Wikis, blogs, and teaching

Last week, Brian Croxall asked Dave Parry the following:

why do you like blogs for teaching better than wikis

As far as I can tell, Dave’s answer isn’t recorded.  But, since I’m up late anyway prepping for a workshop on wikis, I thought I’d give it a shot. (UPDATE: now includes a link to the presentation notes.)

To a certain extent, this question doesn’t parse–it’s like asking “why do you like rakes better for yardwork than clippers?”  What’s wrong with both questions is that the category invoked (teaching/yardwork) is too broad to help us evaluate the tools at hand.  Although both blogs and wikis are platforms for online discourse, they embody/instantiate that discourse in quite different ways.

Parenthetically, this reminds me of one of my real frustrations with technology in universities: the tendency to freeze “technology” as one thing (online discussion! PowerPoint lectures!) and also “teaching” as one thing (Guide on the Side!).  I tend to think, somewhat lamely, that lots of different pedagogical approaches *can* be useful, and that in some contexts, well-thought-through online assignments can let us do things that can’t be done in the real world under current teaching conditions.  But fitting the tool, the assignment, and the learning outcomes together is a complicated process.
Anyway, all of this is to say that if you give me a goal, I can tell you why I prefer one form to another.  I prefer wikis to blogs for my class notes assignment, for instance, because that assignment focuses on the public, shared work of the class.  The collaborative nature of wikis is good for that.  In cases where I want students to develop, over the course of a period of time (a month, a semester), a perspective on a topic, or when I want them to roleplay in an interpretative game–well, a blog sounds better for those tasks, since it’s probably going to be organized chronologically.  But I cannot tell you, abstractly, why one tool is always better than another.

In general, I also think that it’s a mistake to invest all of one’s assignments in one technological tool.  Give up the quest for One Tool to Rule Them All, and trust that an ecology of on- and offline assignments can help you reach your goals.

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