You Gotta Know When to Blog ’em: When to use Blogs, Wikis and Discussions

Jacob SpradlinJacob Spradlin M.Ed.
Assistant Director of Training and Development

GamblerPlease excuse “The Gambler” reference in the Post topic, but a recent session at the Blackboard World conference in New Orleans got me thinking about this topic.  Throughout the course of any given semester I get the following question asked me often:

“So I want to use these great tools you keep telling us about, but how do I know when to use a Blog, Discussion Board or Wiki?”

Trying to find the right answer to that question sometimes feels like trying to explain what wind is without being able to feel it.  I generally like to have examples in front of me.  However, in an effort to put my thoughts into writing, let’s start by giving some origin statements and move into concepts and features for each:


Blog is short for Web Log.  It is an author-centered document that is generally administered by one user or a small group.  Comments (discussion) is encouraged, but the main thrust is the blog post.  The purpose of the Blog is to share a “log” of events or to journal.  It could chronicle a reading, media object, event or personal insight.  Blogs are generally presented with the most recent posting first as well as a calendar list of other posts and an archive.  Blogs (like this one) tend to be more conversational in nature and are designed around text and media.  Once you make a post you tend to move on to the next one unless you need to make an edit or read comments.  Each post is owned by the person who made it.

Blogs nowadays have a plethora of features including: subscription, archiving, widgets (plugins that link blogs to other social media (twitter, facebook, etc.), listservs.  They also allow tagging, categories and the ability to customize how they look.  Thanks to tagging, blogs are easily searchable. They also tend to be media-rich.

Discussion BoardsDiscussion Boards:

Spawned from ye olde Bulletin Boards.  They are usually topic centered given a discussion prompt by teacher/moderator.  They can be administered by the instructor or group depending upon how roles are defined. The boards are reply driven meaning postings and replies make up the structure of the Discussion Board.  Discussion boards are primarily used to discuss topics posited by the instructor self-generated by a group.  They also fulfill a support function (Course Q&A, Virtual office).  Depending on the type of discussion activity, posts can be formal or conversational.  This type of activity is also static in that posters don’t go back and re-edit their posts, they just continue posting in the thread.  Poster’s own their own posts, but roles can be assigned to make participants, moderators, managers, graders etc..

Discussion board features are not as exhaustive as Blog or Wiki features, but they do allow file attachments, are very collaborative and easy to navigate.


Wikis get their name from the Hawaiian word “wiki wiki” which means “quick”.  Boiling the concept down is a collaborative web document or webpage.  They are generally document centered, project based items.  They are administrated by all of those involved in the wiki. Comments can be employed when needed but are not part of the main thrust.  You use wikis to create documents, projects, resources, case studies, portfolios, etc..  The wiki organization and design is dependent upon whatever method the individual or group decides.  Wikis are subject to constant change.  They can be created, shared, edited and re-edited over and over (think Wikipedia).

Wikis today come with many features and facets including: comments, archives, widgets, rich-media experience, WYSIWYG web interface. It looks and feels like a webpage so navigation and construction is very straight forward.

That’s great, but when do I use them?


Blogs are good for reflection or for journaling.  They offer chronological list of postings.   They are also good for podcasting, photoblogs and posting from mobile devices or “moblogging”.

Discussion Boards:

Good for topic based discussions, opinions and response driven assignments.


Project based assignments, repository-based assignments, portfolios, case studies, course documentation, collaboratively produced study guides, group work.

I hope this helps some of you put when and where to use these tools into perspective.

Ewoks and the Death Star

Mobile learning, whether on an IPAD or a smartphone, is going to be crucial to the success of every online program in higher education. In one of my sessions, today, Eric Stoller discussed the mobile revolution and brought up some interesting points. The good news is that Blackboard has a mobile application that can aid SHSU in our part in the “revolution”

A few statistics were presented in the session, although I am not sure of the source and credibility of the statistics, nevertheless, they are likely a fair representation of reality.
75 percent of college students sleep next to their smartphone
33 percent of college students would give up television over their smartphone
39 percent of college students have used their smartphone in the restroom ( yuck)
By 2013 more people will use a smartphone to access the Internet than by using a computer.

The mobile revolution will take Sam Houston State University and the education we offer right to the place the students spend most of their time, on a mobile device. Imagine discussion boards, lectures, registering for class, university athletics, or library services in your hands anywhere and anytime.

The real challenge, as I learned, is to create an application that is student centric. This is something the students want, so let’s take it to them. It is simple economics, consumer wants and needs, and if the students are driving the demand then we need to have them in mind when designing the applications.

Designing a clean, frictionless application that gets students what they need in a simple, yet cuddly framework is essential. Eric Stoller likened the friendly simple mobile applications to an Ewok from Star Wars, and yes this is the real reason I came to this one. I’m a Star Wars geek. Providing the front end, cuddly feel, with underlying depth and strength of a “Death Star” will equate to a high traffic application. Placing the “Death Star” and it’s scary look on the front end of the application will scare users away. Therefore we must fuse these fictional entities to create a balance.

So we need a place where the Ewok and Death Star can coexist. Blackboard helps to bring these together with their mobile application. It is simple, user friendly, yet capable of great functions for enhancing learning. This was a wonderful session and I hope that we take this information and use it to drive the university and our top notch education right to the palm of the students hands, or paws if you are an Ewok.

BbWorld Blog: Beyond the Bells and Whistles – Exemplary Courses and Best Practices

Jacob SpradlinJacob Spradlin M.Ed.
Assistant Director of Training and Development

7/12/2012 2:50pm | Room 273

Subject: Focus on importance of pedagogical best practices.  Discuss design and teaching principles behind the ECP rubric; the impact of exemplary courses on the student experience; and how the ECP and its rubric can be used for individual course improvement, faculty training and professional development.

Exemplary Course Program –

What is it? – core of program is a rubric:

Course design

  • Goals and Objectives
  • Student Engagement
  • Content, Org and Clarity

Interaction and Collaboration

  • Learning and COurse Grade
  • Vareity of tools


  • Alignment w/ objectives
  • Formative and SUmmative

Learner Support

  • Orientation and training
  • Technical and Pedagogical

Design Standards:

  • Sound Instructional Design
  • Quality Matters Rubric

Practices Exemplary

  • Extensive interaction
  • use of of multimedia
  • Mastery based exercies


Faculty Information – includes picture weekly office hours through blackboard IM, Expectations
Discussion Boards – Each week different discussion board faculty must seed each discussion (first reply) Weekly graded assignment
Live Classroom – Every class has live classroom link (trainings offered to faculty)  Faculty who Commit to doing 3 live sessions they are offered a stipend
Feedback & Grades – Consistent, responsive feedback.  Rubrics for every assignment.

Module Content (videos & podcasts) and accessibility.  Every piece of audio and video content has transcript.

Mastery Based Exercises

Check your Understanding Exercises – use Adapative release
Mastery exercises – for a grade 10 questions, take it unlimited and no due date.

Advanced Photoshop

Course Design
Projects & Interactive Rubrics.  project base course design.  The way each week is laid out is identical.

Assessments and Rubrics – Can be accessed in several different locations (Course information, and Gradebook)

Leave feedback when you score in your Interactive Rubrics!

Introductions to Computers –

Course is active, collaborative and authentic – design principle.

Dashboard Announcements – Frequently used features. Schedule your announcements to release ahead of time.

Label everything as Required, Recommended and Optional. Allows more content in front of the students without it overwhelming them.

Task List – Use the Date management screen to set dates of when things open close and when they are required.

Automated Notification from Agents console of the Early Warning System.  Entire course is Project Driven.

BbWorld Blog: Documentation Tips and Tools, Brought by the World’s Foremost Expert in the Field: YOU!

Jacob SpradlinJacob Spradlin M.Ed.
Assistant Director of Training and Development

7/12/2012 1:45pm | Room 270

Subject:  The academic communities we serve need help using Blackboard; how can they screw things up all by themselves?! No, they need our help. But our staffs are small, our audience big – documentation is a necessary evil.  Questions include: What does the academic community need most; tools for the creation of  & venues for the dissemination of help material, how are staff resources best allocated for creating support tools, and how are those tools kept current? The person best equipped to share this wisdome is YOU. We are stronger together than we are apart.  The second in a series of discussions on the subject.

Birds of a feather session, roundtable discussion.

Session Leader: Robert Harris From William Patteson in Wayne New Jersey.

Concerns:  Reaching out to students.

Venues for getting support to students(all varieties), faculty & staff.

  • Web pages
  • Short videos on youtube (you tube site)
  • Blackboard Courses
  • Blogs, Twitter, Facebook pages

Menu catgorization: students, faculty, videos, pdf, non-blackboard >more quicklinks >training & tutorials.

Built into course tab a module that brings in twitter feed.
Training tab built into Blackboard.  Documents stored in content repository.  Different modules on main page.

Leveraging Blackboard as a part of a larger strategy to connect different constituencies.

Using Collaborate to facilitate training.  Use collaborate to train student staff.  Weekly meetings with lab assistants, managers. has useful documentation as well.

Link to all of the Blackboard On-Demand stuff.

Collaborate Wednesdays – highlighting different features on a weekly basis.  Grass roots approach to encouraging attendance.

Camtasia 8 is a useful tool for training videos.  Has copy/paste feature. Easy transcript.

The addition of Articulate, Raptivity, Soft Chalk.

Atomic Learning 1/2 price of  Has all the training videos done for you.  Using Khan Academy to create a Blackboard area.

Documentation User group in – Contact Robert Harris

Use adaptive release to ensure concept mastery.

Need Academic Administration Will Power (Provost level) to require mandatory training.  Get Faculty to train faculty or Mentors.  Team up with faculty leaders!

Stipends can also help.  Get administrators to lead the training when possible.

iPad Users Group.  Appalooza!

Onlive – Comes with explorer browser so you can get flash (iPad changing app)

Online Pedagogy Course – 4 week Online education.

Who is driving? The technology or the content?

I attended a session presented by the Joint Forces Staff College, an educational institution that utilizes distance education to train military leadership. It was an enlightening session, placing my thought process in perspective, with regards to vision and process in developing a great, not just good distance education program and courses. Moving forward, this session gave me some additional perspective in assisting with the development of distance courses. I urge you to consider the following perspective.
The Joint Forces Staff College is an example of government, allowing a variable of free enterprise to drive the decision making process. There was a consumer demand for distance education courses, particularly for reserve forces in the military, who cannot go to school for an extended period of time on campus. These are individuals with outside of the service careers, therefore the decision was made to do anything to get the education to these reserve forces. They had to decide how to get these soldiers great courses. We are in the same position at SHSU, we recognized a need, and now we deliver quality courses and programs.
In preparing to deliver great content and great pedagogical methods, we have to decide what a distance program will look like and how we frame it. Are we delivering a distance education program using cool technology, that is the driving force, all the while allowing content and methodology to suffer? Or are we using the technology in a way that truly delivers great content in the most effective way?
When we answer the question of whether technology or content drive our courses and programs, we also decide the framework of our courses. Are we copying a face to face (f2f) course and fitting it into a course on the computer? Or are we using the technology to reshape the delivery of the content in a way that drives higher level learning in the content area? I challenge you to look at your course and evaluate it from the perspective of rigorous content that is delivered through useful, effective technology. Let’s not allow our courses and programs be a showcase for technology that is populated by content with no real depth. Allow the content to showcase the great technology we have available to us. We may very well end up with courses that are structured completely different from the exact same face to face course. That is okay, in fact, that’s great! What we have in this circumstance is a course design that, at the very least, considered and acknowledged the potential for technology to do things different and better.
Technology is to be used to make the educational experience positive, engaging, and life changing. Let’s not be afraid to innovate with our technological potential in delivering content. One of the speakers in my session said, ” Do not be afraid to fail,me willing to.” if we are afraid to fail our courses will stagnate, we will never get better. If we are willing to fail we will discover new methods, we will continue to be cutting edge.
Sam Houston State University has one of the better online programs. In order for us to continue to be a leader in delivering high level online courses, I ask you to allow the content of the courses to be the driver and the technology to be our vehicle. Metaphorically speaking, we remember the cool Porche that drove by the other day, at least temporarily. If we spend time with the driver, having an intellectual conversation with the driver. The result will be a long term learning experience from the human interaction. Overall, SHSU does a good job of creating life changing conversations, let’s continue to push forward with great content and great technology.

BbWorld Blog: Forums, Blogs, Wikis, Journals – Which one to use and why

Jacob SpradlinJacob Spradlin M.Ed.
Assistant Director of Training and Development

7/12/2012 | Room 276

Deborah Prickett
English Instructor
Jacksonville State University

Rewrote mission statement to be a “learning centered” university.   Doing a lot of challenge based learning in the English Department.  Offering many hybrid courses.


  • Prompts or not
  • Replies when required
  • Checking for posts that respond
  • Students – not continuous Engagement
  • Grading Fast and easy

Discussion forum keeps track of all comments(replies) in Gradebook.  Blackboard Blogs & Wikis do not.


Individual Blackboard Blogs are better Chunked.  Put them together so that they are easier to grade.  This professor created an individual blog for every chapter.  Great for multimedia input (videos, pictures, charts etc).  Great for older students.

Students are used to looking at blogs.  Blogs are more visual.  Forums have Tree Structure.

*Tip:  Have your students decide how the assignment will be graded: A student created Rubric!

BbWorld Blog: Pedagogy First Course Design to Follow

Jacob SpradlinJacob Spradlin M.Ed.
Assistant Director of Training and Development

July 11, 2012 | Room 392

Subject:  In order to ensure that our students receive a high quality online education, Montclair State University has transformed its approach to faculty training and development.  By restructuring the format of our training workshops, from technology to pedagogy focused, we have seen an increase in the quality of instruction and comfort with this new online learning environment.  We have implemented a pedagogically focused online course template, with an emphasis on active learning.  These innovations have led to an increase in online/hybrid course offerings and improved student outcomes.

Montclair State has 6 colleges/schools and 18,000 students (graduate and undergraduate).

Pedagogically focused online course template –
Benefits and challenges of online learning and teaching are important to think about.

What do students expect?  Quality, Clarity, responsiveness and frequent timely feedback.

Online – Flexible time and space, front loaded design process, instructions must be explicit, guide on side, technology must be leveraged to facilitate interaction, frequent instructor feedback.

Work is grounded in Quality Matters:

Course design model (subject/content driven model).  Holistic approach to each learning unit: Orientation, Content, Interaction and Assessment.

administrative information is separated from learning units.

Old approach

New approach
Building a student friendly online course
Facilitating online interaction
Designing Assessments Online
Transforming a face to face course to an online/hybrid
Assessing Learning through scoring rurbrics.

This leads to radically changing how you position your material.  Focus on collaboration, communication, assessment and interaction.

They run a summer institute (3 days). Focus on delivering content, collaboration, assessment and communication.  See real examples of coursework from peers.

Services listed of what instructional designer can do?  Where do they go for information, how do they get design help.

Guide to becoming a successful online learner.  (Is online learning right for me?)

Spotlight the faculty (ask them to e-mail in what they think is cool).  Once a week goes out in the blurb.  (leverage connect here also maybe a text message).