Blogs, wikis and discussion boards: Which one fits your course?

A frequent question that comes up from faculty, particularly after the recent May CIT workshop series, is how to decide which tool to use for activities in a course – blogs, wikis, or discussion boards.  The tools are similar in some ways, allowing students to post text and other materials, but do operate in ways that make them more useful for some course activities than others.

Most everyone is familiar with discussion boards, which have been used widely on the Web and as a tool in Blackboard for several years.  Discussion boards are used to create a “thread” or “topic” where participants in the board can post replies or start threads on new topics.

A Blackboard discussion board

Most commonly, discussion boards are used in courses as a supplement to in-class activities.  An instructor might ask the students to post comments on a reading and use those discussion board posts as a starting point for “in person” class debate.  Faculty might also use discussion boards for peer review – students post their work and peers in the course can “reply” to their thread, offering their suggestions and comments.

Blogs are relatively new when compared to discussion boards.  Blogs or “web logs” originally emerged as a way on the Web for individuals or groups to post a kind of ongoing journal.  So, blogs, unlike discussion boards, are more focused on a chronology of information, displaying the most current “posts” first.

Faculty typically use blogs to have students make a record of ongoing research in a course.  For example, an instructor might have students pulling original research materials and reporting on what they find in a blog.  The most current posts are displayed first, allowing the class to add comments to posts or discuss in class the latest material.  Faculty also use blogs as an ongoing course journal for themselves to follow up class discussions with summaries of material or to answer followup questions after class sessions.  In some courses, blogs are used by students for personal journals to reflect on assistantships or research work in the community.

Blackboard includes a blog tool or faculty can use non-Duke services such as WordPress or Blogger for public course blogs.

While discussion boards present material thematically and blogs show material chronologically, wikis show student work with any structure you choose.  A wiki is a collaborative web space where authors can write web pages together.  A wiki starts out with a blank “home” page and subpages can be created and linked to each other.

Wikis are typically used by faculty to have students assembling an online resource, such as a textbook or series of “white papers” on a topic.  Students can add comments to wiki pages, but wikis also include the ability to show a history of how and when pages were changed and by which author.

There is a wiki tool in Blackboard and faculty can use DukeWiki to create pages visible to the public that are edited by Duke authors.  If you are collaborating with non-Duke authors, you can sign up with services such as PBWorks and WikiSpaces to create your own wiki.

If you would like more information on options for using blogs and wikis in your course or if you would like to discuss approaches to using other tools in your courses, contact the CIT to speak with a consultant.