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Selecting the Right Technology Tool: Wikis, Discussion Boards, Journals, and Blogs (Essays on Teaching Excellence) Part Two

Posted by on Friday, February 24, 2012 in News.

Selecting the Right Technology Tool: Wikis, Discussion Boards, Journals, and Blogs
Tami J. Eggleston, McKendree University
The POD Network Teaching Excellence Essay Series, 2010-11

In this essay, Eggleston discusses how daunting many faculty find selecting the right technology tool can be. To help with this task, she compares common electronic tools and uses Bloom’s Cognitive Domain Taxonomy (1956) and Chickering and Ehrmann’s Seven Principles of Good Teaching (1996) to connect these tools with skill development teaching goals and effective teaching practices. You can read the entire article or browse CFT resources on academic integrity including our teaching guide on technology and learning which features information on blogs and wikis.

In this blog post, we’ll expand on Eggleston’s essay and offer you an overview of blogs. Earlier this week, we discussed using wikis in your courses.

What is a blog?

Blogs are part of what Randall Bass and Heidi Elmendorf, of Georgetown University, call “social pedagogies.” They define these as “design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an ‘authentic audience’ (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course.” You can learn more about social pedagogies in the Chronical ariticle, “A Social Network Can Be a Learning Network” by Derek Bruff.

In “7 Things You Should Know about Blogs,” Educause describes blogs as:

An online collection of personal commentary and links. Blogs can be viewed as online journals to which others can respond that are as simple to use as e-mail. The simplicity of creating and maintaining blogs means they can rapidly lead to open discussions. Faculty are using blogs to express their opinions, promote dialogue in their disciplines, and support teaching and learning; students increasingly use blogs for personal expression and as course requirements.


Essentially, a blog is a personal journal published on the web consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first. Blogs are usually written by one individual (though occasionally by a small group) and are often themed on a single subject.  Many blogs provide commentary and some function as diaries; both types typically combine words, images and links to other online information. An important part of a post is the ability for readers to leave a comment.

When to use a blog

Blogging can be incorporated into the classroom in many different ways. Here are some of the most common:

  • Create a course blog in which you (as the instructor) blogs the content and ask students to comment on your posts before class. You can then use the blog post as a discussion starter. For instance, did someone have an insightful comment? Did you repeatedly see the same question popping up? Share these (and the blog post) to get class conversations started.
  • Create a group blog for the students in your course. Via the blog, students will be able to ideas from class, share resources with one another, and draw in outside participants (if you allow them to).
  • Require each student to set-up and maintain his or her own blog.  This can be a great way to facilitate student journaling, with journal entries either kept private, shared with just the instructor, or shared more widely.
  • Individual blogs can be used to scaffold a project or paper. For instance, Post 1 could be a list of potential topics; post 2, 2-3 primary sources on a chosen topic; post 3, a research proposal; post 4, a progress report; post 5, a draft of a section of the paper. The benefit of having students do this on a blog is that you can put them into peer editing groups and students can give one another feedback online.
  • Create a course blog that serves as a ‘hub’ which aggregates individual student blogs into one centralized space. On this blog, you could also provide course information such as the syllabus, the schedule, posts about assignments, handouts, and course discussions.

Curious about how instructors are using blogs in their courses? Here are some examples:

  • American Postmodernism taught by Mark Samples at George Mason University: Samples uses a blog in this course to encourage reflections on course readings. Students are asked to contribute weekly and he asks that his students “consider the reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it.”  For a listing of all of Samples’ course blogs, go here.
  • History of American Technology and Culture taught by Jeffrey McClurken at University of Mary Washington: McClurken uses a blog in this course to showcase digital projects by students in the course.
  • Archaeology students at Michigan State University: Students in the Campus Archaeology Field School use a blog to engage the public with their excavations.
  • Bears in the Sea is a Baylor University blog that documents the experiences of students and faculty as they participate in the HHMI SEA (Strategic Education Alliance) by implementing a creative new laboratory experience for students taking introductory biology.
  • Lewis and Clark Around the World is a collaboration between the Department of Overseas & Off-Campus Programs and Watzek Library at Lewis & Clark College. In addition to providing a window into LC Overseas experiences, the site serves as a discussion tool for the group during their time abroad. Program leaders can identify themes for study and assign projects to students. Students then post photos and descriptive analyses to meet these assignments. The group can then convene and discuss what they have posted.

Should I use a wiki or a blog?

Wikis are often compared to blogs because, in many ways, they’re similar: they’re easy to edit, are used to collaborate, and each is easy to set up. So how do you choose? We suggest that you consider what you’re hoping to achieve by using a technology in your course. For instance, are you wanting your students to write collaboratively or do you want submissions by a single author? For the former use a wiki, and the latter a blog. Is it important to you to have material in chronological order, or is most important that the content be generated?

Ready to get started?

As with wikis, the possibilities for using blogs to engage students both inside and outside of the classroom are immense.  Don’t hesitate to contact the CFT if you are part of the Vanderbilt instructional community and would like to talk to one of our consultants about incorporating blogs into your teaching.

Vanderbilt has a well-supported blogging service that uses WordPress as its platform. It’s easy to set up your site. Visit the Vanderbilt University Web Communications website and click on the Start a New Project button. You’ll be asked to log on using your VUNet ID/Passoword credentials to access new site request form.

University Web Communications also offers monthly training sessions to help you learn how to use WordPress.


Essays on Teaching Excellence is a series of eight short and succinct scholarly essays published by the POD Network on an annual basis, free of charge. The essays present innovative viewpoints on college and university instruction. Written in concise and non-technical language, and supported by research, the essays seek to assist instructors in reflecting upon and refining their practice of teaching to achieve the results they seek – students learning to the best of their abilities. You can view the archive of these essays on the POD website.

Photo by Bob AuBuchon




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