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Using a blog and wiki in my Marine Biology course

Over the past couple of years I have played around with using blogs and wiki pages in my courses.  This past semester I incorporated both into my Marine Biology course and feel good about the results.  My reasons for using each type of web technology differed, so I will hit them separately:

The course blog

I have been assigning readings from science blogs over the past few years to reinforce material covered in class and engage students with outside, related content.  This past semester I used a blog in my Anatomy and Physiology course to answer student questions that stumped me in class, or that I needed to research more fully.  After class I would post an answer to the course blog with links to additional reading.  But in my Marine Biology course almost all of the content was student generated.  After adding a few of my own posts as examples, I told my students to add a post of their own once every other week.  With ten students in the course this meant almost a post each day (although they often came in droves).  The only guideline I gave them was that the information had to have some connection to marine science.  You can read the results yourself, but I was impressed with the range of information that students added, and happy to see students commenting on each other’s posts.  A Zoomerang survey given at the end of the semester showed that 8 of 10 students agreed or strongly agreed that the blog was a helpful part of the course (the other 2 were neutral).  The one thing I would change next time is to urge students to use more diverse sources for their posts.  Almost every post was a summary of a news story from Science Daily.

The course wiki

A few years back our University started running MediaWiki software on our internal servers so that we could host our own wiki pages.  When I taught Marine Biology two years ago I had my students write information guides for species they saw during our end-of-semester field trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I then used this content to write wiki pages on each species.  This year I assigned each of my ten students to write guides for two species each, and to add these to the wiki themselves.  Their entries needed to include some personal comment about their interaction with the species.  After some editing for style and format we now have the start of an online guide to Outer Banks coastal species that I plan to add to each year I teach the course.  And many of the students used their own pictures of the species they encountered, adding some new online content for others to use.

Both the blog and wiki seemed to engage students in material beyond the official meeting times of the class.  Students accepted both techniques quickly, and 80% found the blog valuable.  I will be curious to see how these tools work in two years when I teach the course again, as students will be building on an already rich set of content.

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