1. What is a blog?
  2. Benefits of blogging
  3. Potential difficulties with blogging
  4. What is a wiki?
  5. How to use wikis/blogs in the classroom
  6. Wiki ideas
  7. Blog ideas

Blogs and wikis are two great tools for instructors looking for new ways to interact with and support students. Wikis are powerful (but easy to use) online collaborative tools. Blogs are a simple way to place content online and communicate with students.

Blogs and wikis are websites that can easily support multiple authors or collaborators and no software is required – just a web browser. The number one question to consider when using these tools is: what are you trying to accomplish?

What is a blog?

Blogs in their early form were called “web logs,” a simple means of annotating shared links found on the web. Today, blogs serve a wide variety of functions from topical opinionated blogs on subjects like politics or science to commercial blogs posting news or promotions.

Blogs typically consist of frequent posts organized chronologically that are usually written by an individual whose personality or perspective emerges through their writing. Group blogs consist of multiple authors writing on a given subject that are also identified clearly. Blogs are usually public, but can be made private to be viewed by select readers. Space for comments from readers can make blog posts a site for discussion.

Twitter is an example of a popular microblog where posts are restricted to a specified number of characters. It is designed for quick and succinct updates, reflecting immediacy.

Blogs are good for projects requiring constant updates consisting of independent, self-contained stories – such as news updates or magazine-style posts.

Recommended blog tools: wordpress.com or blogger.com

Benefits of blogging

  • Democratic: The blog equalizes voices and allows students to learn more about themselves and other students by the process of writing about course material. Within the space of the blog they can also collaborate and share ideas.
  • Critical thinking and writing development: Blogs are great for students who are not used to articulating their thoughts, as a starting point in a first year seminar or larger class: it can become an ideal space for criticizing, questioning, and reacting to course material and/or readings. Avid blog writers will eventually develop honed skills in effective self-expression and confidence in their written abilities. Record keeping about the course will allow students to have a document to refer back to for future paper writing and related courses. They can also workshop papers or run brainstorming ideas past their readers – expanding learning beyond the single instructor-student relationship.
  • Transferable skills: Beyond the scope of the course students will be able to acquire skills such as online knowledge about the application, some aspects of html, social collaboration with public and peers, and writing for a wider audience.

Potential difficulties with blogging

  • The need for back-up contingency plans in case of students not wanting to participate, software issues, or other related mishaps.
  • The length and/or level of a course possibly being a factor in the usefulness of a blog.
  • Other issues include: whether to keep the blog public or private, how to organize and preserve information, to motivate students to post, to grade individual or group contributions, and the need to get feedback on the entire process from students.

What is a wiki?

Wikis are sets of webpages that become online documents that can be created or edited by multiple authors. Consider the famous example of Wikipedia.org, a user-generated wiki encyclopaedia.

In contrast to blogs, wikis typically consist of more static content agreed upon by a group over time and updated when needed. They can be public to the entire internet or private to a select group of people as needed for different projects.

Wikis are good for collaborative work towards completing a static site that could serve as a comprehensive resource for others.

Recommended Wiki Tool: pbworks.com

How to use wikis/blogs in the classroom

Set up a blog or wiki that:

  • You publish for students to read and comment on – space to communicate important ideas and resources related to the course to the students
  • Both you and the students publish content – students help to gather useful content and resources that will benefit everyone
  • Students publish content individually or as part of groups – space for students to display ongoing work or collaborate and display group work

Wiki ideas

Wikis are a great platform for collectively updating information, and are therefore very useful in a classroom setting where the material is constantly changing or there are new developments in the industry, e.g. business, media studies, science or social sciences.

  • Course and assignment FAQ
  • Course glossaries and media libraries
  • Perpetually updated lists or collections of links, including subject resources, news, articles, media, or academic literature
  • Online study group or spaces for brainstorming and/or planning • Platform for group assignments or assignment collaboration among peers
  • Pages for collaborative writing between students and faculty or students and teaching assistants

Blog ideas

Students can use blogs to organize class notes and provide summaries of readings. If organized correctly through blog tags, all of the entries will simply file themselves – in turn creating a detailed archive of the course and powerful study aid.

  • For weekly assignments or student commentary: blogs can expand the conversation by enabling student to easily share ideas and reactions among peers. It is easy for students to post hyperlinks to course-related content found online to add to the richness of discussion.
  • Supplementary learning tool: showcase a wide variety of course-related online resources or post examples of good writing done in class to allow students to discuss what makes it successful.
  • Source of feedback: blogs can be a valuable platform used to learn about the students’ reactions to your own teaching and presentation of course content.
  • Research tool: blogs can be used to aid in amassing research on a topic, getting students to search out information and asking them to summarize what they have learned.

Not sure where to start with blogs or wikis? Contact us by email (edc@carleton.ca) or phone (ext. 4433) to further discuss how to use these tools in your course.

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