Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Blogs, wikis, and discussion boards are web-based platforms through which students can create and share content as well as interact with each other and the instructor. There is quite a bit of overlap in the feature sets of these tools, however, how they tend to be authored, organized, and used offer distinguishing characteristics. This chart describes who is responsible for creating and sharing the content, the type of content, and the default approach to content organization (See "How do I know if it's a good fit?" for typical educational uses and examples.)

Tool

Authorship

Content

Organization

Discussion Board Individual Posts responding to Collective Forum or Thread within a Forum Originating posts and replies range from a sentence to a couple paragraphs, sometimes with attached documents, can include embedded media(e.g. video, images) and external links. Participants can rank threads. Chronological order within threads; is searchable; offers sort, including by highest ranked; offers tagging.

Blog

Individual or Collective (e.g. group blog)

Pages contain text entries; can include embedded media (e.g. video, images) and external links. Can be made open to comments by visitors.

Reverse-chronological order of entries by author; is searchable, provides tagging and categories to support organization and search; can be comprised of multiple pages with defined navigation.

Wiki

Collective

Pages contain text entries; can include embedded media (e.g. video, images) and external links. Can be made open to comments by visitors.

A flat hierarchy of continually modifiable web page(s); is searchable, provides tagging; typically comprised of multiple pages; can include defined navigation.



In general, wikis, blogs, and discussion boards can help students engage more actively with the material, with their classmates, and with you as the instructor.
Specifically, they can provide opportunities for students to:

  • Respond to course material as preparation for class
  • Start or continue discussion outside of class
  • Share relevant resources and other materials
  • Give and receive feedback on their ideas and work
  • Reflect on their experiences or work process  
  • Create a record of their work throughout the semester or for a project
  • Participate in alternative ways (e.g., if the class size is large or a student is uncomfortable speaking in class) 
They can also provide opportunities for instructors to:
  • Identify areas of student interest or confusion
  • Monitor an individual’s process work or a group’s progress on a project
  • Give feedback on individual students’ ideas and work
  • Interact with students outside of the classroom and office hours
  • Post questions or feedback that benefit all students


Like any new technology or activity, you should consider how well a blog, wiki, or discussion board fits your learning objectives, your students’ backgrounds, and your own teaching style. You should also ask yourself:

  • Does the blog (or wiki or discussion board) create an opportunity that would otherwise be unavailable to students?
  • Will the blog (or wiki or discussion board) facilitate this opportunity efficiently and effectively?
  • Are you able to use the tool and, if needed, provide instruction and/or resources for students to learn the tool?

To help you assess if one of these tools might be appropriate for your course, the table below includes a typical use and examples for each tool.

Tool

Typical use

Examples

Discussion Board

Students post and respond to questions about specific topics, readings, or assignments

Students generate discussion questions to address in class; students post questions about the day’s lecture for the instructor or other students to respond to

Blog

Students post and interact with each other about their individual or group work

Students write and comment on each other’s critiques of media reports that draw on course concepts; students write journal-style reflections on their service learning experiences and discuss these reflections in class

Wiki

Students collaborate in order to create and refine a larger body of content

Group members share resources and edit deliverables for a project; students compile an annotated bibliography for course-related sources

If you plan to incorporate a blog, wiki, or discussion board into your teaching, you should clearly communicate your expectations for how you and your students will use this tool. Specific aspects for which you should set expectations include:

  • Permissions/sharing (e.g., Is it password-protected or available to the public? Will students share their posts with only you or with you and their classmates?)
  • Your role (e.g., Will you moderate student interaction and collaboration? How often will you read and comment on students’ work?)
  • Student-generated content (e.g., Are students contributing to a class or an individual blog? Are students assigned a specific section of a wiki? Can students pose their own questions on a discussion board?)
  • Student interaction and collaboration (e.g., How often should students interact or collaborate with each other? What are the ground rules for their interaction?)
  • Feedback and grading (e.g., How will you give feedback to students on what they post and how they interact? Will this work be graded?)
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