eCoaching Tip 47 Journaling, Blogging and Wiki-ing

June 9, 2007  Summer Tip #6 (Checked Nov 25 2019)

eCoaching Tip #47 Journaling, Blogging and Wiki-ing

This tip includes another fundamentals tip as part of our summer quick reminder series.

Fundamentals Tip – Effective Reflection Activities

This fundamentals tip encourages you to design reflective activities, as reflecting is when learners integrate new incoming knowledge with their existing understandings.

What do learners do in a reflecting activity?  Reflecting  activities  require learners to think, review, and then sometimes share their synthesis of what they are learning.  In other words, it is a time for learners to step back and explicitly decide what they are learning. Learners should be encouraged to share genuine emotions as well, as a sense of fun and imagination can make reflective activities even more effective. Emotion can deepen our processing and help us remember.  Reflective activities may extend to learners saying what personal value they gained from an experience.

Making meaning from a learning situation requires time to first contemplate the experience and information, and then time to synthesize and link that meaning within the context of existing and newly acquired knowledge.  Activities that are done too quickly are reactive, not reflective.

Many learners are unfamiliar with the concept of reflection and its role in the learning process. Therefore, when introducing reflective activities, a short description of reflection and its purpose is a good idea. Consider using something similar to the following in your course instructions:

“In this course you will be asked to reflect and analyze various concepts and processes and record your thoughts — using either a simple journal or a blog. This will be an ongoing process in which you will examine what you are learning, develop questions, and then construct summary thoughts.  The purpose of this reflective experience is to provide space and time for you to process the course content at a deeper level and to develop new knowledge and skills based on your thoughts about that knowledge.”

You may wish to provide specific guidelines concerning what should be included in the reflective journal or blog.  Dave Johnson, a professor of nursing at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne (2004), requires learners to structure their blog entries in three parts:  Insights, Resources, and Applications (IRAs).  Insights are one or more major ideas derived from content; resources are additional books, articles, news items, web sites that amplify the insights, and applications are thoughts on how the information is related to something that has happened, or is currently happening, in the learner’s profession.

Advanced Tip  — Blogs and Wikis: Facebooks for the Mind

We all know why discussion boards are so essential to an online course.  Discussion boards and forums is where face-to-face community develops.  Discussion boards are  where learners experience social, cognitive and teaching presence. Discussion boards are also valuable as places to provide guidance and encouragement, and support questioning, dialogue and sustained thoughtfulness.

This tip explores the features and uses of online writing and collaborative tools such as  journals, blogs, and wikis.  And examines how these tools can  be used and what unique benefits they might bring to learning experiences.

In brief, here are the differences between blogs, wikis and journals. Blogs support critical thinking, writing and collaborative skills within a personal yet communal space that feels dynamic and spontaneous, despite its asynchronicity. Blogs might well be called the “facebooks” or “youtubes” of the mind. They are often also categorized as personal publishing tools.

Wikis, on the other hand, are designed for shared collaborative work.  They are well-suited for producing substantive content and plans, such as reports, websites, or something as simple as a camping trip or something as complex as the multilingual global content Wikipedia. For a quick look on how wikis work, check out this three-minute video of how a wiki works.

Journaling, with its roots in the classic and traditional paper format, is more personal and more private, capturing and recording feelings, ideas and impressions that may not ready for public scrutiny or comment.

Let’s look at these three tools in more detail to help you plan on how you might use them in your next course.


Journaling can be done very simply within any online learning management system. A learner can create journal entries in a word processing application, in an online journal or in an individual blog tool. If the journal is to be kept private between the learner and instructor, the journal is submitted to the instructor.  If the journal is a shorter piece and is to be viewed publicly, then the journal entry might be simply attached or copied into a discussion post in the course site.

What are Blogs?

By googling “blog” you will find lots of definitions of blogs. Here is one that I think works well.

A ‘weblog’ (or ‘web log’ or ‘blog’) can mean any authored content with an underlying chronological basis that is published on the World Wide Web. The content may be about any topic and consist of any media, including audio, images and video, though presently the majority of blogs are largely text-based.

A blog can be authored by one or more people, who are the blog ‘owners’, responsible for maintaining the blog. (Trafford, 2005)

Another popular definition of a blog is a “personal online digital diary” that invites readers to comment, respond, and critique the life events and thoughts of the blog owner.

Blogs started appearing broadly about 2003, and by 2006 pundits estimated that there were more than 50 million blogs.  By late 2010 an estimate from Blog Pulse was over 146 million and growing by over 50,000 every 24 hours.    By 2019 estimates are at over 500 million worldwide. So blogs are definitely a phenomenon that has arrived and are being widely used for personal and business purposes.

Here are three resources for learning more about how blogs are being used in higher education. Also check out the references below and do a general search on blogs in higher education courses.

  1. Paul Trafford’s article Mobile Blogs, Personal Reflections and Learning Environments/discusses blogging terminology and how to use personal reflective blogs in a learning environment.  An
  2.  Educational Blogging by Stephen Downes (2004) outlines ways that both instructors and learners can use blogging in instructional settings and describes the software required for blogging if you need to set up a separate blogging tool.
  3. A blog maintained for a number of years by John Palfrey, a Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society is not a course blog; it is good example of a blog for an organization.   It is an unusual blog in that there are continuous postings from March 2003 up to at least August of 2010. Dr. Palfrey’s work focused on Internet law, intellectual property, and the potential of new technologies to strengthen democracies locally and around the world. As you look at this blog, you will see that the amount of commenting by others is quite low.  Commenting is what makes a blog feel more dynamic and “alive.”

How are Blogs different from Journals?

Most definitions of blogs and wikis can’t capture the very unique characteristics of blogs and wikis and how they compare with journaling as a learning tool. Here is a chart comparing the key characteristics of journals, blogs, and wikis.

Journals Blogs Wiki
Authored by one person and often read or reviewed by invitation only Authored by one person; but might invite responses, comments and critiques by a larger peer group or community; blogs can also be small team, group or community blogs Authored by many, as Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Rather than personal publishing; it is collective and collaborative publishing
Organized chronologically from first posting to most recent Organized chronologically with the latest postings first Displays the latest edited version of the collective work, while archiving changes
Authored over time; shared at specific intervals or at end of a project Authored over time, but shared as new postings appear Authored over time and updated by latest author
Is a stand-alone document with few links to other authors or readers Can be “subscribed to” so that a reader will receive alerts when a new posting appears Also can have RSS subscriber capabilities
Can include media of all types, such as pictures, video, text and weblinks.  Depending on tool, accommodating media types can be easy or difficult. Can include media of all types, such as pictures, video, text and weblinks and easy to do. Can include media of all types, such as pictures, video, text and weblinks and is easy to do.
Can be used by wanna-be authors to become instantly “published” Can be used by groups to collectively create and publish
A blog can be linked to and indexed by a larger blogging community.  It can be a public space for comment and related resource and information sharing. Wikis can also link to other resources and can be indexed and of course publicly edited depending on author’s controls.

After looking at how journals, blogs and wikis compare, the next question is which tools are best are best for which instructional goals?

The first characteristic listed is the primary difference, that of authorship and the resulting outcome or product. For those learning goals related most closely to individuals, the more personal and private journal may be appropriate.  For those goals related to personal and public sharing and commenting and group reflection the blog may work best; and for group projects depending on collective work and products to be used or consumed by others, the wiki may be the first tool to consider.

This is just a preliminary and early, in technological terms, look at these tools. As with many decisions in teaching and learning, the best answer to any question of design is “It all depends.” Subsequent tips will explore questions such as, “What examples show a match between instructional goal and tool?” and “What time within a course might a tool best be used.”


Conrad, R. & Donaldson, A.  Engaging Learners Online.Jossey-Bass, 2004.

Evans, C. (2000). Exploring Wiki-based Project Learning in Foreign Cultures and Literatures.  Retrieved from

Mader, S. (2008). Interview: The State of Wikis in Education Retrieved from

Morgan, M. C. (2002 – 2018). Weblogs and Wikis. Retrieved from  More info is at

Trafford, Paul. (2005) Mobile Blogs, Personal Reflections and Learning Environments.  Retrieved

Young, J. R. (2007). An Anthropologist Explores the Culture of Video Blogging. Chronicle of Higher Education. Washington DC. 53 (36) p. A42. Retrieved from

Note: These eCoaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized, expanded and updated  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (2016) coauthored with Rita-Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 2006 – 2019