Beyond blogs and wikis: I want better tools for dialogical teaching, learning and research

I have claimed in several occasions that blogs and wikis are not (very) good tools for knowledge building, progressive inquiry learning or other sophisticated social constructivist learning methods and models.

Blogs and wikis are not (very) good tools for knowledge building because they are not designed for that. Using blogs and wikis for knowledge building is a bit like hammering a nail with a screwdriver. You can do it, but it can be very painful.

I noticed this again when trying to follow and participate in the idea exchange in the blogosphere on the Wikiversity and Wikieducator. There was a potentiality and a real need for “knowledge building”. Part of the discussion took place on this blog. The discussion was started by Leigh Blackall. At the moment it is going on in many different locations (can’t collect all the links in here, sorry). For me the discussions simply died because there wasn’t anyway to get it from the blog posts and comments to another level. Even following the comments and point of views end-up to be impossible.

Blogs are personal spaces. For knowledge building you need shared spaces. Blogs are always owned and authored by someone. For knowledge building you need common spaces. Blogs are individual tools. For knowledge building you need collaborative (group) tools.

You may have “group blogs”, make agreement on tags used and aggregate all the posts related to some topic in one place. Still this hardly even happens. Blog technology is only part of the problem. The major problem is the culture of blogging. Blogs are tools for individualism, where “Me myself and I” are the most important things. Social software? – My ….

What about wikis? Wikis are shared and common spaces. They are obviously collaborative tools. The challenge with wikis is the poor support they have for constructive discourse and dialogue. The wiki talk page and threaded discussion forums are as good for knowledge building as any other online forums. Again they are fine for exchanging ideas but do not scaffold participants to have knowledge building.

Also the culture of use of wikis is different than in a knowledge building. With wiki you are building hypermedia, collection of web pages. The focus is primary on the specific artifact(s) you are constructing not in the discussion. In it’s best knowledge building also produces some kind of “crystallization” of the work. In science it is in most cases a study report or an article. In art and design it can be a prototype, mock-up or a product.

In a knowledge building group or community you try to define problems, hypothesis, evidence and conclusions, similar way as in a scientific research process. To do this online you need people who are able to scaffold themselves and each other. A good teacher is able to do this, but could software help people (teachers and students) to do this?

Can the new version (Fle3+2.0) of Fle3 do this? I don’t know, but it is our hypothesis.

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11 Responses to “Beyond blogs and wikis: I want better tools for dialogical teaching, learning and research”

  1. leighblackall says:

    In some ways I agree. But not with tha analogy of the screw driver. I think you should acknowlege the skills and knowedge aquired through the use of these loosely joined tools. So, we all use RSS to monitor the many individual voices (that is how I came across your extension to the discussion). Some of us use Google and Technorati search results RSS to alert us when things are mentioned – like names, wikieducator or a specific technology or issue. Others use tagging to group conversational input. These are good skills to have.

    The discussion features of mediawiki are very difficult though – I agree.

    I agree that RSS for discourse is not really what it was designed for. But the techniques of using it to maintain discourse are important skills and awareness' to have I think – and maintaining dialogue (not conversation) is a good motivation for their learning. I worry that software that is built for conversational knowledge building will bypass the acquisition of these skills and awareness'

    Individualism is another issue, and one worth exporing I think – in the context of ethics, indentity and cultural differences etc. It is something we talked about a bit at FLNW.

  2. leighblackall says:

    Also, I think there are aspects of the limitation to communication through blogs and wikis that have benefits to dialog. The immediate disconnection between the contributions gives more time for reflection and consideration I think. That time being the time it takes for your RSS to pick up the contributions.

    The skill of using a search result RSS helps you to gather diverse contributions too. To enter dialogue that you may not already be involved in.

  3. summer says:

    Hi, In light of your desire for better tools, you might want to check out my new blog – Inspiration Lane.

    Stephen Downes likes it, and so does CALICO at UT, Horizon Site Project at UNC, ISTE, and The Education Project in Asia. Google Education News published my press release about it yesterday.

    My blog does not "hammer a nail with a screw driver." I'm a teacher, and I created it with the special care and knowledge of a teacher. You'll see. I promise. :)

  4. Wilfred Rubens says:

    Hi Teemu,

    Interesting post. But I must admit: I do not agree completely.
    Firstly: you wrote "Blogs and wikis are not (very) good tools for knowledge building because they are not designed for that." Correct, so are videos, beamers and computers, etc not designed for education and learning. But they are used for this purpose as well. Not always in a proper way, ofcourse.

    Secondly: you describe blogs as personal spaces and tools for individualism. I do not agree. I see blogs as tools for networking. You neglect the power of trackbacks and RSS. Thanks to these tools people can contribute to knowledge building from their personal space. I agree with Leigh Blackall on this point. It is quite easy to connect different contributions, made by different bloggers. Blogs combine personalisation (important for motivation) and the power of networking. And I experienced that this can lead to new knowledge. As far as the culture is concerned: again, it's not about individualism. Yes, personalisation is important. But networking is more important.
    Furthermore, blogs can be used for individual learning. Writing blogs can help learners re-structuring their thoughts in their personal -save- learning environment. The outcome of this process can be used in a common place. In this way blogs can also contribute to knowledge building.

    Thirdly: I agree with you as far about wiki's. They do have poor support for constructive discourse and dialogue. But do we need 'one size fits all' solution? Does this lead to monolithic systems that try to fulfill all our wishes, but doesn't succeed? Why not combining tools?

    Last but not least: yes, tools do need affordances that stimulate knowledge building. And if they do not have these affordances (or affordances which even obstruct knowledge building!), knowledge building can be hampered. But more important imho is how you organise knowledge building with -for example- blogs? Blogging often is voluntary. It's not part of your job or education. And it takes a lot of time. So, I think blogs (and wiki's) can be useful for knowledge building. It depends how they are used. It's like blaming the messenger.

  5. Gary Knight says:

    Um . . . . why not threaded discussion boards? Or listservs?

    Web 2.0 != the end all, be all.

  6. Chris Harvey says:

    Wikipedia is not really about teaching facts. It’s about conversations. — Teemu Arina

    Good luck with fle3 and LeMill, maybe you can put your culture in there.

  7. Konrad Glogowski says:


    Last week, I met with my thesis committee here at OISE/UT and one member of the committee asked if I could expand on the section on discussion forums and knowledge-building (CSILE, CSCL). I asked why. My thesis, after all, is about a blogging community and the only reason I mentioned my experience with CSILE was because I wanted to narrate my journey as an educator, and using CSILE was an important stage that eventually led to using blogs in the context of an online community.

    "Well," she replied, "this part sounds like CSILE is not a good tool. I don't think you wanted to say that. I think you only wanted to emphasize that it didn't work for you – because you wanted your students to have personal spaces – you did not want to state, I don't think, that CSILE cannot be used to achieve a sense of community."

    Of course, I agreed with her and rephrased that part of my thesis. In fact, I was very grateful that she noticed that bit about CSILE.

    The point here is that I dismissed CSILE because I wanted my students to have their own personal spaces and was hoping that connecting all the blogs into one online environment would help create a sense of belonging and community, while at the same time allowing the students to have a place they could call their own. It was a long and fascinating journey … and it worked.

    So, I have to say that blogs can be used to create a sense of community. As Leigh mentioned, blogs can be used to maintain discourse and dialogue. This is exactly what I/we are doing here on your blog.

    However, you mentioned knowledge-building, and blogs, as you rightly argue, don't support that process very well. I would also argue that most people confuse knowledge-building with learning. They are, as you know, two very different things. Mention that a certain tool does not support knowledge building and half the room thinks you mean that it doesn't support learning. There is no question in my mind that blogging supports learning. However, using blogs to create a climate of knowledge-building would be very difficult – not impossible, but very difficult. The point is that there are better tools for that. In fact, before I launched my study, I used both blogs and FLE3 and Knowledge Forum at the same time. The combination created an interesting environment and the two tools complemented each other quite nicely. The kinds of activities that I saw in each were very, very different.

  8. summer says:

    <I>I would also argue that most people confuse knowledge-building with learning.</i>

    I don't think people are confused by those two terms, as I don't think you can really do one without the other. That is my "argument."

    Hope you all enjoyed my site. I received lots of hits from Finland after my post above. (And some stayed for very long visits.)
    Best wishes to you all.

  9. whiteg says:

    I agree that wiki and blog are not the tools for dialogical teaching, learning and research. IM group meeting or irc chatting rooms may work better. To achieve one goal may need more than one tool.

    From my personal experience, trying to achieve an conclusion from any asynchronous internet discussion (forums, blogs, bbs…etc) is always difficult. With the help of RSS feed, Digg and, we can follow the discussion progress of different blogs of similar topics, but it is difficult to say what one can gain from following and participating discussion. Maybe the discussion itself is the goal whether personal or group blogs.

    Wiki is good for gathering ideas, it helps to organize information during the process of knowledge building. But wiki is not suitable for discussion even some wiki systems provide better comment function than Mediawiki.

    As a subject of knowledge building, I would use blog as a platform to gather opinions or generate discussion for building knowledge, if I really need to achieve a convention on certain issue, I will choose IM group meetings, then create my own product on wiki.

  10. antero says:

    Hi Teemu!

    Good post, I recognize your urge. So, there is a need for a tool that supports collaborative scaffolding in knowledge creation. Discussion forums and wikis have probably their uses, especially when working with texts. Instant messaging are also helpful in online brainstorming. But how about visualizing concepts and linking them together? Could the tool needed be something like Kayuda ( )?

  11. Tleinone says:

    Hi Antero. Thank you for the link. Didn't know about this Yes, Kayuda is definitely several steps to the right direction, I think. :-)

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