Social Innovation in the Classroom

A call from CEO Shaunak Roy prompted Medill professor Daniel A. Gruber to pilot Yellowdig, a social learning and analytics software platform in his classroom.

Yellowdig, a discussion board tool within Canvas that has the look and feel of Facebook, is used to promote deeper discussions from students about links posted to the course site by their instructor or peers. 

Gruber, Assistant Professor in the Medill IMC department and Courtesy Professor of Management & Organizations in the Kellogg School of Management, had previously used Twitter to engage his students in commenting on the "In the News" segment of his Strategic Communications course, in which he asks students to connect the things they are seeing in media outlets to the concepts they are learning in class.

As he placed materials into Canvas for the class, Gruber saw how the materials he developed for use online could be repurposed for greater impact in the classroom, especially with undergraduates, who find Yellowdig a practical way to keep up with what’s happening in the real world. During the winter quarter, students in one course alone had posted over 130 examples not shared in the syllabus, resulting in twice as many comments as he had come to expect in the forums.

One such example prompted by a student early in the quarter regarding the challenges of communicating sustained a conversation that lasted through the entire course – Chipotle’s crisis management. The students debated what it meant for a company with the slogan “Food with Integrity” to undergo a serious food safety scare and how the company’s communication plan defines the brand moving forward. A majority of this conversation occurred outside of the scheduled class time as students posted regular updates from Chipotle, the CDC, and others in real time. 


"This is such a transformational time to be a professor," said Gruber. "Technology allows us to extend the classroom while linking my students to the real world, helping them to make sense of [the media] business," said Gruber.

Gruber sees the Northwestern Information Technology teaching and learning staff as effective colleagues, helping him to increase his impact as a teacher.

"Dan is always looking for new ways to engage his students," said Michael Dice, Jr., a Senior Blended Learning Specialist who had worked with Gruber when he launched his class as an online offering in 2013.  Over the years, Gruber developed a practice of beginning his conversations with people in Northwestern’s Information Technology group about what he wanted to achieve, welcoming input and suggestions. "The resulting conversations always unfold with new ideas and solutions," said Dice.

Gruber has since become an ambassador for experimental teaching and learning. He takes real pleasure in sharing the results of the Yellowdig pilot, which he did for Northwestern’s Educational Technology Advisory Committee. Since then, he has presented to the Feinberg School of Medicine, the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and, most recently, to an International Innovation conference in Mexico. He has seen growth in the use of the social platform at the University and is pleased that faculty are finding it useful for a variety of classes and are adapting the technology to fit their particular needs.

Gruber sees a future in which teaching and research are connected in new ways.  "My research focuses on the relationships between firms and the financial media," said Gruber. "It's inevitable that technology will bring together teaching and research, and do it in a rigorous way."

The Yellowdig pilot, Gruber hopes, is helping to foster a greater sense of experimentation among Northwestern faculty.

To learn more about Yellowdig, register for upcoming Yellowdig workshops & events or visit and sign up for a demo.  

Download Northwestern’s Yellowdig User Guide to get started using Yellowdig today.