vigrWhen I heard the news of a new virtual genealogy institute that would keep me from having to take time off from work and travel to Birmingham, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, or any of the other cities where the current genealogy institutes are held, to say I was excited would be an understatement.  You see, I love learning.  I also love the close to one-on-one interaction with the instructors that I get at an institute.  I also loved the fact that it was relatively affordable compared to the price of an in-person institute.  I was eager to see what this new institute was all about, so I signed up for its flagship course “Writing a Logical Proof Argument” by Michael Hait, CG.

At the time that I registered (the beginning of September), I did not have nearly as many things on my plate as I do now.  I hadn’t received my notice of the ProGen Study Group (which I received 2 days later), and I hadn’t been asked to write my column for the In-Depth Genealogist until the end of September.  Now my time was even more valuable, which made this virtual institute even more important.

The course would take place over two Saturdays – November 1 and November 8 – with two classes each day: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.  And there would be homework.  I would expect nothing less from an institute.  We received our syllabus materials and the pre-course assignment on October 25.  We were provided a link to one of Michael’s NGSQ articles and were instructed to “read this article and try to understand the argument that it presents” because it would be discussed in detail on the first day of the course.

Aside from the issues I had with the article as a whole (which will likely be a completely separate blog post), I felt like I would have gotten more out of the course if he Michael had chosen a shorter, less confusing article for his examples.  The simple fact that the article began as 36 full 8-1/2 x 11 pages and was edited down to 14 NGSQ pages should give you a hint that everything didn’t make it into the final published article.  I had to read it three times before I gave up and just began taking it apart sentence by sentence.  The article was so complex and so discombobulated that I became preoccupied with figuring out what was going on with the article.  So much so that I lost sight of my original purpose: to see the arguments and how they were presented.

I was also a little concerned when I was asked to register on the GoToWebinar platform for the classes.  I read on the website that the classes were limited to 100 registrants to allow for “a higher level of class participation and instructor feedback than typically offered by genealogy webinars,” so I expected something different — maybe it was the “unique opportunities in genealogical education” I was promised from the press release.  A webinar is not unique.  It is still a webinar, regardless of how much Q & A you do.  There was virtually ZERO interaction between the participants and the instructor, because the questions submitted during the webinar required a moderator.  I submitted 7 questions during the first two sessions.  Only one of them was answered.  Sorry, but that doesn’t seem like a higher level of instructor feedback to me.

The first session didn’t actually begin until 13 minutes into the class because of the extensive introduction of the instructor.  Most of the sessions were quite informative.  However, there was one point during the lecture where we were discussing a particular quality that an argument must have, which was never fully explained.  He searched his brain for an example, and when he was unable to come up with anything, he simply said, “Well, we’ll move on.”  Unacceptable.  You can’t NOT explain something that you claim is critical to your argument and expect your students to understand it.  You just can’t.

I also felt that if a shorter article had been used for the course, we wouldn’t have spent SO much time going over each and piece of data that went into each and every argument that was being made, and would have left more time for questions to be answered (like the 6 other questions I submitted).  I really missed being able to ask questions in “real time” like I do in a classroom, and missed the interaction with the instructor.  I felt like at least half of the time I spent attending these 4 webinars (and deciphering the NGSQ article before the course even began) would have been better spent doing something else.

It wasn’t all bad.  The subject matter was good (but could have been presented better), and I did learn a few things.  I also appreciate that I get the recordings of the webinars so I can watch them again later.  The syllabus materials also have many useful links and other information that I’m sure will come in handy.  I would like to see VIGR research (and hopefully implement) a better platform for the lectures than GoToWebinar – something that makes it feel like an institute instead of just 4 webinars on the same subject.  Then I might sign up for more courses.  For now though, I’ll probably just save up my money and my vacation days and spend them on IGHR in the spring, where I can actually interact with my instructor and get feedback, which I feel is probably the most important part of an institute.


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Review: Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research (VIGR) — 18 Comments

  1. Great review, Jenny. I too took that first course and for many of the same reasons. I did provide feedback to VIGR but you have put it so much better than I did. I sincerely hope VIGR finds a better format for classes and drops the Webinar presentations. Until and unless they do, I’ll be looking for other educational options.

    • Thank you, Shirley. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who was disappointed in the webinar format. I also hope they find a new format because I really think this could be a fantastic way to provide educational opportunities for folks who – for financial, health, or other reasons – can’t travel to the in-person institutes.

  2. Thank you so much for your review. I participated in a GenProof course and LOVED it, however we used Google Hangouts. I too am fiscally conservative and love the opportunities virtual learning provides. Please keep us updated!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kelly! I’m also a fan of Google+ Hangouts as an educational platform. I think DearMYRTLE has pioneered G+ as a viable alternative to the webinar with her (many) Hangouts on Air. This is one option that I would like to see VIGR investigate. With only 10 active participants, it may not be ideal, but it still offers more interaction with the instructor than a webinar.

  3. I was so glad to read your review, which reflects my overall reaction to the course but thought it was due to my own lack of experience and professional deficiencies. In addition to your observations, I noticed a lot of fillers like “umm” and “you know” that detracted from the presentation. As a teacher, it’s difficult for me to continue professional development during the academic year and, given the Institute description and the respect I have for all of the listed instructors, I was excited by the opportunity and had high expectations for the first course of VIGR. I did register for the next class with J. Mark Lowe’s and, even with the shortcomings of the webinar format, I hope to learn more about agricultural records.

    • Thanks, Jody! I noticed the audible fillers as well, but didn’t mention them specifically because (a) my post was getting WAY too long, and (b) it could be included under the ‘better presentation’ topic. But I agree. After a while, it’s hard to hear anything BUT that. Let us know your feelings about Mark’s presentations! (I have no doubt that the presentation will be exponentially superior – Mark is a fabulous presenter – but I’m curious how that will translate through the overall format).

  4. Jenny,

    The Virtual Institute is a much different creature than a format such as IGHR. Perhaps what you really are seeking, although more difficult, is in-person interaction. The limitations of any virtual opportunity are evident. Even university courses provided through online sources such as Coursera do not offer live interaction. I am also “grounded” most of the time and look forward to being able to hear new material presented that is beyond routine.

    Michael’s lecture started at a point where most lectures never go. This was refreshing. We were not discussing how to research records or repositories for once. By accepting the premises as true (and rightfully so, since they had been peer-reviewed ad nausum) we were able to go in-depth into the arguments and look at them in a way that was logical. A way that helped clarify how arguments are built and how to read and write case studies.

    When I first began reading the “Q,” I also found case studies difficult to follow. It took me several years before I could read one with enough expertise to question arguments or research findings. I found that reading the NGSQ with a colleague was helpful in becoming a discerning reader.

    In my opinion, if I had been able to take this course in 1998, it would have fast-tracked me to better understanding of arguments in both reports and case studies.

    • Rondina,

      I get what you’re saying about the difference between VIGR and IGHR, as I’ve now attended both. I wasn’t necessarily looking for in-person interaction. The problem that I have is that VIGR was advertised as allowing “a higher level of instructor feedback.” That never happened. At the very least, I would have liked to have ALL of my questions answered. Instead, only 1 out of 7 were addressed.

      I don’t disagree that Michael’s presentation was a refreshing break from the courses usually offered. I really did learn something from the lecture. I was just hoping it would be the “unique” educational experience I was promised. It wasn’t. It was a webinar, plain and simple. There wasn’t even any interaction between the participants.

      As far as the case study being difficult to follow – it wasn’t just me. I’ve spoken to several attendees who had problems with the article (some of them were CGs). There were simply pieces of evidence that were never provided in the published version, and this caused it to be disjointed and hard to follow. I’m sure Michael has written other – shorter – articles that could have been used to demonstrate the arguments, and the time saved in doing that could have been spent answering questions from the participants.

  5. I too was a participant in this first endeavor in their Virtual Institute. I did find the Michael’s presentation very refreshing and It did drive home the logical argument. This is the 2nd time I reviewed the article and found it just as overwhelming the 2nd time as the 1st. Yes it was a webinar without the give and take between the instructor and attendees except via the moderator. I too thought it would be a bit more.

  6. Thank you, Sandy! I definitely learned a lot from Michael’s presentation. I just hope the VIGR coordinators are open-minded enough to at least consider a more interactive format in the future.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this VIGR session. I can understand the disappointment with the webinar-like format. I participated in a multi-week “class” put together by Dear Myrtle (I think this was before Google Hangouts came out) and if I remember correctly, we used SecondLife as our platform. There was at least an audio bilateral conversation that occurred. It was quite enjoyable. It was also a small group too. I’m sure they will take the feedback and incorporate it in to developing future classes.

    • Thank you, Ginger. I also used to participate in Myrt’s SecondLife events, but it just got to be too much for my poor computer, and the constant updates were more than I was willing to deal with. But yes, the fact that you could actually have a conversation was WONDERFUL!

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jenny. Having run webinars for nearly three years using GoToWebinar, I wondered how the idea of “a higher level of instructor feedback” would work, especially with the modifier of “limited class sizes of only one hundred registrants per course.” Sounds like it may not have worked out so well. There are other options available to make it a more interactive experience, but I get the feeling that this was a matter of going with what you (the organizers) know and what the genealogy community is familiar with (webinars, particularly the GTW platform). Perhaps with your feedback (as well as others who participated and felt the same way) a better solution can be implemented in the future.

    • Thanks, Julie! I was really hoping this program would be THE one … unfortunately, you’re right. It ended up being another “we’ve always done it this way” scenario. Someone needs to start thinking outside the box. Otherwise, you’re just paying $70 for 4 webinars.

      • I’m surprised at the comments about the delivery system rather than the subject matter. Since this seems to be a prime concern, I’d like to point out that we do not have the data for the premises to create the arguments being made.

        ● Although 100 participants are allowed, how many people attended each session?
        ● Did all participants ask questions?
        ● Were there some questions asked that were not appropriate to the topic, such as those on the research and what the editors cut from the study?
        ● Were questions asked that were answered within the program before the Q&A?
        ● Were questions duplicated by others so that is was covered but not recognized because another’s name was attached to it?

        The need for interaction seems to be at the heart of the method of delivery problem. How much interaction do you desire? When I attend classes, those instructors that allow questions randomly do not get through all of their material and run over time. Perhaps, brief breaks between main sections of the presentations would be helpful—but not questions that interrupt the presentation itself.

        This is just some food for thought.

        • Rondina, why does it surprise you? Would you pay to take an algebra class online where your questions wouldn’t be answered by the instructor? How about a writing class? Why would an “intensive” genealogy class not warrant the same sort of interaction? Especially one as complicated as proof arguments.

          The two things promised by VIGR and never delivered: higher levels of (1) class participation and (2) instructor feedback.

          You cannot tell me that you received more instructor feedback during this series of webinars than you have in any other webinar. You also cannot convince me that you experienced a higher level of class participation than any other webinar. There was ZERO class participation – other than having to read the material beforehand and do “homework” that would never be acknowledged, much less reviewed, by the instructor.

          All of your “missing” data points are irrelevant to this issue. What IS relevant is that only 14% (1 out of 7) of my own questions were addressed AT ALL. That alone is indicative of the lack of instructor feedback. We have no way of knowing how many other questions went unanswered, but – quite honestly – if all the attendees’ questions can’t be addressed within the allotted time frame, then perhaps there were TOO MANY attendees or the subject matter could have been presented better.

          So yes, the need for interaction is at the heart of this issue – because that’s what we were PROMISED. If the moderator can’t screen the questions as they come through and interrupt the instructor with the ones that are specific to the slide(s) being discussed at that moment, then perhaps the old, tired webinar format is the wrong one for this type of “intensive” educational endeavor. Without that interaction, I’m just being talked at by a bunch of PowerPoint slides.

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