Any seasoned professor has a bag of tricks. When they walk into a room at the start of the term, they know what to expect and how they’ll handle the unexpected. That is part of learning the job.
But when that same professor offers that same class in an online classroom, some of the tricks of the trade need to change. Mad skills with the overhead projector aren’t going to translate.
In a Blackboard classroom, the savvy professor learns how to master the 4-in-1 tool suite that encompasses discussion boards, journals, blogs, and wikis. Know these tools, and you’ll be well on your way toward full ninja status. Each of these tools is very similar in how they look and feel to the students and how they are graded, but each has a special purpose. Get that purpose wrong and the tool will undermine the course; get it right, and your course success will be the envy of your department.
First, you need to understand that the only difference among the four tools is how the system handles the default permissions and editing. The distinction between a blog and a journal, for example, is who can see it. With a blog, the whole class can read the postings; a journal is locked down to only the professor and the student. A discussion board allows threaded conversations like a blog, but they are designed for give-and-take conversations; whereas blogs encourage the “presentation and response” model simply by the way replies show up on the screen. A wiki will track student activity like all three other tools, but it allows all the students in a class or group to be editing the same document over time. Here is a table you can use to match your tool to your need:
|Tool||Good For||Bad For||Avoid||Encourage||Example|
|Discussion Boards||Case studies, debate topics, subjective topics.||Questions with a limited number of responses (eg: yes/no, list the main points of a chapter, etc.).||Requiring each student to start a thread. Minimum word count in thread.||Topical threads. Substantive postings that “advance the discussion.”||“What is the most important right in the Bill of Rights and why?”|
|Blogs||Checking student understanding and allowing it to be evaluated by peer responses.||Topics that rely on the give-and-take of ideas.||Personal topics.||Students to submit “projects” this way. Visuals, video anywhere threads, and other interactive elements will encourage class interaction.||“Write 250 words on your favorite right in the Bill of Rights. Include three sources and a modern example of why it is important.”|
|Wikis||Demonstrating class understanding of fundamental concepts of the class, setting ground rules, encouraging teamwork and interaction.||Issues tied directly to strong opinion.||Requiring each student to participate in every Wiki entry.||Open-minded participation. Regular review of the Wiki area.||“Define the following terms as we agree to use them this semester: Freedom, citizenship, obligation.”|
|Journals||Tracking individual student learning and understanding of important concepts. Encouraging text reading and other course material use.||Any kind of interaction with other students.||Grading journals as if they are summative events. They are fundamentally formative and will illustrate emerging knowledge, not crystalized knowledge.||Students to post regularly, to go back and comment on their earlier postings when they have something to add later.||“Each week, list three things you learned from being in this class. Periodically go over your previous weeks’ postings to see if your understanding of concepts has evolved or changed.|