Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Engaging Genealogical Society Members

Our friend and colleague DearMYRTLE wrote two interesting and challenging blog posts this week:

*  To be engaged with (10 September 2012)

*  Becoming Engaging (11 September 2012)

MYRT's posts were about presentations at genealogical conferences, day-long seminars, and society programs.  In short, Pat espouses more interactive sessions in order to foster communication and education with and of attendees.  For instance, rather than the action-packed 60-minute Powerpoint presentation, she advocates getting out from behind the lectern and having a more active, open, collaborative environment where real learning occurs through demonstration and conversation.  Pat calls them "workshops."

I have been trying to incorporate more conversation and question/answer time into my presentations, with some success.  Three examples:

1)  I did a two-hour RootsMagic workshop in early August to the Chula Vista Genealogical Society (CVGS) to about 20 persons from beginning to experienced researchers.  The society promoted RootsMagic to the last Beginners class in May, and has now helped 30 members obtain the software, along with the how-to book.  Many of the attendees had their laptops with RootsMagic installed, and were able to follow along and experiment on their own.  During the Workshop, I asked attendees for the features they would like to see discussed and demonstrated.  Interestingly, all of the requested features were included in what I had prepared - how to navigate within the program, how to start a new database, using the Help file, GEDCOM import and export, data entry, source citations, reports, lists and charts, etc.  That was the first hour. After a 10 minute break, the second hour was a question/answer session on specific problem areas raised by the attendees - mainly on data entry and data entry standards.  The entire session was done without Powerpoint slides or notes, although I did provide a handout about RootsMagic features, with links to the software, the webinars, and the forums.

The two hours went very quickly, but we did not cover "everything" and we will have a follow-up workshop in early November.  I expect to solicit questions and features of interest in an email to the members two weeks before the event.

2)  CVGS has a monthly two-hour Research Group meeting, usually hosted by myself (we've been doing this for at least 9 years now).  I occasionally have some sort of 30 to 45 minute presentation on a topic of interest - last month it was about FamilySearch record collections and the Research Wiki.  We always discuss upcoming society events, attendees research problems, questions, and successes, and genealogy news.

Today, we had 17 attendees, and we discussed Michele Simmons Lewis's blog post, Starting at the Very Beginning in some detail - embellished by experiences and examples from the attendees themselves.  We got into Conclusion-based and Evidence-based genealogy, and how to implement it in genealogy software; the FamilySearch Learning Center videos; the necessity of using pedigree charts and research group sheets; writing short biographies of your ancestors to help you identify information to obtain to tell their stories.  That was the first hour... and I hope that I stimulated interest in genealogy blog reading (and maybe even blog writing) in addition to the above.

In the second hour, we discussed research problems or questions of the attendees.  We touched on the problem of finding missing parents not in census records, finding an adoptee's biological parents, 1940 census index accuracy with examples, 20th century research problems, New FamilySearch tree, and finding genealogy blogs for a specific research interest.  I tried to keep up with this online using Ancestry, FamilySearch and Google with some success, thereby demonstrating some search techniques using wild cards and sorting results by category rather than relevance.  Since the library's wi-fi is poor in the Conference Room, I used my Galaxy tablet as a hot spot and it worked well (with patience required...).

This meeting is always lively, conducted around a large table, and everyone participates well.  Hopefully, everyone went home with some new research ideas and goals.

3)  I've been adding an audience feedback period in some of my hour-long presentations, with questions like "what additional resources could I have used?" and "Which of those resources were not on the Internet?"  This breaks up 60 minutes into three 20 minute periods and hopefully stimulates curiosity and gets the attendees thinking about how they would attack the research problem posed.

The neat thing about genealogical society presentations is that they don't always have to be limited to a one-hour time period.  Some societies encourage a 60 to 90 minute presentation that is not hurried and includes audience interaction.

Those are my experiences in trying to foster communication and active learning at my local genealogical societies - what are yours?

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Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Pat Richley-Erickson said...

Absolutely right on, Randy! Real time conversations, meeting the needs of the attendees that day. If you held a similar session in six months, it would end up differently, because the participants will have done more research and willhave a new set of questions.

THIS sort of teaching is not about how smart the "presenter" is, but rather focuses on problem solving to leading participants from point A to point B, based on group discussions.

Thank you for being a confident, capable mentor.

Myrt :)

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

You've got it. Pat is 'right on' as well, of course. As a university professor, I never 'lectured' - I engaged my classes. As a genealogist, the 'prepare a lecture' for a meeting - really turns me off! The 'presenter' is not the point! The 'student' has to do the learning, for you to be affective. This only happens with engagement, involvement, immersion - best of all. Thanks for sharing! Movement in the right direction!! ;-)