English is such a crazy language. Prompt means both quickly, or immediately, and it also means to solicit a response. The critical survey paper I wrote yesterday was about literature pertaining to journaling in an academic setting. I think most of the anecdotal articles really missed the point regarding the utility of the practice. But two things came out that I wanted to record promptly.

An article regarding journaling in nursing training brought out the idea that the value of professional journals was directly tied to their immediacy. In order to be of value, they must be recorded promptly after the situation. Another article pointed out the value of using prompts to structure responses, to bring them closer to a sort of common ground where responses addressed specific qualities in the material that were pertinent to the class discussion.

These observations, embodied in a single word, reach to some core values at work in the blogging community as I see it. Memes are often prompts, which bring users together in answering questions or recalling situations, in order to facilitate writing. It’s hard to maintain sustained interest in an ongoing writing project without some sort of focus. Many people generate their own prompts, but others are more comfortable with socially generated excuses to write.

Meg’s Mayfly writing project, where users sum up their year in 20 words or less springs to mind. It seems to be flying fairly high on Blogdex. People like excuses to write. I tend to prefer the more self-motivated approaches, like Badger’s list of songs that stuck in his head this year. I think that the most interesting journals to read come in response to questions, regardless of the source, and these responses are best when immediate: Quick, before it spoils!

In the academic setting, many of my classes have used journals. The effectiveness varies greatly. This semester, the expository writing class used a simple summary/response pattern. It worked, as everyone got the chance to see not just how people responded to essays, but also what they thought the core themes were. Journals generated stimulating discussion. In composition theory, the journals didn’t work. There were no prompts, and journals were not discussed at all. In language theory, the journals didn’t work either. No prompts, and though discussion of journals was attempted, most people didn’t volunteer to discuss their reactions to the theories at hand. In both of the latter cases, because journals did not require immediate use in the classroom, I think most everyone put off writing them until the very end of class. This is not good.

I think blogging has a lot to teach the academic community. Lots of people are working on it, but there isn’t much out there in dead tree print. I think I feel a Master’s thesis coming on. Actually, it’s been in my brain for a while, but this is the first time I’ve written about it online.