity to have a positive influence on the learning and lives of millions of students.


All of these advantages for learning and for students are great, but I think the thing that I am most excited about sharing with fellow instructors is how Yellowdig is an honest-to-goodness tool; it saves time and effort while producing a better outcome.  Yellowdig allows instructors to give students more access to their expertise without needing to do things like schedule more office hours, which students rarely show up at anyway.  Instructors can answer a student’s question once while also allowing other students to take advantage of that information. More importantly it allows students to help each other, which provides them answers and feedback faster, gets the students who are helping to revisit and think critically about class topics, and saves the instructor from having to personally respond to every query.  Finally, with the automatic points and instructor badges, Yellowdig makes it easy to give feedback on a student’s participation, motivate them to improve, and create objective and well-documented means for grading their participation. Today’s learners, especially, crave fast and immediate feedback, which is also something that has traditionally been difficult and time consuming for instructors to provide.


Yellowdig as a teaching tool allows instructors to focus their saved time and energy where their expertise is really most effective, like on improving lesson plans or individually helping students who really need extra attention.  That time can also help an instructor do a really good job of teaching more or bigger sections (e.g., online courses). And if the institution values research it can free up an instructor to be able to focus on grant writing, creating experiments, and writing up results.  In short, I think Yellowdig is exciting educationally because of the learning communities it can build, but is also really practical and valuable due to the positive effects it has for instructors and their institutions.


Why we interact with others has changed very little over the decades, but consumer technology has fundamentally changed how, where, when, and who we interact with.  Yellowdig is going to be an important part of bringing many of these changes to the learning process and I am very excited to be on the leading edge of that transformation.  I look forward to helping instructors figure out the best ways to take advantage of everything Yellowdig has to offer!


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