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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

D-Boards vs. blogs vs. journals?

In the past, I have regularly used Discussion Boards (within the Blackboard LMS) to have students post reflections or questions related to assigned readings. But I've really only used the Discussion Board tool because there was no better alternative; I've never been a big fan of the interface. The threads just seem clunky and I don't think students actually read what other students post unless I specifically assign them to do so. So now that my university has updated to Blackboard 9, which has blogs, wikis and journals, I'm considering using one or more of these options instead.

While wikis are specifically for collaborative creation of a common product, blogs and journals allow students to write individual posts or comments. From what I can tell, the main difference between Blackboard's blogs and journals seems to be that journals are intended to be private; students write entries that are only visible to the instructor (although there is an option to make the entries visible to other students but without the ability to comment). With blogs, everything is public and you can create 'course blogs' (where anyone can post and comment), 'individual blogs' (where only the individual student can post but anyone can comment) and 'group blogs' (where only members of the group can post but anyone can comment).

In my Econ for Teachers class, I have had students write two types of discussion board responses that might be appropriate for blogs or journals. One involves a personal reflection in reaction to assigned readings. The prompts for these typically ask students to reflect on their own experience and relate that experience in some way to the readings or class discussion. For example, one of the prompts toward the beginning of the semester asks students how their economics courses have been taught (lecture, active learning, group work, etc.) and how that may have influenced their current understanding and opinion of economics as a field. The other type of discussion board response is student reflections on their experience with Junior Achievement. This is a required activity for the class, where the students go into elementary school classrooms and 'teach' the JA curriculum. They are supposed to write a reflection post after each visit, explaining the lesson they taught and what they learned from the experience.

For the readings reflections, blogs seems appropriate, since I would like students to read and comment on each others' posts. I just can't decide if it would be better to have one course blog where the prompt is the main post and students respond with comments, or for each student to have an individual blog where their posts contain their reflections. With the whole-course blog, I think students will be more likely to read what other students have written, since they will be part of the same screen as the original post; on the other hand, they may or may not respond to those comments (and if they do, it may or may not be obvious which comment they are responding to, since comments are not threaded). With individual blogs, other students could comment in direct response but I worry that we'll have the same issue as with discussion boards, i.e., students would have to specifically click on a separate link to read another student's post and they likely won't bother. The third option is to have one course blog and each student posts there (so each student generates a post on the same blog, rather than having their own blog) but I worry that will get overwhelming and cluttered (there are 40 students in the class). So I'm still thinking that through...

For the Junior Achievement reflections, a private journal would be fine, since I don't expect students to read and comment on each others' posts. But if I have them do individual blogs for the reading reflections anyway, then they could just post these JA reflections there as well so logistically, that might be easiest.

Five years ago, the very first time I taught the class, I had students create individual blogs on blogger.com but a) there were only 15 students in the class and b) because the blogs had RSS feeds, I could aggregate them and students could go to one central page that had the titles and first few lines of the individual posts, with links to the full posts. If I could do something similar in Blackboard, I would feel better about assigning individual blogs but I don't think there is a way to aggregate the individual blog posts so they are all visible in one list (from what I can tell, there is no RSS feed since the blogs are only visible within Blackboard).

Has anyone had experience with using blogs in Blackboard? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

2 comments:

  1. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article
    nice post, that's very interesting information thanks for sharing :)
    I introduce a Economics student in Islamic University of Indonesia Yogyakarta

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  2. Hi Jennifer, I have used wikis in Bbrd and am just about to start using them in Moodle. I'm essentially doing this as a proxy for group or team based work, which is for various reasons, not possible in our context. I did have a problem with participation rates before, but I think a major issue there was that I was not very specific about exactly what I wanted the students to post on the wiki. This time I'm thinking of putting in more structure and specifying a particular kind of task for the wiki each week. I've also thought about blogs but figured wikis would work better in terms of group work. Parama

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