Friday, September 07, 2012

To be engaged with

Thomas' post Can We Get Real About Genealogy Conference Numbers? really sparked my interest, as I also have long felt conference promoters get caught up in the "hype" and aren't honest about their numbers. In reply, Kim Cotton speaks of attendees who would:

"rather spend it [money] on something more worthwhile than gas to drive them to a class to be spoken at, not engaged with." [emphasis added.]

To this I'd say "Let's get out from behind the podium ~ it's not just about PowerPoint anymore."

Last March, I presented at the Fairfax Genealogical Society's annual conference, where I received complaints from the next room that my session participants were too noisy before we closed the door.

Ol' Myrt here wants her classes to be noisy for it means students are busy and involved.

I want people to question my logic, ask for clarification, bristle at change but be willing to explore.

This doesn't mean chaos. A great instructor can always bring people back on task and move the conversation forward. Becoming that sort of teacher is my goal.

If we are ever to overcome complacency with ill-conceived compiled genealogies, it is this active questioning that must be developed in genealogists -- inquiring minds on steroids.

Many of the computer lab instructors at our local vo-tech sat at their desks while students slogged through workbooks, but I couldn't stand that method of "teaching". Instead, working with corporate clients, I'd have my advanced Excel students bring their work to class for 50% of their assignments. The thinking here was that we may as well learn the 10-15 concepts applicable to their work assignments, rather than some random choices offered in our manuals.

Each student would work through a problem, come up with a worksheet and present it to the class using our computer projector. I'd then take the same scenario and develop my own Excel worksheet in real time, citing my logic for each part of my worksheet design. Sometimes, after all was said and done, I'd have to admit that the methods employed by a student were better suited to accurately resolving a problem on a timely basis. And though I was a qualified instructor, there were many times when I learned about an obscure Excel "function" or "short cut" from my very creative students. Though I guided our discussions, it is impossible to know everything. 

In the process, we thought through the concepts twice, honing and refining our understanding of how to expedite our work.

In an open, collaborative environment, real learning can take place.

Can't the same active learning be a component of genealogy conferences? I've attended workshops with Elizabeth Shown Mills where this sort of learning worked quite effectively. Tom Jones holds great workshops like this as well.

Let's engage in conversations, rather than lecturing.

Happy family tree climbing! 
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
G+: +Pat Richley-Erickson
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont    


  1. Yes! I agree absolutely!

  2. And as someone who spent the whole day with you in March, I agree!! You definitely had the classes engaged in the discussion and had their attention....all the while keeping us entertained and informed!!

    1. We learn so much by working together, don't we? It's not a competition, its a collaboration.

    2. Denise - Like you, it was great to share the couple of days and the experience. The collaboration was also a great experience. Russ

  3. Yes! Just as RootsTech shook things up almost three years ago, and conferences are trying formats like "unconferencing" we need to have a heart-to-heart about HOW we are teaching genealogy . . .

    1. I think the conference presenters have to "trust" their presenters. It isn't just about 4 pages of handouts sent in months before an event. The world of technology impacts genealogy so all to often those handouts are quickly outdated. Thanks for your reply, Thomas.

  4. Myrt, you hit the nail on the head with this one.

  5. Amen! One of the most disappointing and frustrating genealogy classes I went to had the instructor telling us about the importance of research logs and that she did lots of research online and at archives. When I asked what the logs looked like, how she used them with online research, and how she used them while at a library or archives (we were at the SLIG), she said she did not have them with her and/or she would get back to us with them. She did not "use" them (I saw her doing research later that day at the FHL - no research log in sight), she never provided them to us, and it just totally blew what she was saying (and she was teaching us about how to use computers and the internet with our genealogy). SUPER disappointment and a black eye for SLIG in my opinion.

    I almost did not go back to another conference, but another attendee told me to try another course she had taken. Two years later I went to that course and Barbara Renick and Debby Horton showed me how great educators could be with lectures, hands on training, a willingness to stay after class and interact, helpful tips after the conference and just an enthusiasm that knew no bounds (I don't know where they got the energy).

    I have had the pleasure of learning "in person" from John Colletta, Lisa Louise Cooke, Tom Jones, Josh Taylor, Elizabeth Shown Mills and you Dear Myrtle. Although you all have different teaching styles the two things you all have in common are (1) respect for your student's time and (2) the desire to impart knowledge and give the rest of us the confidence that we can do it. Although I have never met Thomas MacEntee in person, I have been very impressed with his webinars. Kudos to the great teachers out there in genealogy land!

    1. Isn't that interesting about the SLIG instructor?

      Thanks for the kudos, Tessa. :)

  6. Absolutely. There are lots of things that need to be updated with our conferences. I've been writing about that today too. I'm so glad you are coming to UGA's conference. I can't wait to see how this conference goes. Hopefully it will be R&D for everybody.

    1. Carrie and I are so looking forwasrd to presenting a series of "Not Your Mother's Genealogy" sessions at the conference. Thanks for inviting us to participate. :)

  7. Interactive is the only way to go - excellent post!

  8. The teaching style you described is really the best...I learn more when it is interactive and at the same time making it practical to everyday life. Great Post!