Interview with Alyson Carrel of Northwestern
Professor Alyson Carrel teaches dispute resolution courses at Northwestern Law’s Center of Negotiation and Mediation. Her particular interests include applying mediation to underrepresented populations in order to ensure greater access to justice, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), and the use of technology in mediation processes.
On her experiences with Yellowdig:
I’ve used [Yellowdig] in two classes and I actually sat in as a student in a third class. The International Team Project is a class that is really designed and led by students. It’s a comparative law class where students work in groups, then they research the laws of a country in that area and compare it to the United States, what’s happening here.
And then we go to that country so that they can do in-person interviews to get a more nuanced understanding and maybe an understanding that is not necessarily published. And then they come back and write this comparative law paper. And so because so much of it is student-driven-- so what topics are they going to research, what areas of the country are most important to them and who they are interviewing-- it seems imperative that I figure out a way to have them share their ideas, not only with me but with each other, because they also have to work in groups and make decisions as a group.
On the students in her class:
And so I used Yellowdig for [the International Team Project] class and told them that their online participation would count towards that grade and then I used the Yellowdig point total as a way to objectively determine who had been engaged and active on the online discussions. And students really seemed to like it. There were some students where the gamification of the participation clearly impacted their activity. They were all about getting points and they figured out very quickly exactly how they could get points and they were trying to get their friends to respond to their posts. [Then] we had 4 student leaders out of 24 students and they actually were the ones that were managing a number of these processes. And they ended up not using [Yellowdig] as much as their peers or classmates, and instead they sent announcements via Canvas to everyone and so that was kind of interesting. But because there was this social aspect and this student-led initiative in decisions, Yellowdig was a very obvious choice.
On the evolution of the semester and Yellowdig usage:
The semester started the second week of January and we went to Ireland in the second or third week of March, so about two months later. And the rest of the semester was only three weeks after we returned after spring break.
I’m guessing the engagement dropped while the class was in Ireland, since everyone was conducting interviews.
That’s a really great point because I actually thought that Yellowdig, because it’s an app, would be the place where they would be sharing information since we were relying on WiFi so much. But the students chose to download WhatsApp and ended up using that while we were in-country to share information with each other about where they would be and what was next and, don’t forget, the entire group is leaving at 2 o’clock for this tour. So while we were in country, Yellowdig didn’t end up being used heavily because they just chose a different application.
On the language used in Yellowdig:
I think that [the students] appreciated the obvious social-media feel. I was pleased with how easy it was for people to post articles and videos, as well as comments. So I felt it was engaging.
The things that I thought might be offensive to someone, the others just didn’t respond to [those posts].
But because I set that word limit in order to get points, I noticed the responses were-- instead of just being, “Cool!”, it was “Wow, that was very interesting for you to share…”. They wrote in full sentences. They were clearly trying to pad their sentences to get to that word count.
I was talking to another student actually and we were making fun of it, but it also meant that their responses were full sentences and thoughtful responses.
I went to a Teach-X at Northwestern, where we are talking about innovations and technology in the classroom. And somebody was talking about a way to capture the student reading level. A group did a reading-level analysis of posts that were on a discussion board and I assumed it was Yellowdig. So, she was able to see that in [one] section of the class, students posted [X] number of times and the average reading level of their posts was 12th grade level. And [another] section of the class posted [Y] times and the average level was only 10th grade. And I noticed that the higher the reading level, the longer the posts. So they knew that, in order to get more points they had to have longer posts. I think that made their posts-- not more academic, but certainly better writing.
On classroom presence versus online presence:
I really felt like [Yellowdig] gave [students] the chance to sort of be themselves, and because I was able to see it, I had a better gage of what was happening in class and what was happening with individual students.
This one [student] ended up using it-- he posted this thing on fighter terminology from the Air Force and this is not necessarily something we would have spent tons of time in in class.
But people really gravitated towards it and I started seeing people using that language in their posts and in class, so I felt that Yellowdig uniquely gave [students] the outlet to be more informal, but also call upon their non-law-school experience and it was fascinating to see how much students gravitated towards that language and it completely shaped how we discussed the class sometimes and expectations for behavior while we were in places.
On the introverts versus the extroverts:
I am thinking of four students in particular who were very quiet in class and they certainly seemed to be active on Yellowdig and sharing information with others and connecting with people in class whom I know they didn’t hang out with socially.