Using Blogs, Discussion Boards and Journals to activate Higher Order Thinking Skills.

Weblearn menu panel_Collaboration toolsWeblearn offers great choice when it comes to promoting social communication within student cohorts. Using Blogs, Discussion Boards and Journals is a great way to assist learners develop their ability to locate and share/display content and individual work, engage in a lively academic debate via the use of arguments, counter arguments and rebuttals and finally engage in pre and post work reflection that creates the necessary cadre for developing their own voice, criticality and ultimately their professional awareness.

This short blog post will attempt to outline the similarities and differences between these three great tools in Weblearn and via a recent case study that took place within the Early Childhood Education department, it will illustrate possible uses, advantages and pitfalls.

Before we proceed in the analysis of the above aforementioned case study, this summary matrix will provide you with a basic understanding of Blogs, Discussion Boards and Journals in Weblearn. More specifically, the Matrix below  will help you understand why there is so much value in engaging in learning to use “same cluster” tools by shedding some light in the definition, underpinning pedagogies, common and potential use, as well as, the basic characteristics of these similar functionality tools that have distinct purposes and areas of implementation.

Weblearn Collaboration Tools_Matrix

Creating a new menu item for these 3 communication tools is super easy and will only take you 30”. All you need to do is follow the following 8 steps:

1. Login to Blackboard.
2. Go to the course area in which you want to add the tool.
3. Make sure your Edit mode is “ON”.
4. In the menu area located on the upper left-hand side of your screen locate and click on the plus sign and from within the Tools dropdown arrow choose the preferred tool.
5. Select Link to an existing interactive tool or Create to create a new interactive tool.
6. Insert a suitable name for the interactive tool.
7. Complete the tool settings, note that blogs, discussion boards and journals are gradable so if you opt in for a gradable communication tool make sure that you’re not in any violation of your module handbook as this option will create a separate column in the Grade Centre.
8. Select Submit to finalize

The minimal time it takes to setup and deploy a communication tool, as well as, the plethora of underpinning pedagogies and added value that derives from their use, makes it easy to understand that opting in to deploy all three tools often seems to be the best way forward. Below is a pyramid schema that reveals the optimal sequence of deploying these three tools in any module.

Weblearn_Collaboration tools_Adapted pyramid for HOTS

Its recent implementation within the Early Childhood Education department, in both face-to-face and online, blended/distance learning modules was met with huge success with students openly declaring that Blogs, Discussion Boards and Journals promoted a general feeling of an online, self-directed but collaborative learning community.

Weblearn_Collaboration tools_student testimonials

Blogs, Discussion Boards and Journals all belong in the same family of tools and share the same functionality. As such, students find it quite intuitive to engage with all three tools once they have been initially exposed to one of them.

Weblearn_Collaboration tools_student overviewBlogs are by definition public – and as such visible to everyone – but can be assigned individually, to a group or a whole class. Blogs are a great tools for showcasing student work but can also function as the perfect content curation tool by providing the necessary space for students to embed content in the form of rich media, text, journals, book extracts and Urls and as such share their findings with their peers.

Discussion Boards are also Public and as such can only be deployed within a certain cohort (module or course wide) but cannot be assigned to a certain individual or group. They are great for ice-breaking activities and for introducing argumentative speech within your student cohorts. Below, you will find a good example taken from the newly established online module SE6003DL “Leading Practice with Children, Families and Professionals”, where a Discussion Board thread was used as one of the first points of contact for the students to get to know each other.

Weblearn_Discussion Board_Initial Overview of available Discussion Boards

Their highly sophisticated pyramid structure that consists of forums, threads and topics permits instructors and users to subscribe to certain elements that present with increased interest and automatically receive emails every time a new post, thread, comment, reply and quote appears. Instructors have the ability to moderate posts before they become public, or assign moderating roles to students with ease. All users also have the ability to rate posts, quote names in their answers/comments and to email authors privately, directly from each post. This structure allows instructors to bring order in the chaos that would result from the great number of topics, arguments, counter arguments and rebuttals that students usually bring to Discussion Boards. The anonymized “ice-breaking” activity below, reveals the great level of engagement that the cohort displayed at the beginning of the online module.

Weblearn_Discussion Board_another overview of student contributions to a Discussion Board

Weblearn_Journals_Initial Student Overview of available journalsJournals on the contrary are by definition private but can be made “Public” under certain preconditions. More specifically, if instructors opt in for a Public Journal, each student is assigned with one electronic page (a journal) that is viewable by other students that however have “read only” access, and as such, cannot comment. Journals are great for personal reflection or simply as a highly accessible digital notebook where students can keep their personal or tutorial notes, lecture summaries and also save/embed work that is going towards their dissertation that could receive continuous feedback from their supervisor. In teacher training or other vocational courses, Journals offer a great space for documenting their placement experience. Journals offer documentation as part of any Continuous Professional Development course for practising professionals that study part-time or finally as part of enriching any Professional Portfolio.

A very good choice when it comes to introducing these 3 tools, is to add the “What’s New” Widget in your Welcome (landing) page in your Module. This will give your students a “heads up” of any new/unread posts that have been made available or any comments and grades/feedback that have been released.

Weblearn_Whats New_Collaboration tools

Last but not least, research has shown that instructors have also found using these “same cluster” tools rather intuitive with stats showing a clear indication that lecturers within the Early Childhood Department of Education displaying confidence using all three tools after receiving short 20-minute, focused training sessions and deploying these in both online and face-to-face courses in the near future.

Weblearn Journals_Instructor stats

Weblearn Journals_Instructor confidence in using Collaboration tools after receiving training

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