Monday, April 02, 2007

Pedagogical Implications for Blogs and Wikis in Higher Education

The emergence of blogs and wikis within higher education is causing the academy to reexamine traditionally held pedagogical beliefs. Once labeled as emerging technologies, they are becoming more common due in part to the increase in usage. While the pervasiveness of the technologies is growing outside of the academy, many are wondering how they can be included within the academy. Specifically, can these technologies be used to promote critical thinking, academic engagement and promote reflection? Do these technologies require a curricular shift or a mere revision? How can these technologies “fit” into accepted pedagogical practices?


Stephen Downes noted, “the process of reading online, engaging a community, and reflecting it online is a process of bringing life into learning” (Downes, 2004, p. 26). As educators, we want to provide opportunities for our students to interact – whether with the content, the instructor or other students (Moore, 1989). Blogs and wikis provide the vehicle for student interaction on all three levels.

Through reading, knowledge is transmitted and through writing knowledge and experiences is ingrained (Dale, 1946). The process of writing, in terms of wikis and blogs, is a learned behavior (Emig, 1977); through the use and integration of blogs and wikis within the college curriculum, we can provide students with greater opportunities to write and ultimately hone their craft and abilities as writers.

The “Read-Write” Web

Unlike the first generation technologies that did not support ease of collaboration, the newer technologies “have created opportunities for [creating] such learning communities” (Leh, Koubs and Davis, 2005, p. 241). The “Read/Write Web promises to transform much of how we teach and learn” (Richardson, 2006, p. 2). The students of today enter the academy with the perception that technology is a natural part of their environment and should be equally as natural, pervasive and transparent in the educational environment (Oblinger, 2003). They have grown up with technology and are much more comfortable and competent with what we label as ‘emerging technologies.’ They are able to adapt their previous technological experiences to newer versions or models of technology.

For many educators who are familiar with emerging technologies, recent technologies like blogs and wikis “offer powerful opportunities for online collaboration” (Godwin-Jones, 2003, p. 12). The new technologies have, in essence, created “social writing platforms” (Alexander, 2006, p. 36) where the free and unfettered exchange of ideas can occur. Through these new technologies, instructors can provide a natural context for learning and developing writing skills (Chism, 2004).

This new technological horizon has the potential to refocus college teaching from “covering the materials for the students” to “uncovering the material with the student” (Smith, Sheppard, Johnson and Johnson, 2005, p. 88). In this new environment, students are actively engaged in the learning process, “reading, writing, discussing” as they learn (Stalheim-Smith, 1998, p. 3). Students can develop critical thinking skills, written and oral communication skills and become reflective about learning (Owston, 1997).

Focus on journaling skills

Writing skills is a critical step for student development. Writing helps, encourages and provides an outlet for students to reflect on their learning (Anderson, 1992). By providing the structure of a blog or wiki, students can “demonstrate the reflection, synthesis, and experimentation” normally associated with composition classes (Anderson, 1992, p. 305).

Integrating new technologies, such as blogs and wikis, into writing needs instructor provided guidance as to structure, content and context (Orem, 1997). Many students, when beginning a journal assignment often do not have the past experience (Anderson, 1992) and to create an environment for success need and rely upon instruction and feedback.

Writing as critical reflection

Once students have begun to immerse themselves in the writing process, they will be more likely to “realize the power of reflection and its positive influence on generating knowledge and competence” (Orem, 1997, p. 155). Because writing takes time, and is not immediate, students or writers have a greater opportunity because of the medium to be more reflective (Emig, 1977). Writing, whether in the form of a blog or wiki, provides students with a new form of information literacy (Richardson, 2006). Through these new technologies, students learn to collaborate, to think and to express themselves and deepen their learning (Boulos, Maramba and Wheeler, 2006).

Evaluating or assessing Web 2.0 composition

To begin to evaluate this new form of composition, it is important to remember that this medium is somewhat unstructured and unencumbered by the subtle nuances of formal, academic writing. This form of writing focuses on the process of writing and not on the end product of producing a paper (Anderson, 1992). The new web is “a viable means to increase access to education” (Owston, 1997, p. 29). Both wikis and blogs “actively involve learners in their own construction of knowledge” (Boulos, Maramba and Wheeler, 2006).


Blogs have been characterized as “on-line journals” (Godwin-Jones, 2003, p. 13). Richardson defines a blog as “an easily created, easily updated website” (Richardson, 2006, p. 17). The very nature of a journal provides students opportunities to write for an audience, normally the teacher; in the online environment, the audience becomes much larger (Downes, 2004; Godwin-Jones, 2003). This dynamic now creates an environment where students will become more aware of their audience.

One limitation, or restriction, of a blog is that they are normally “chronologically organized” (Godwin-Jones, 2003, p. 14). Blogs consist of a post, normally arranged in date time order, and subsequent comments to a particular posting (Alexander, 2006). The structure would encourage reflection, sustained writing, engaging readers and reading (Downes, 2004).

Through a blog, a student has opportunities to demonstrate knowledge of the content by their postings and demonstrate synthesis and analysis by commenting on other students postings (Moore, 1989). The demonstration of knowledge can best be evaluated by reviewing and commenting on the process, rather than the product (Kerka, 2002). It is more productive, from the perspective of the learner, to receive reflective feedback that causes them to refocus on their writing.


The wiki has the potential to “become a shared repository of knowledge” that grows over time (Godwin-Jones, 2003, p. 15). The dynamic and fluid nature of the wiki demonstrates that the wiki is “in a constant state of flux” (Lamb, 2004, p. 38). A wiki is “a website where anyone can edit anything anytime” (Richardson, 2006, p. 59). Building learning communities through and with a wiki can provide students with opportunities to share ideas, become critically reflective, analyze and synthesize content and ideas (Leh, Koubs and Davis, 2005).

As a platform for writing, wikis are ideal as “shared online sketchpads or as spaces for brainstorming” (Lamb, 2004, p. 38). This fluid writing space is ideal for immediate student interaction with the content and other students (Moore, 1989). The structure of a wiki and its ever-changing nature is best evaluated in terms of writer reflection and development of thought, not on the grammatical and syntactical components, which may impede the reflection of the writer (Kerka, 2002).

Uses for emerging technologies in higher education

After considering the technological implications for supporting blogs and wikis, and their apparent novel approach or venue for writing, it should become evident that these technologies support peer-editing of work, developmental writing, critical thinking, reflection, enhancing and supporting the process of writing (Alexander, 2006; Lamb, 2004).

Using these technologies to replace traditional classroom instruction should not be the primary concern of educators, but using them to “[fill] a gap void in existing practice” (Lamb, 2004, p. 48) provides the greatest promise. To remain a viable institution, to develop and change with technology rather than because of technology, we must find ways to integrate the new technologies into teaching and learning.

These technologies may reach those students who were or have been considered unreachable. These technologies can significantly improve the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning (Chism, 2004; Gilbert, 1995). This is now the “Read/Reflect/Write/Participate Web” (Richardson, 2006, p. 133). These technologies may encourage writing and ultimately impact student learning.


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online diploma said...

Well summarized article.

Online Diploma said...

Each one tech one. Student wants to learn and teach wants to teach,then successful result. Without any one not possible. Same without heart not possible mind work or remember.Always work by heart.

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