I did a number of sessions at the MACUL conference last week about blogs and wikis, and watched Will Richardson present a couple of others. One question that continually comes up is “when do I blog, and when do I use a wiki or discussion board?”
I can certainly understand why people who are just beginning to think about and use these tools might be confused. They are similar, in that they all three involve collaboration. All three also result in user published content going to the web. However, I think that there are some specific differences that influence why, when, and how you would use these tools.
To the right is a diagram that I use in one of my presentations. It needs to be updated to include podcasts along with blogs. Here’s the run down, as I see it.
- Forums are a tool that allows people to share and respond to ideas. the goal is to build knowledge through a cross-pollination of ideas. Instructionally, you use an online forum when you want students to process ideas and insights by sharing information and responses.
- Wikis are used to publish. However, a wiki site is usually intended for a closed community of people where layout and formality are not crucial. Like forums, the goal is to build knowledge through collaboration. But the knowledge is organized more like a web site, so that it is available for retrieval when needed. We are constructing a knowledge product for easy and convenient reference by a specific community. Instructionally, you use wikis when you want students to work in collaboration to produce a document such as a classroom online dictionary of words covered during the school year.
- Blogs (and podcasts) are more about publishing. Although there is a collaborative component, the intent is not discussion, but the publication of one person’s (or small group’s) ideas. A blog should be more formal, because it may be read by a wide variety of people with differing frames of reference. Instructionally, blogs are about communication. The goal is to take an idea and communicate it to a broad audience as effectively as possible.
These are not hard lines. Certainly, there will be overlaps between these descriptions. There will be times when there’s value in publishing an online discussion. There may also be times a wiki is used for sharing and responding to ideas, and where a blog is used as a discussion board for peer-review. But I hope that the distinctions I have described here might help some teachers to better understand these emerging tools.