Thursday, December 13, 2012

Collaborative Learning

Ol' Myrt here has been grasping for a better way to describe how I wish genealogy seminars and presentations would change. This article from has the answer.

How Collaborative Learning Leads to Student Success, while focusing on college students,  stimulates thought on restructuring our genealogy seminars, conferences and workshops.

Back in May 2011, Ol' Myrt here wrote 90 Minute Institute and Conference Sessionsciting an article by Dr. David Rock Rethinking how we 'conference' How to design a conference with the brain in mind. My comments then still hold true:
"Dr. Rock feels that the current paradigm of conference attendees sitting through a 60 minute lecture, followed by a quick break is counter-productive to the learning process.  I've attended conferences, where by the end of the day my brain was mush, so I could relate to Dr. Rock's comments."
Unfortunately our conference schedules have remained the same, and for the most part our teaching methods continue to lack understanding of best learning processes for our exhausted attendees.

The Genealogical Proof Standard does well to guide genealogy researchers in their individual pursuits, but collaboration isn't specifically mentioned. The implication is that we compose soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusions for those who wish to "check out" our research. 

What about collaboration with other researchers to test out our reasoning earlier in the process?

Where is there time for active collaboration? Certainly not at a typical genealogy society meeting, fraught with all-too-long business meetings, leaving little time for the featured speaker to rush through his slides.

Saturday workshops may provide hands-on experimentation, and a little more give and take, but typically presenters don't provide enough time for the give and take. I've heard some folks like Randy Seaver and my cousin Russ Worthington do give what I'd call "real" workshops. The Pro-Gen Study Groups work well in this regard where: 
  • discussion is more important than lecturing
  • real time research provides insights a PowerPoint slide cannot impart 
It is particularly telling to witness in real-time what a researcher does when he hits a snag. I can read scholarly genealogy journals to see the summary results involving years of research and give up before I get started. But when I see how an experienced researcher handles the down and dirty research challenges, I gain insights for improving my research skills.

Conferences with vendor halls provide opportunities for vendors to demo their websites and software, but the bottom line is not to be ignored. Vendors have to sell product, and that takes all too much time unless they bring along extra employees to ring up your bill.

Institutes such as IGHR, SLIG and the new GRIP approach this form of collaborative learning, particularly when there are small group "homework" (read that late night!) assignments. The focus is developing research methods, not one's own research challenges.

If you attend any of Ol' Myrt's webinars, Second Life chats or all-day seminars, don't expect to take it sitting down - its all about collaborative learning. Feedback. Active participation. I want discussion. I want differing points of view. I want additional suggestions. I'd rather "discuss" five concepts well than squeeze 10 into a 60 minute "lecture".  
NOTE: next Tuesday's Just Genealogy Second Life discussion on "Proof Arguments" has a prep assignment -- 2 related articles by noted genealogists. But the real learning will happen when we discuss how we each tackle the problem of composing proof arguments and not just relying on "fill in the blank" genealogy programs. 

You can bet we will retain more info if we actively participate in a collaborative learning environment.

PHOTO: My screen shot of the 8 March 2012 APG Second Life Chapter Meeting. 

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

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


  1. Glad to see some movement toward a new direction. I think a workshop type environment with an instructor/mentor working together with students tackling an actual problem or methodology would be much more effective than the current - I Talk - You Listen concept today. We have used this collabrative apporch in our Senior Non-Commissioned Officers and Officers traning for quite some time.
    Charlie Purvis

  2. This is an article whose subject deserves lots of attention and discussion. You have a good -- and necessary -- point. If it is any encouragement, what in the article you linked to is called collaborative learning is also promoted in college training as "Collaborative Inquiry." This philosophy is making its way out into the public, and eventually will become a mainstream learning style in places from the classroom to the conference room. While it may be frustrating to wait for its general acceptance, know you are doing your clients a good service by advocating for a leading edge technique which in the end will be more effective.

  3. I think lecturers are reluctant to leave their script behind. Is it fear? I don't know.

    But since no one can know it all, it is a lots more fun to mentor in this alternative open format.