Friday, May 08, 2020

Managing an Online Study Group

Over the past 8 years, DearMYRTLE has hosted various types of online study groups. We might have a guest instructor or we’d take one chapter a week from a book like Mastering Genealogical Proof or Genealogy and the Law. Once, with a particularly difficult chapter, a second week was given that extended the entire course by one week. Although we've happily used a variety of virtual meeting platforms, currently Cousin Russ and I recommend the Zoom Webinar format rather than Zoom Meetings if the audience is public as we wish to provide tighter control. Although this description of  how we set up and manage our online DearMYRTLE genealogy study groups is long and detailed, most items are quick and easy. These events prove both fun to produce and educational for all participants. Our process can be boiled down to these basic points.
  • The Host (DearMYRTLE) creates and promotes the virtual event and opens it 15 minutes before the live event.
  • The Co-Host (Cousin Russ) assists the Host by keeping the meeting running smoothly and bringing in comments where an attendee cannot use a mic or webcam.
  • The Instructor/Moderator pushes content. Sometimes this is also the Host.
  • Panelists have been chosen in advance and provide weekly homework to enhance the discussion of a chapter in a book. 
  • Attendees may interact via typed text or where available via mic and/or webcam

Here's a partial list of various DearMYRTLE study groups archived on DearMYRTLE's YouTube Channel.


  • Host - usually also the instructor/moderator
  • Co-Host
  • Instructor/moderator
  • Guest instructor - rather than handouts, guest instructors add items to the shared Google Sheet. See for example from the GreekGen Study Group Shared Google Sheet
  • Panelists - active participation in the conversation
  • Attendees - typed chat participation, optional Q/A.


  • A virtual meeting platform, currently Zoom
    — Zoom Webinars provide for a dedicated set of panelists, while attendees may pose questions and type in the chat. Confirmation email after registration and 3 reminder emails automatically sent to all registrants 1 week, 1 day and 1 hour before the scheduled event.
    — Zoom Meetings allow everyone to enter at the same level - with the ability to turn on their own mics and web cams. Confirmation email after  registration is the only notice the attendee will receive with his personal URL for joining the scheduled event. This option works fine in an institute format, but not where the general public may attend.
  • Webcams
  • USB Headset with earphones and mic
  • Wired internet connection
  • Creating Google Docs: For DearMYRTLE Study Group Homework (video)


The Host uses a Google Form for prospective panelists to sign up. Ten are selected. Most usually attend, but as few as six provide a good discussion when others are away due to illness or family responsibilities.


Since our study group sessions are to be recorded, we cannot not use the author’s examples. All panelists view a short copyright and fair use video featuring The Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell titled
Study Group Copyright Guidelines.



  • Each study group series has a secret Google Group or Facebook Group created by the host who invites the co-host and panelists to participate.
  • Homework assignments are posted there.
  • Panelists may report illness or a conflicting appointment.
  • Questions about the chapter or homework are discussed there.
  • The link to the final compiled homework is posted in advance of the class session so panelists may review everyone’s contribution and understand the flow of the discussion by how the instructor/moderator arranged the submissions.


  • The instructor/moderator and panelists read the chapter in advance of each session.
  • Panelists submit a chapter’s homework two days before the session.
  • Each week’s homework assignment is to take a single concept from the chapter and provide a multi-page report about how that concept related to a specific project in one's personal research. Images of the ancestor(s) and related document(s) are to be included.
  • The instructor/moderator compiles homework submissions in logical order into a single document, makes notations, scans and uploads the final pages to Google Docs. 
  • — The link is shared with the panelists a day before with viewing participants in the secret back channel.
    — The link is shared with attendees by the Co-Host several times during the session to accommodate late arriving attendees.
  • Amazingly, though specific chapter sub-topics are not assigned, little overlap in homework has occurred.

The host, co-host, panelists and instructor/moderator meet 30 minutes before the first class session to:

  • perform sound and web cam checks
  • clarify the anticipated flow of the discussion
Thereafter, a green room of 15 minutes is adequate before the class session goes live. 


  • The Host or Instructor/Moderator shares the full-screen branding graphic before the event begins.
    — The graphic is on a second screen, readily shared at the beginning and end of the event.
    — In another setting, the graphic could be added to a PowerPoint slide deck in the first and last position.
    — The combined homework in Google Doc is opened full screen, but minimized until a 1-minute welcome is completed.
  • Attendees view the panelists and the instructor/moderator’s shared screen of the combined homework during class discussions.
  • Each panelist shares his thoughts while his homework with the instructor/moderator notes is displayed on the shared screen.
  • The instructor/moderator invites conversation among other panelists.
  • The co-host brings in comments typed by attendees.
  • If in Zoom Meeting format, the attendee could turn on his webcam alerting the instructor/moderator that he wishes to speak next.


  • Since the screen, not just a window, is shared, the instructor can seamlessly open up a website mentioned to clarify a way point citation or demonstrate a search.
  • When additional books or software are mentioned, the instructor/moderator provides a view to the product on the web for colorful brand recognition.
  • Using a blank word processing program the instructor/moderator may, for example, 
    — copy/paste a submitted citation
    — follow suggestions by panelists and attendees to add, remove or rearrange citation elements, color coding certain points for emphasis.
    — Note this works best with at least 20 point Arial at 200% magnification in MS Word. Anything smaller was difficult to read. Anything larger and its impossible to view a typical full citation.


  • Sometimes applying an idea from the chapter provides before and after scenarios for a panelist to describe.
  • Panelists are surprisingly candid about admitting where their blind spots are and how the chapter provides a breakthrough in research.
  • Amazingly little overlap in homework topics occurred.


  • The host sets up the meeting or webinar registration, in our most recent years using Zoom.
    — The host creates a 16:9 promo graphic and distributes it with the link through various social media channels, currently the DearMYRTLE Facebook Group and Twitter.
    — If it’s a Zoom Webinar, the Host creates the list of panelists with their email addresses so Zoom can send “panelist invitations. This permits the panelists to join the green room before the attendees arrive. Attendees arrive when the Host hits the broadcast button.
  • The Host starts the virtual meeting, first in green room mode. 
    — If a Zoom Webinar the panelists plan to arrive 15 minutes earlier using their individual panelist invitation URLs. The Host changes the status of one from panelist to Co-Host.
    — If a Zoom Meeting, all attendees are in a waiting room. From the list, the Host admits the intended Co-Host, changing his status from attendee to Co-Host and other panelists are admitted before the attendees.
  • The Host adjusts setting for simulcasting to YouTube or Facebook as desired.
  • If the virtual study group session is to be recorded, the Host adjusts settings to record locally or in the Zoom cloud and hits the record button.
  • Activates polls.
  • Sets parameters for Zoom breakout rooms, either assigned or random, and activates them.
  • The Host may visit any breakout room.
  • Activates the white board, though attendees must be advised who may use it.
  • Reverts back to the branding graphic as the instructor/moderator briefly concludes the meeting.
  • Presses the stop record button.
  • Presses to end meeting for all.

To put it plainly, everyone needs a “Cousin Russ”. 
🤗 A Zoom Co-Host has the same authority as a Host within the event itself. He cannot schedule events on the Host’s account.

He serves as the technology expert in any type of virtual meeting or webinar by

  • Informing the group of software updates, currently Zoom, Chrome and Windows 10, on the morning of the event.
  • Providing a count-down clock so the meeting starts and ends on time.
  • Reminding the host to turn on branding before the event starts.
  • Admitting attendees to a Zoom Meeting one by one or in groups.
  • Assisting anyone with sound or video issues in voice during the green room or via typed chat later.
  • Monitoring and muting attendee sound interference.
  • Monitoring and muting attendee video.
  • Monitoring chat.
  • Banning if necessary.
  • Hosting for the 10 minutes allowed before shutdown if the Host gets bumped out of the virtual meeting.

Though this description of DearMYRTLE study groups is long and detailed, it can be boiled down to this:

  • The Host (DearMYRTLE) creates and promotes the virtual event and opens it 15 minutes before the live event.
  • The Co-Host (Cousin Russ) assists the Host by keeping the meeting run smoothly and bringing in comments where an attendee cannot use a mic or webcam.
  • The Instructor/Moderator pushes content. Sometimes this is also the Host.
  • A Panelist has been chosen in advance and provides homework to enhance the discussion of a chapter in a book.
  • Attendees may interact via typed text or where available via mic and webcam. 
If you value the interactive genealogy education provided in DearMYRTLE webinars, please consider donating. THANK-YOU in advance. 

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy
Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont

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