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Wikis and Blogs - What’s the difference?

June 15, 2007 by Doug Worsham

Over the past couple of weeks, at the T&LS, at the TASI, and in consultations and conversations with faculty and staff around campus, people have been thinking and talking a lot about wikis and blogs, and wondering what these tools can do to support effective teaching and learning. In this post, I hope to pull together several discussions addressing the two most common questions people have been asking about wikis and blogs recently: What are they? And what's the difference?

Quick definitions

A wiki is a website with an edit button on it (Frey). Most of the time, when you visit a website, your only option is to read it. On a wiki, however, you can edit both the content and the organization of the site directly, right from your web browser.

A blog is a website made up of a series of "posts," organized with the newest information at the top of the page (Hourihan). Blogs often allow your readers to submit comments on each post.

Similarities

Wikis and blogs are often discussed in the same breath, and in some respects, they are similar. Both make web publishing fast and easy. Both are often associated with written text, but also facilitate easy publishing of pictures, movies, and animation as well. And from an educational perspective, both wikis and blogs are often used as platforms for authors to interact, negotiate, and hopefully, form communities that learn and build knowledge together.

Differences

wikisandblogs There are many differences between these two tools, but the most salient for educators is that wikis and blogs each place authors in very different relationships with each other and with the text(s) they create.

In a wiki, the document is at the center of the authoring community. Since all of the authors can edit any of the other authors' work, the text is owned by the community, rather than particular individuals. When used for collaborative writing, the success or failure of a wiki project often hinges on the ability of the authors to negotiate with each other and reach a consensus.

Blogs, by contrast, place authors at the center of their writing community. Authors contribute posts and get commentary and responses from other authors. Individual authors own their contributions. Other authors can make comments, but no one can edit anyone else's work. In a blogging community, authors formulate opinions in their posts, and then defend and refine their positions as other authors post comments. Blogging projects succeed when students post formative ideas and then interact with other authors through comments and subsequent posts.

Another way to look at this difference is to think about the types of interactions you're hoping your students will have. If you want your students to collaborate on a document, negotiate and form consensus, or build a shared collection of information, wikis might be the way to go.

On the other hand, if you're hoping your students will formulate and defend their opinions, read and react to the writing of their peers, write outside the academic register, reflect on their learning, or write with or for an audience, you might look into a blogging project.

Just a start

My hope with this post is to put forth the beginnings of an answer, rather than a comprehensive one. For example, my discussion of wikis looks exclusively at collaborative writing and largely ignores the use of wikis for knowledge or research repositories. Currently, this is my "quick answer" to these questions, formed out of a number of interesting discussions over the past couple weeks. Hopefully, the discussions will continue here in comments and future posts!

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