Saturday, December 02, 2006

Blogs and Wikis for Undergrads

As some of us prepare for next semester's teaching, I'd like to propose a variation on Dave's thread below: using blogs or wikis for undergraduate C18 teaching.

I've tried using WebCT to generate online discussions in previous classes, with only limited success. Part of the problem is that WebCT in my institution has a reputation for being slow, cumbersome, and unreliable--and it seems to crash spectacularly at least once a semester--so students tend to regard it with suspicion. The other problem is that I haven't been able to come up with a way of requiring and evaluating online discussions that doesn't seem strained and artificial, inadvertently stifling the potential of the medium for provoking original, spontaneous, and risky thought.

Moving away from WebCT to other formats would solve the first problem. I've looked at Carrie Shanafelt's wiki (which I gather takes the form of Wikipedia, but doesn't actually interact with the "real" Wikipedia that created such problems for Thalia's Daughters--correct me if I've got this wrong). And clearly, I have also perused Miriam Jones's course blogs. I see a lot in both formats that I would like to emulate, but I'd like to know more about the potential problems and pitfalls of the form. Do students balk at creating the necessary online identity? Do they actually read each other's posts, comments, and wiki entries? How do you encourage them to respond to each other? Has the public availability of the sites been a problem? Do students find it reasonable to post to both a blog and a wiki among their other course requirements?

I know Carrie and Miriam have both discussed their use of these course elements already on this site, but I would be interested in knowing more about these kinds of nuts-and-bolts issues from them, and from anyone else currently blogging and wiki-ing with success. I would also be interested in hearing the experiences of people who have not found it pedagogically useful to take their students online, or who have been stymied by logistical problems.