Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: Journal Keeping

Reviewed by:  John Grant McLoughlin, University of New Brunswick

As the title suggests, this is a comprehensive effort to extol the virtues of journal writing.  Stevens and Cooper (the authors) remain true to their mission of addressing the value of journals for personal development, transformational learning, and pedagogical purposes.  The tone of the book clearly informs the reader that the authors are believers and (long-time) practitioners with respect to using journals as both educators and individuals.  They impressed me with their willingness to raise various issues, such as, the implications/tradeoffs in using computers versus handwriting for journal entries, or matters like evaluating journals as being entirely private (and not to be read but marked only for completion) as opposed to responding to individual entries.
The book is divided into three core sections: Journal Writing and its Theoretical Foundations (Ch. 1-3); Using Journals in Classrooms and Professional Life (Ch. 4-8); and A Collection of Case Studies (Ch.9, 10).  However, it is noteworthy to mention what precedes and follows the core.  The Preface provides readers with guidance concerning the content of the book.  Further, Appendices A (Journal-Writing Techniques) and B (Contributor Contact Information) are helpful resources.  The latter is unusual in that it provides the names, email addresses, disciplines, and journal expertise of a dozen individuals including the authors.  This is a neat feature that goes beyond an acknowledgment, per se.   The final feature of the book is References.  The comprehensiveness of the book is reflected in the hundreds of references covering about fourteen pages.  I will touch upon this comprehensiveness in my concluding comments below.
As mentioned, this book has lots in it about journaling.  If you are new to the idea and want an excellent introduction, the material is here.  If, like me, you have used journal writing in classes, or kept journals yourself, then the book will be somewhat uninviting to read from cover to cover.  In fact, I could not get engaged in the book as a formal read but acknowledge its place as a significant resource.  I could see having this book on the shelf of an EDC or in a library, as it is bound to benefit people interested in learning more about journals and/or addressing specific issues pertinent to the broad area at a pedagogical level. 
On that final point, I should mention what impressed me most as a reviewer given my background (and likely that of many EDC members).  The initial chapter, Journal Writing: Definition and Rationale, provided an excellent entry point for this reader.  I was struck by the clear articulation of a working definition: “We define a journal as a sequential, dated chronicle of events and ideas, which includes the personal responses and reflections of the writer (or writers) on these events and ideas (p. 5).”  The authors go on to identify and explain the six defining attributes of journals: “written, dated, informal, flexible, private, and archival (p. 5).”  I appreciated the fact that the authors early along opened with the definitions and relevant language, while acknowledging the tensions between the competing needs for flexibility and definitions.
In summary, I commend the book on the whole as one that belongs in a resource centre to support teaching and learning.  After that opening chapter it is probable that five or six of us would select different chapters (or features such as appendices) as being most valuable to us.  That is the beauty of the book, in that it is a resource rather than a book to be read in its entirety.

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