Journals, Blogs, Discussion, Wikis … What’s the difference? (And which to use when)

Blackboard’s suite of asynchronous social tools — Journals, Blogs, Discussion, and Wikis — provide students with different methods of sharing and recording their thoughts. Each tool functions very differently, and it’s important you match the right tool to the right assignment.



Journal posts are generally only visible to the student who made them (and to the course faculty).


Journals are good for self-reflection exercises, stream of consciousness free-writing, and personal activity logs.



Blog posts are generally made by one student (who may be the representative of a group, depending on the assignment), then read by the rest of the class. The readership may then comment on the blog post, but blogs are generally not designed for more back-and-forth interaction.


In his Chronicle of Higher Education article A Better Blogging Assignment, Mark Sample proposes the following assignment:

Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 200-300 word response to the week’s readings. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: 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.



Online discussion is the most interactive of these tools. In an online discussion, students post, then read and reply other students’ posts.


Discussion is a good place to get students interacting. While the name suggests discussion assignments mimic in-class discussion, discussion board posts are really more like mini-essays (how mini depending on the parameters you set). Students can then provide feedback (reply), both to the initial post and to other replies. Discussion is an excellent tool for getting students interacting with each other, as opposed to a blog, where the communication is largely one way (writer to audience, with minimal audience commentary).



Students can use a Wiki to collaboratively create a document or set of pages. Change history is logged, so you can look back and see which students made what changes

Wikis are an extremely versatile tool can be used at any time you want students to work together to develop a single document. A simple wiki assignment is the scavenger hunt (sometimes less thrillingly called a lit review): Students are tasked with collecting resources on a given topic — journal articles, books, web sites — then post their findings to a wiki. At the end of the project, the students will have collaboratively produced a single document with a wide array of helpful resources on your given topic.

Student groups may also use a wiki to collaboratively create learning modules modules for their peers.