Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Class Blog or Class Wiki?

For people who are just deciding to get something set up for their classes, a big question seems to be blog or wiki? And of course my answer is - "depends"!

I'll try to give you some points to think about that may narrow your decision making process so that you can get something that will work for you. So, here are some questions to consider...

1. Who is your primary audience for this site? I will say that if your primary audience is parents - my opinion is that a blog is the way to go. They read just like a newsletter, they are easy to navigate, and the posts show in dated order, with the most recent at the top. People can easily navigate back to earlier posts, and the information never goes away, it is just archived. Blogs can host links, pictures, videos, and other embedded programs, and they are very easy to use. You can also have "guest bloggers" (like students) to get a little student voice. Side bars are handy for helpful links and other widgets like polls.

If your primary audience is students, then next question...

2. Will the site be used for news updates for students? If the site will just be used for news updates, like a "scrapbook" showing highlights of student work (articles, student pieces, videos, pictures, etc.) then I still think a blog is probably the way to go - same reasons as for question #1.

If you do not want to run a general student "bulletin board", then next quesion...

Will the site be used for regularly posted class information? Do you just want a place to post the homework assignment? Your lesson plan? One or two important links students will need for an activity? If this is the case, a basic blog will still do the trick. Daily small doses of information in the form of text or links would work nicely in a blog. Students could easily navigate back to previous days, or access assignment or class information when they are absent.

4. Do you want to host a class (or classes) online - posting assignments, project outlines, class calendars, syllabus, links, places to categorize units of study, classes, and student work? Definitely go wiki. Wikis are great in their versatility. They can work like a blog, but work great as a way to categorize and add to a growing body of information for your students. You can give your students access to certain parts of a wiki too if you want - then they can post information as well.

Of course my answers are not the RIGHT answers - many other people have some pretty creative ideas for ways to use these. I would suggest that if you are just beginning with this (and you are a middle or high school teacher) that you pick one class to start with and go through the decision making process I have just outlined. As your comfort level grows, expand your class, or add more classes.

I personally use a combination of blogs and wikis for each of my 6 classes. I use a blog as my "portal". This is a central place that all of my students in all of my classes go. The blog serves as a general newsletter - mostly for students, but parents may enjoy the "lite" news on there as well. I try to get lots of pictures of the kids on there - students and parents like to see that. I use the side bar on that page for links to each of my class wikis (I host a wiki page for each of my 6 classes). I also use the sidebar of the blog to post links to all of the student blog pages. The blog is a central page where all of my students can get to anything they need.

Each of my class wikis is like a growing online "textbook" for that particular course. I have a main introduction page, then a page for the class calendar, and different categories - an assignment page, and different pages for different units of study.

That works for me - I would definitely suggest you use the guiding questions I have posted above to find your starting point and go from there.

You've made the decision - now what?
Two good free and easy blogging platforms I could suggest are Blogger and WordPress. I have used both, although I am more familiar with Blogger (this blog is hosted by Blogger).

I highly recommend Wikispaces for a super-easy wiki. They are simple to set up and very easy and versatile. I have found them to be a very dependable wiki host.

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