When 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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