Interview with Adam Munson of University of Florida
Professor Adam Munson specializes in operations management, decision modeling and supply chain management at the University of Florida. He also happens to be a proud alumnus of UF as well.
On the social-media feel of Yellowdig:
So far I like Yellowdig. It feels like Facebook meets Pinterest and so I think it has a more familiar feel for the students.
On the posting mentality of Yellowdig:
If I post something, I think [the students] feel pressured to agree with it or like it, even if I don’t [like it] myself: “I really like the article that Dr. Munson posted”. People comment and exchange point of views and they interact with each other differently than when they interact with me. So, I think you get a more legitimate interaction when its peer-to-peer than when its peer-to-professor.
On the many perspectives Yellowdig brings out in the course community:
So I’m actually enjoying it a lot going in, seeing what they’ve posted and what they’ve found. I look at things from an Operations point of view, that’s my background. Their backgrounds are varied. Some of my students are Operations majors but others are Marketing majors or Management majors and so they might find an article that’s related to Operations tangentially but is really a Marketing sort of article, something I wouldn’t have found because I wouldn’t be looking at Marketing literature or through that lens. So they sometimes see things through a different lens than I do and I enjoy seeing that.
On kickstarting the Yellowdig process:
I don’t post a lot of comments. I do try to post articles that I think are particularly salient, especially early in the semester so that they get a feel for the types of things and the synopsis that I am looking for. And then I try to engage very early on too by liking things and handing out some instructor badges myself. I think that pat on the back and that recognition encourages [the students]. And I suspect that word gets around and they are like, “The professor liked that post so I think that person got some extra points for that so I should try to post things of that caliber.” So I try to set the tone early that this is important and that I’m involved. But after the first couple of weeks, I have my TA’s spend more time in there than I probably do.
On students policing or editing the content they create:
Students police themselves pretty well. Sometimes I get an email from students saying, “Hey, this other guy posted something on politics. I don’t think he should get credit for it.” Or, “This person is posting things on abortion and gun control and I find it offensive.” And so I go in and look at the post and decide if I agree and remove it if I think it’s inappropriate.
On the relevancy of the articles posted:
So I’ve got a class of sometimes 600 or 700 students. They generate a lot of articles. From the ones I’ve looked at-- I would say probably 30% or 40% are really good articles that I would maybe even consider posting myself. I would say another 40% or 50% are articles that touch on the topics but are tangential or of lesser caliber. You know, when I see stuff from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NPR or a primary literature journal, they are usually pretty good articles.
Sometimes they get a little bit off topic. It starts with a John Oliver video that was sort of on topic but it was still a 20-minute rant on something else and that boosts someone else to do something else. Next thing you know, we’re off on the presidential primaries or something, which is clearly irrelevant.
So I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and say, “Well I wouldn’t consider this relevant but I can see how you might make that extension.” I think there are about 4% or 5% [of posts] that I think just outright should not be on the board. So for example, this is a video and it does have the words “process control” in it, but really isn’t a very good piece of journalism. This is a piece of advertising for a company or something. And it’s not always presented that way by the student. You know, if you present it as: “Hey, have you seen the ad for such-and-such, these are my thoughts on it and this is how it relates [to the course].” I think that’s good.
On the opinions and critique in students commenting on articles:
One thing I really liked was that student responses to each other are longer than their post descriptions. And so students have more to say about what other people have posted [rather] than what they’re posting. And I suppose that’s because, to us, it’s pretty boring to create a synopsis. That’s kind of rudimentary. But when you read something that someone else posted, you then formulate an opinion of it. I’ve found most people don’t formulate a very strong opinion of what they post. They simply describe it. Whereas, when you’re commenting on someone else’s [opinion], you tend to be either more critical or more supportive or you tend to express an opinion.
On the “Not Relevant” button in the Yellowdig forum:
Yellowdig has a “Not Relevant” button but that “Not Relevant” button doesn’t generate a message to me. So I would like to allow a setting that would say, if anything gets more than 5 “Not Relevant” [clicks] then send that [post] to me.
On the reality of virtual learning and tagging:
My class is consumed asymmetrically by my students. The [lecture] videos are recorded and then they are put out online and so some students watch them in near real time. So if we’re in week 7, we are on the material for week 7 and so they might want to talk about relevant articles for week 7, while another student might still be back in week 3 because we had an exam and then they went on vacation and then they had some stuff to do at work and so they have to catch up.
So that sort of asymmetrical environment where different students are at different points in consuming the course, I think, keeps them from being on the same page at the same time. And we understand that, because a lot of our courses are given that way. I’m reluctant to make things overly time restrictive. I use tags for each topic and I think that might work fine. Of course, there is no requirement that students tag anything so that’s something that I’d like to see: A requirement that when you post something, you pick the topic and tag it.
On content curation and the point system:
One of the things about using Yellowdig that’s a challenge is finding a good number of points for each action to encourage participation in the way you want. I would rather students post a little less but post a higher quality. But I also want them to be engaged and be on [Yellowdig] fairly often. And so if you only have to post 3 things in the semester, you’re probably not on there that often. And so I think using a lower number of points and forcing them to find articles is useful but it necessarily reduces the quality of some of the findings.
On creating a community:
To me Yellowdig is about generating volume and interaction. And to me that [means] it takes a class of 700 people, most of whom don’t see each other, and [makes] it feel like a live community with a lot of engagement. I don’t want someone to feel like they are isolated, sitting on their couch and taking this course on the internet. I want them to feel like they’re involved with 500 or 600 other people and they’re doing work: “I can see what [others do] and I can respond myself and I can participate in this discussion. And this discussion is loud and this discussion is noisy and I can’t consume it all because I am in a class of 700 people.”
On the feel of a virtual community:
And I said before, the way students communicate with me is different from the way they communicate with each other. And I want them to do it honestly and efficiently and effectively. But I don’t want to edit their discussion. I want to encourage them to communicate with each other.
I’ve read responses to things I’ve posted. I’ve read responses that students have posted to other students. The responses to me tend of have that formal feel: “I really like the article that Professor Munson posted. I thought it was very insightful and definitely illustrated some of the factors talked about in class…” It feels kind of like a book report. But when I go and read the comments they posted to each other, it’s like, “ Hey man, this was an awesome video. I love that you posted it. Let me tell you about what happened during my internship this summer…” or “I agree with what Nikki said” or “I don’t agree with what Nikki said.”
I’ve seen people post these funny skits that are related to the topic but are still funny. I actually do bring some of those into the classroom. I think if they can be funny but still make a point, that’s great. So for instance, with the John Oliver video that was posted on the statistical significance in scientific studies--it’s a twenty minute John Oliver rant and it’s awesome and it’s hysterical and I can never post it because there is profanity in it and it’s not rated PG. But if a student posts that and all the other students like it and love it, that’s great. I want them treating it like their Facebook feed and just fire off on what they think about [the subject].