Interview with Russell Funk of University of Minnesota
Russell Funk teaches courses at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. His research interests include applying big data to management.
On his experiences:
I was really happy with Yellowdig. I envisioned it as a way of continuing class discussion outside the classroom. There were a few reasons why I wanted to do that. I teach a fairly large class. I have 3 sections of 65 students each. It’s an ethics class so we’re talking about different situations that businesses have found themselves in and debating different issues. The discussion is really important.
At the same time, with that many students, it can be hard to give everyone a chance to participate. Also with a class that large, some students are very reluctant to raise their hand in front of 65 people. The idea was to use this board as a way of continuing class discussion outside the classroom. I got a lot of comments from students saying they really liked being able to use the board for that purpose, especially students that might not spend that much time talking in class. They felt that Yellowdig was offering a way for them to participate. They could still be part of the conversation even though they weren’t raising their hand in class.
Another way I used Yellowdig was that I asked students to post a link to an article relating to an ethical issue or dilemma. The only requirement was that it should be thought-provoking. By making these posts over the course of the semester, the class built up a repository of cases that students could go to and look at for ideas. A few assignments asked students to do a case analysis, either as a group or individually. And so Yellowdig was a place they could go when they were trying to think of what they wanted to study for their case project.
Did the board help promote communication among students who would not normally sit with each other? Was there commenting and communication across friend groups?
Yellowdig definitely helped students exchange ideas and information with people they wouldn’t normally encounter. I teach three sections and the board was open to everyone across sections. Students might never have a chance to talk to folks outside their section, but on the board, they were seeing everyone’s posts. That’s one way they could access a bigger set of information and ideas. And I did see students interact with people they didn’t know—it wasn’t just replicating offline friendship networks.
Did your approaches to using Yellowdig change throughout the semester?
I was actually surprised by how much people used Yellowdig throughout the semester. I assigned 15 points to Yellowdig activity, which equated to roughly 5% of the course grade. Essentially if you use Yellowdig throughout the course, you could get the points. I was worried that because the assignment was only graded at the end of the semester, people wouldn’t use the board until later in the term. But the Yellowdig board was very active throughout the whole semester. Most people actually ended up using it throughout the semester, which I was happy with, but also found surprising.
On Yellowdig generations:
There are definitely generational differences. Younger students, in particular, are accustomed to posting things. That’s one reason why they may have been so active on Yellowdig. It’s just so natural to them. I was also teaching a part-time, evening MBA class and I used the board for that course well. Those students were generally older. They used the board and I think they found it helpful, but they didn’t use it nearly as much as my undergraduates. I do think there’s a generational aspect to using social media platforms like Yellowdig in the classroom.
On memorable discussions:
Oftentimes if we talked about something in lecture or I brought up a case, I would see people follow up on Yellowdig by posting similar cases. For example, if we were talking about a company that had introduced a new sustainability program, the next day I would often see people posting articles about sustainability programs at different companies that we had not discussed in class.
The next week, if we were talking about pharmaceutical companies, I would see a steady stream of posts on issues relating to that industry. I thought it was nice as an instructor—sometimes it’s hard with bigger classes to know when you’re getting through to people and when you need to spend more time on a topic. It was nice to see students picking up on and further exploring things we had discussed in class.
My general tendency is to be as inclusive as possible. That translates to both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. I’m really trying to get students to put things out there. Yellowdig has been a big help in that area.