Interview with Zach Sheffler of University of Minnesota
Introduction: Professor Zach Sheffler teaches Information Systems for Business Process Management at the University of Minnesota. His research interests lie in behavioral decision making, gamification, online communities and social influence.
On his experiences with Yellowdig:
This is actually my first course. I am a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. I was assigned a fairly large class and the course concepts that were being covered were fairly broad. And since this was an introductory course, I wanted to give the students the leeway to explore the class concepts through their own interests and through their own lens. The way I used Yellowdig was, I had them post articles that they came across on the internet, over the course of their own browsing, that were related to both their interests and the course [content] for that week and the topic of that week. So I gave them an optional prompt to get them thinking and I would use Yellowdig as a way of making sure that they were engaging with the course materials, but also as a way for them to communicate with each other.
On how using Yellowdig changed throughout the semester:
Originally, my intention was that Yellowdig might be one possible way to participate in class. As the class went on, it became clear that most people preferred Yellowdig, just because it was kind of at their own pace. There was less pressure as far as, you know, talking in front of other people. The expectations were clear. As I went on it, I think, people started using it more and more. Around midterms and finals, I think it might have actually picked up a little bit, just because there was the opportunity to explore the concepts through a different lens. Actually on the midterm, a number of people referenced Yellowdig posts from students.
On the types of students who use Yellowdig:
I think the introverted students were much more likely to participate [in Yellowdig] than they might in class. I feel that the groups of people who tended to congregate in class tended to not necessarily comment on each other’s posts. I don’t know if this was deliberate on their part or probably that they’d already seen it.
On awesome Yellowdig posts:
There was one specific example [on Yellowdig] of a digital marketing scheme that I actually incorporated into the lecture in a more robust way. I think one of the side benefits of Yellowdig was that it allowed me to see what people were interested in, but also that there are things that I wasn’t aware of that I was then exposed to. One of the real benefits was that it allowed me to be more engaging as an instructor. I wanted them to post things that they found interesting while they were browsing the internet aimlessly. If you’re on Reddit, if you’re on Facebook, and somebody posted an article that you think might be related to the lecture then post that, was kind of my preference.
And so I got a lot of content that I would never have come across because my social networks are not the same as theirs. I don’t have the same internet browsing habits or the same world view, let’s say. And so, it allowed me to incorporate things that I would never have been able to figure out or see on my own.
On the “Damn Daniel” meme that went viral:
There was this internet meme over the course of the winter called “Damn Daniel with these white Vans.” These high schoolers posted this video that became really popular. I’m old enough that I don’t know what viral videos college sophomores and juniors are watching. And so this came to my attention because a lot of people posted about this “Damn Daniel” video and so this is something I would never have been exposed to.
I spend my time in one corner of the internet, even when I am wasting my time and just browsing aimlessly. They spend their time in another corner of the internet. If I talked about my interests or the corner of the internet that I’m in, during class, then I don’t think it’s as interesting to them as [when] I can specifically address where they are coming from. And I think it was powerful to have insight into where they are coming from and what their interests are.
On his future with Yellowdig:
I’m teaching the same course again in the summer. I wasn’t expecting Yellowdig to be as useful as it actually turned out to be. I thought it was going to be just a neat toy that we could use. I think I’d probably emphasize Yellowdig a little more.