Classroom Blogging – Wikis and Other Stuff

Classroom Blogging: A Teacher's Guide to Blogs, Wikis, & Other Tools that are Shaping a new Information Landscape (2nd ed.) by David F. Warlick.

Warlick wants teachers to know that blogs are not the only game in town. Depending on your goals, there may be other digital platforms which are better-suited.

He briefly mentions the rise of the Content Management System (CMS). Our school is transitioning to Moodle, which is one such system. Technically, blogs are also a CMS, though one which is far more limited in scope. I hear great things about Moodle and plan to blog on it this summer as I become more familiar with it.

Warlick also discusses wikis. Wikis are special kinds of web pages which can be accessed by anyone (with a password) for the purpose of building the site or page collaboratively with other users. The idea here is for continual, ongoing change – to produce a site which is always current. The most famous wiki is the ubiquitous Wikipedia. I plan to give more detailed attention to the Wikipedia-in-the-classroom-question in a later post. Warlick includes instructions for how to both create and utilize a wiki.

While I do understand the value (theoretically) of having students collaborate as a group or class towards building a single web-based product or artifact, I am not fully convinced that the wiki is the best choice for the high-school classroom. As a practical matter, my experience with online documents built by students suggests that they tend to devolve into a Frankenstein's monster of other people's online sources and references – not only is this a sketchy application of the copyright law's fair-use provisions, the quality of the finished product is wanting. Good teachers will reject mediocrity in all its forms.

Personally, I am still of a mind to believe that students ought to be producing more content which is both original and polished, and this is probably best facilitated by other means. Nevertheless, Warlick does provide a couple dozen examples of how wikis might be used in the classroom, varied by discipline and age-range. Some of the more promising ones tends towards the “archival” – sites which serve as online portfolios, notebooks, or collaborative study guides.

As with any internet-based effort, teachers and students must be mindful that anything one posts – unless it involves restricted access – exposes students' work to being copied and freely disseminated. For example, one of Warlick's wiki suggestions is a “story starter”, where a group contributes to an original composition composed online. Any proprietary rights which might be retained by a student, teacher, or school concerning a any original ideas, characters, etc. become very difficult to retain or enforce. We must emphasize the prudent use of technology.

Other topics in this part of the book include online message boards, forums, and mailing lists (i.e. listservs). At this point, I think these are all pretty dated. Blogs have pretty much usurped the place and purpose of the message board, and are much more dynamic and flexible technically. However, for those still inclined toward their simplicity, many existing classroom CMS's – most notably, Blackboard, Moodle and turnitin.com – all have integrated message board modules. And, mailing lists now are easily generated by applications such as Word, Outlook, or G-mail.

When to use Blogs, Wikis, and Forums?

  • Blogs → best for generating a dynamic online conversation, or to publish original content

  • Wikis → best for collaborative product building, or to assemble existing content into one place

  • Forums → best for generating “offline” conversation, which is not intended to be made public

Note: Specialized services such as Kidblog furnish the best of blogs and forums by offering password-protected blogs which place a level of privacy and protection between your students and the public.

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