New Blackboard Tools: Journals, Blogs and Wikis

Our updated Blackboard system offers some new options for engaging students: journals, blogs and wikis. Here’s a short explanations of what they are and how they can be used.

A journal is, of course, a private reflective piece of writing. If a journal were a picture it would look like this:

If a journal were a sound it would sound like this:
Journals in Blackboard are private between the student and the instructor. Only the instructor can comment on a journal entry.  There are several advantages to using Blackboard’s journal, rather than gathering journal entries by email.   First, they are secure in one place, not lost in your email. Instructors are given a number of tools to manage them as well.  New posts are prominently listed and you can go directly to them. You can also display the names of any journals that are empty.  As with Blackboard’s Blog and Wiki, students can post a wide variety of media and attach files to a journal post. This is a simple tool you can use right out of the box.

A blog is a single person’s take on something. A blog has the voice of its owner.  Its perspective is unique.
If a blog were a picture it would look like this:

If a blog were a sound it would sound like this:
The most obvious difference between Blackboard’s blog tool and a “real” blog is that it is contained within a course, not published on the web.  So while it feels inauthentic as a blog, it is a great way for students to post their own work and see and critique other students’.  Students can post videos, animations, audio files and embed anything else they can find an embed code for.  They can also attach files. Therefore students could upload their papers or powerpoint presentations or videos to share with the class.

A wiki is a webpage that is editable by many.
If a wiki were a picture it would look like this:

If a wiki were a sound it would sound like this:
The wiki tool is the most flexible and the most complicated. Its primary use is for students to create content.   In its basic configuration it is one web page that the instructor sets up.   Wiki contributors (the whole class, or group of students) can add text, pictures or multimedia.  There is also a space under the page to comment. Any contributor can edit and also add a page.

Groups might be given a wiki as a place to post resources they have found. One professor used a multiple-paged wiki, each page a different motor skill. Students filled out the stages of growth for each skill as they went along.

If you’d like to talk about how you can use any of these tools in your course, contact Judy Brophy at

What is a Wiki?

By Matthew Ragan

Much of the academic world is already familiar with Wikipedia – the free online encyclopedia of nearly 4 million entries – but also hesitant to embrace it as a useful learning tool. The web, however, is teaming with other user built resources that follow the wiki format.

wiki is a website that allows for easy creation and manipulation of a virtually countless number of pages. Additionally, a wiki characteristically is web based and allows multiple authors to contribute to a single page via a web browser. The true power of a site like Wikipedia is that anyone can contribute. In some cases that means that individuals can contribute their specialised knowledge about a topic, and it can also mean that strong copy editors can contribute a critical eye to sentence structure and flow. The underlying ideological understanding in a wiki is that not everyone possesses the same skills, talents, or predispositions: Strong researchers may be more concerned with the validity of their data, and not the grammatical structure of their sentences; copy editors (read English Majors) may not be fluent in current technical jargon, but write eloquently and can quickly spot problems with grammar andsyntax.

It’s not what you bring to a wiki that matters, but it does matter that you bring something.

In that way, you can think of a wiki as a potluck. At a potluck dinner there is an agreement among the participants that everyone is contributing something: not everyone has to bring a stellar dessert or even bring very much, but they do have to bring something – otherwise there’s too many guests and not enough dinner.

Another common characteristic of a wiki is the use of links. This usually appears as words that are a different color and underlined. Links might direct a reader to an internal or external source. The practice of linking topics/terms/ideas within a wiki can make it easy for viewers to explore the ideas/content presented.

Unfortunately, many academics fear the use of Internet based resources – like Wikipedia – because of their open nature. Wikipedia allows nearly anyone to contribute content and make revisions. For this vary reason it’s often pinned as an unreliable resource (the scientific journal nature has some interesting findings you can read about here and Thomas Chesney has some interesting findings you can read about here). You may agree or disagree with that argument, nonetheless in this course you’ll be building a wiki-based resource with your classmates. This an opportunity to learn about the inherent strengths and weaknesses of a wiki, including some insight into what kind of project fits well with the wiki model.