Please excuse “The Gambler” reference in the Post topic, but a recent session at the Blackboard World conference in New Orleans got me thinking about this topic.  Throughout the course of any given semester I get the following question asked me often:

“So I want to use these great tools you keep telling us about, but how do I know when to use a Blog, Discussion Board or Wiki?”

Trying to find the right answer to that question sometimes feels like trying to explain what wind is without being able to feel it.  I generally like to have examples in front of me.  However, in an effort to put my thoughts into writing, let’s start by giving some origin statements and move into concepts and features for each:


Blog is short for Web Log.  It is an author-centered document that is generally administered by one user or a small group.  Comments (discussion) is encouraged, but the main thrust is the blog post.  The purpose of the Blog is to share a “log” of events or to journal.  It could chronicle a reading, media object, event or personal insight.  Blogs are generally presented with the most recent posting first as well as a calendar list of other posts and an archive.  Blogs (like this one) tend to be more conversational in nature and are designed around text and media.  Once you make a post you tend to move on to the next one unless you need to make an edit or read comments.  Each post is owned by the person who made it.

Blogs nowadays have a plethora of features including: subscription, archiving, widgets (plugins that link blogs to other social media (twitter, facebook, etc.), listservs.  They also allow tagging, categories and the ability to customize how they look.  Thanks to tagging, blogs are easily searchable. They also tend to be media-rich.

Discussion BoardsDiscussion Boards:

Spawned from ye olde Bulletin Boards.  They are usually topic centered given a discussion prompt by teacher/moderator.  They can be administered by the instructor or group depending upon how roles are defined. The boards are reply driven meaning postings and replies make up the structure of the Discussion Board.  Discussion boards are primarily used to discuss topics posited by the instructor self-generated by a group.  They also fulfill a support function (Course Q&A, Virtual office).  Depending on the type of discussion activity, posts can be formal or conversational.  This type of activity is also static in that posters don’t go back and re-edit their posts, they just continue posting in the thread.  Poster’s own their own posts, but roles can be assigned to make participants, moderators, managers, graders etc..

Discussion board features are not as exhaustive as Blog or Wiki features, but they do allow file attachments, are very collaborative and easy to navigate.


Wikis get their name from the Hawaiian word “wiki wiki” which means “quick”.  Boiling the concept down is a collaborative web document or webpage.  They are generally document centered, project based items.  They are administrated by all of those involved in the wiki. Comments can be employed when needed but are not part of the main thrust.  You use wikis to create documents, projects, resources, case studies, portfolios, etc..  The wiki organization and design is dependent upon whatever method the individual or group decides.  Wikis are subject to constant change.  They can be created, shared, edited and re-edited over and over (think Wikipedia).

Wikis today come with many features and facets including: comments, archives, widgets, rich-media experience, WYSIWYG web interface. It looks and feels like a webpage so navigation and construction is very straight forward.

That’s great, but when do I use them?


Blogs are good for reflection or for journaling.  They offer chronological list of postings.   They are also good for podcasting, photoblogs and posting from mobile devices or “moblogging”.

Discussion Boards:

Good for topic based discussions, opinions and response driven assignments.


Project based assignments, repository-based assignments, portfolios, case studies, course documentation, collaboratively produced study guides, group work.

I hope this helps some of you put when and where to use these tools into perspective.