Blackboard 9.1 Blogs and Journals

The blog feature has, according to Blackboard  been upgraded in version 9.1, and a new feature, journals, added. It’s not immediately clear what the difference between them is. Blackboard’s own documentation says this

A journal is an on-going reflection or record of events by an individual or set of individuals. A blog is a commentary by an individual or set of individuals that is for public consumption and comment

It seems to me though that “reflection” and “commentary” are subjective terms and it would be perfectly possible to use a blog to comment, and journal for reflection. It appears that it is possible, despite the above to make a blog “public” in the sense that other course users can see it, and it is also possible to make a journal “private”.

“Public” and “private” are also slightly loose terms, since neither a blog or journal can be made available from within Blackboard to the outside world.

More seriously, on the test server, it doesn’t appear to be possible to create an individual blog, that is  a blog which is only visible to the student and his or her instructor. In their documentation, Blackboard do claim that it is possible to do this, so it will be important to confirm that this feature is actually available on the live version should we decide to go ahead.  Journals, it is implied, are semi-public in that they are always visible to all course members, but again the documentation contradicts itself by claiming

Individual journals allow students to record their Course experiences and what they are learning. These thoughts can be a private communication between a student and the instructor, or shared with everyone in the course. Journal entries can be commented on by the author and the instructor. Others are able to read public journals, but they cannot comment on them.

That doesn’t really make a lot of sense since if everyone’s able to read them, I don’t quite how see how the thoughts can be a private communication!

A blog entry
a blog entry

Looking at what I can actually see, the main difference between blogs and journal seems to be one of formatting.  The journal entry has a sort of “torn page” look, which is nice, but as far as I can see, largely pointless. Blackboard also claim that students can decorate their individual blogs with an avatar, which, if they used a photo of themselves might help tutors to recognise their students more quickly. That’s actually something whose value should not be underestimated since I think it is important for tutors to be able to match names to faces quickly.  However, since I couldn’t set up an individual student blog, I couldn’t test this claim either.

A journal entry
A journal entry

So in conclusion, I’m not really in a position to say much about this aspect of the upgrade. It’s nice that Blackboard have seen the importance of reflective spaces for students, and that they are apparently committed to providing them. While this has sounded quite negative it is the case that the version of Blackboard we have on test is (evidently) not fully functional. Furthermore, I haven’t seen noticed any complaints about the blogs/journals on cross sector mailing lists, so my worries here may be unfounded. Of course, that may be because there are better blogging tools, such as WordPress, out there, and no-one is using the Blackboard versions.

Blogging in a photography course.

Well, I’ve recharged the batteries, and I’m now listening to Paul Lowe, photography lecturer and photojournalist is telling us all about how the London College of Communication is using blogs in their MA photography course.

( for more detail)

By the way, Paul’s use of PowerPoint was the best I’ve ever seen at a conference. Obviously Paul has the advantage of being a professional photographer, but I’ve always thought that this is exactly what PowerPoint was designed for. Here are the slides. (I guess it take’s some practice to have the confidence to do this though)

Course about building their repertoire – giving photographers an appropriate skill set. So what’s the point of reflection

(So far this a summary of the work of Schon)

In the real world, professional practitioners of photographers are keeping blogs (as are other professionals.) So students who want to keep up with the industry should do it. And bloggers tend to match the demographic profile of potential postgraduate students.

Very much about the process. Blog used as a primary source, but the students write a critical analysis of their work at the end of their course, drawing on the data in the blog.

But some students are very comfortable with the blog and they do use the blog itself as the vehicle for their critical report.

Shift from the download to the upload culture.

course uses several platforms – Wimba live classroom. (Synchronous delivery), A CMS where students can upload their pictures for discussion, a NING site, for social interaction, and finally they use the blogs.

How do they work in practice.
The blogs are about mapping the learning journey. Very much about personal experience – getting a whole person view of the learner. Gives the tutor an insight into the mind of the student which would not be possible in the short time you are with them in a tutorial. What movies have they seen, what exhibitions have they attended and what did they get out of them?

Also it’s about writing for an audience – and getting feedback from the audience. You can also mash and mix it up with other resources. You can tag your thoughts, which then becomes searchable.

Blogs offer room for emotion and play – they’re very informal.

Give a fantastic insight into how learners learn. What have they gone out and done to meet the assessment criteria.

Notion of e-e learning. (Experiential e-learning) . Blog is like having an open brain (Latest advance on open source)

How do they use blogs on the course

Firstly they replace the sketchbook/reflecltive journal,
Also become a real time archive.
Most students prefer to host their own blogs rather than the university owned ones. (Though they’ve just set up a WordPress farm (whatever THAT might be!) within Blackboard) But they use it to talk about what they’re doing in their assignments. They’re often quite critical of the course, and this is more effective than other ways, not least because the lecturer can respond quite quickly.

Blog is also a way of keeping tabs on students who might be away for a long time on a project.

There is an interesting concept of “blog buddies” – Groups of 4 who make a committment to read and post comments on each others blogs on a regular bases. Quite a lot of mutual support is derived from this practice

There’s a bit of a worry about lurkers – but this isn’t really a problem. Even if you don’t post comments on a blog you can still get something out of reading it.

Some ethical issues – they set out ground rules about netiquette and the level of public access at the start – about two thirds of the students do make them public. They have had a couple of experiences where bloggers had have adverse reactions from those they have blogged about, and while this is part of learning to work for an audience, they do now raise these issues with students at the beginning of the course. “They’re beginning to navigate what it means to be public and what it means to be private” Professional not confessional is a nice catchphrase.

Feedback from students has been generally very positive. But there are some issues

Staff time – has to be managed well. Set up RSS feed via Google Reader. Read the blog in advance of an online tutorial session. Nor are these academic essays
Quality – Some entries are better than others. But that’s true of any educational activity
Language – not the problem they thought it would be – you have to have good English to do a masters course.
access points


Brilliant at building a sense of community
Because they’re warts and all, you get a much better idea of what’s going on.
Good way to organise thoughts of students
Always on – view of the students daily lived experience is authentic.
Informal, so truthful
And of course, they form an archive. So you can go back to them and do something with them.