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On the value of keeping a diary then writing a blog

Fig.1 The final pages of my first Five Year Diary, 1975-1980

(Originally posted on The OU Student Blog platform as part the of their Master of Arts Open and Distance Education – MAODE)

I have in front of me the Five Year Diary I was given age 13 years 5 months. Each entry runs to about the length of a Twitter. I kept this up for 7 years, supplementing these entries with an A4 hard back journal from 1979. In one bonkers month, September 1979, the month went into an arch-lever file. I could write as much as I wanted. Nuts. Not only that I kept receipts from shows, bus tickets to school and best of all, a note I had to take to a school uniform outfitters from my Mum that reads, ‘Please will you give my son Jonathan an RGS blazer and a Westfield School skirt and charge to my account.’

Thankfully, I wasn’t asked to try them both on.

I may Twitter my Five Year Diary entries across the Net in a suitably retro 1970s format, though ‘got up, had a bath, watched TV, fed the rabbit’ isn’t too engaging. It gets better. I can’t share what I was doing in 1979.

Fig.2. An RAF logbook for a fighter pilot in late 1918

I also have my late Grandfather’s logbook from his period training as a fighter pilot in 1918. He’d just transferred from the Machine Gun Corps where he’d served through the Somme and Passchendeale. His handwriting is extraordinary. I’ll put up a photo.

And my late Father’s logbook from his sailing days, first there was Canny Lass, then there was Serendipity. His car had the number plate STOIC sad But we don’t chose our parents do we?

Why all this interest in diaries and log books?

Fig.3. Diaryland developed ideas that all social media platforms: Facebook, WordPress and Linkedin have built upon

In 1999 I noted that there were 6000 diaries (sic) in diaries.net and 2000 in Diaryland few months after its launch.

Having transcribed and uploaded 16000 entries I can now browse through a portion of thirty years or so as if I’d been blogging. I can call up several ‘essays’ on Net Journals and web-logs too. Having done so I can drill even further than I did at the time into the author’s cited. Courtesy of Google I can complete my research and indulge myself. There are some great diaries, great diarists and some useful books on the genre too; bloggers take note.

I’m starting to look very closely through this content for the patterns that others would find too if they kept a simple diary, a basic, regular blog.

There value comes with the passing years. I can find enough in what I have written to know who I was with and what I was doing on the 4th January between 1976 and 2011. I’m surprised how often there was snow in the 70s (this is Tyneside). On 4th January 1979 I crashed a car on ice heading for my girlfriend’s house in Wylam on the other side of the Pennines. The road from Brough to Bowes on the A66 was blocked with snow so I had to double-back via Carlisle and Hexham.

In a world where a life of learning is expected and the technology makes it possible, keeping a blog, some private, some open, some themed must begin to pay dividends for the author who is actively engaged with the content, rather than simply letting the events of the past go by unaddressed.

Fig.4 Blogging works

Blogs are such simple things, but surely, in their myriad of forms (you could say that Facebook entries and Twitter reports are as journal-like as any longer entry in a blog, or online magazine or other website) more could find educational and personal value in them?

So how to persuade students to keep an educational blog? To form the habit?

Promotion, example, and the devious inclusion on any course of a professional ‘catalyst’ who blogs and comments discretely and often to get then keep the blog ball rolling.

COMMENT

15828 views. That must be a new OU record, pretty amazing.

But honestly Jonathan you deserve it, your blog is really a storybook blog. Rich of information, presented in an appealing way to a variety of audience, seasoned with some emotions, and reflections.

Keep it up!

The reflective blog (or diary)

The current Radio 4 series on the genre, celebrities reading from their childhood diaries, shows that keeping a diary is rather more common practice than I had thought. I am one of those people who began a diary age 13 and has never stopped. The format changed, from five year diary, to hard back notebooks, to letters to my fiance and mercifully the diary came to an abrupt halt with marriage (going to be bed was no longer a time to take out the pen).

I’m glad I decided to catch-up with the habit when the children were born, so was ready in 1996 and 1998 to blog.

And so I blog for another decade.

But was this a reflective diary? At times it was simply filling the page (first a few lines in one of those Five Year Diary with a lock), then a minimum per day of a page of A4 in a hardback notebook … though for a while as much as I cared to write (e.g. September 1977 or 78 fills an entire arch-lever file). But was it reflective? Looking back at these entries (very rare), it is depressing to read about issues and problems that I never resolved, or ambitions that I couldn’t or didn’t fulfil.

Perhaps by reading back regularly these diaries would have had reflective, life-adjusting qualities? Rather than the prayers of a godless teenager who was sent to boarding school age 7, escaped for 2 years for A’levels to a day school, then returning to the boarding environment of univeristy. Was my diary a companion who could only listen?

This is all brought up as a result of reading about the Reflective Diary as a tool for students to consider what they are trying to learn and if they are succeeding. I could say that from a purist’s point of view this sullies the term ‘diary’; I can imagine how dull it would have been for Alan Clarke, Anne Frank or Pepys to have written in such a way (let alone Henry Miller or Anais Nin). But this misses the point, a reflective diary is a tool, a task, like the weekly (or fortnightly) essay.

This from Burgess (2009)

Reflective diaries

There are many ways of keeping these.

* Make a note of something you found interesting in the lecture/seminar.

* Why was it interesting?

* How does it connect with your own life/practice experience?

* How might this inform your practice as a social worker

* How might users benefit from your learning?

* How might your learning add to your understanding of ‘good’ practice

I should look through decades of diaries, some 1.6 million words of it online, and see if I am guilty of an reflection of this nature. I say ‘guilty’ as I would have felt that writing in such a way in my diary (it would have had to be in a separate book) would have sullied the format, a bit like using play acting for education, rather than just for entertainment or writing a lyric for a song that taught safe sex. I would resist the idea of ‘education’ impinging on this side of my existence. Are we not living in a world though where the barriers between work and home, school and home, colleagues and friends is breaking down? Where in the same breath in a social networking site you can flip between friends, families, colleagues or fellow students? Is such an environment like the population of your ideal village?

By Burgess with material adapted from the SAPHE Project (Self Assessment in Professional and Higher Education Project)

Burgess, H (n.d.) Self and Peer Assessment (online), The Higher Education Academy: Social Work and Social Policy (SWAP). Available from: http://sorubank.ege.edu.tr/~bouo/DLUE/Chapter-08/Chapter-8-makaleler/Assessment%202_%20Self%20and%20peer%20assessment.htm (accessed 6 August 2010).


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