Discussion Forums, Journals, Blogs & Wikis

Blackboard Learn offers four communication tools for self-reflection, collaboration, and communication. Discussion forums, blogs, journals, and wikis allow you to provide rich assignments for students, creating a place for authentic sharing and the active generation of knowledge.

While all four use the same underlying engine, each tool has distinct characteristics that make them better adapted for different tasks. You can use one or all of them in your course, and they can work well in combination. Select the tools that meet your course goals and allow students to interact in the most efficient ways.

Discussion Forums

Learn provides one main Discussion Board that displays the list of individual forums as you create them. It is a flexible, fully-developed tool that be put to lots of different uses.  It generates what is known as a Threaded discussion--meaning that students and instructors can post to initiate new lines of thinking, or Reply to posts as a way to comment and keep the conversation organized.  Individual forums can be graded or non-graded.  Graded discussion items appear in Needs Grading; the grading and feedback screens are well-developed and generally easy to use.  If students are required to create an Initial post and then provide substantive responses to the work of their peers, it is easy to tell how active each student has been in order to grade them accordingly. The blog tool, by contrast, does not have any way to easily track comments. 

Discussion forums can also be used as a platform for Peer Review activities (in many ways, a better choice than the Peer Review tool provided elsewhere in Learn--easier to set up and to grade.)  And finally, individual forums can be set so that students must create an initial post before they can see anything posted by their classmates--very handy for certain kinds of conversations!  One caveat - the Discussion boards for Group work are separate entities handled through the Group Management Tool.  Before deciding whether to use one or the other, we recommend reading a little bit about how groups work in Learn. 
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Journals are primarily designed to be used a personal space shared between individual students and the instructor.  They work very well for self-reflection and can also be handy for developing individual projects.  They can be graded or not graded, and there can be as many of them as you like.  The grading and feedback screens are easy to use and offer a lot of options.  If graded, they are tracked/ will appear on the Needs Grading page. 
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Blogs--short for web logs--are, by definition, public, and do a great job of showcasing blocks of text, which can be supplemented with web links, images and media files.  They can be graded or non-graded, and have room for reader comments at the bottom of each.  They are linked together with a menu bar down the side for students and instructors to use navigating from one to the next.  If your goal is to grade reader comments as well as the blogs themselves, you will probably want to use a Discussion Forum for your activity instead--given that there is no easy grading screen for feedback/ response posts.
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Wikipedia is probably the best-known public example of this collaborative tool.  It is designed to allow students to contribute to and revise each other's work, while keeping track of changes made to each version of a particular page.  It can be graded or non-graded, and can allow instructors to become facilitators rather than sole providers of course content.  A note about actual use--unlike say Google Drive--only one person can work on a particular page at a time. 
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