Saturday, January 12, 2013

Let's rethink institute and conference handouts

Tomorrow I'll pick up my registration packet for the 5-day “Advanced Genealogical Methods” Course at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). A good six weeks ago, instructor Thomas Jones provided his students with three .pdf files totalling 66 pages to extend our learning experience through advanced preparation.

When was the last time you attended a genealogy seminar, conference or institute with required reading prior to the first session of class? Bravo! Dr. Jones has created a superior learning experience through advanced preparation. He advised each session will be 75 minutes long, in contrast to the usual 60 minute genealogy conference and seminar sessions.

At registration tomorrow night, we'll pick up our course "notebooks" with the usual 4 pages per session limit. In previous four years participation at SLIG and at two at Samford University's Institute of Genealogiy and Historical Research (IGHR), none of my course instructors managed to keep a session handout to 4 pages. Usually instructors photocopy additional pages at their own expense or provide flash drives with additional course materials.

Craig R. Scott, course coordinator of IGHR's "Advanced Military Records Course III", deftly handled the page limit by providing student access to a shared folder with supplementary reference materials, the least of which was some 75 pages in length.

Whether it is a genealogy conference, workshop, all-day seminar or institute these questions emerge:

  • In this hi-tech world, why must we continue with syllabus materials in paper, CDs and flash drive format and not factor in the emergence of tablet technology? Access to online .pdf files solves the problem, as each participant elects to use the technology he prefers.
  • Why must instructors submit session handouts months in advance? Ostensively, this is to  provide time to create the course notebook or conference syllabus. Even in the "ancient" world of genealogy research, technological advances occur that render those handouts obsolete in the mean time.
  • How about providing handouts for the course or conference sessions online a week in advance in an "attendees only" section of the sponsoring organization's website? This would significantly reduce costs of producing the event, and cut down on the volunteer efforts required to colate said notebooks. This would assume that the instructor and the attendees act responsibly and follow through with their side of the equation in preparation for the event. No more hand holding, we're big kids now!
  • Why not give instructors space on the sponsoring organization's website to upload their handouts in an "attendees only" area, no later than one week prior to the event? Additional handouts, based on class discussion could be added by the instructor during a week long institute, but are probably better handled by referring the student to the instructor's professional genealogy website.
Students could be better prepared by working through the course materials in advance. 

Although these suggestions could be applied to National Genealogical Society and Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conferences, Ol' Myrt here especially hopes RootsTech is listening. As the leading-edge conference in the world of genealogy, they could pioneer a markatable methodology of website management that would make it easy for even the smallest genealogy society's webmaster to implement these suggestions.

Happy family tree climbing!

Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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