Friday, February 22, 2013

The ProGen Study Group: Lesson One

"The ProGen Study Group: Getting Started" can be read here.

We were supposed to have our first assignment posted January 1st. However, ProGen 18 was due to have their first online discussion that day and wanted to have a few days to look over their assignment in order to bring up any necessary questions during their chat. So our adminstrator posted the assignment a couple of days early for both groups, 18 and 19.

Our first reading assignment were two chapters in Professional Genealogy. Next there was supplemental reading on the topics of plagiarism and attribution which contained links to three online articles. To prepare for our online discussion at the end of this lesson, we were given the link to the Association of Professional Genealogists' Code of Ethics. The online discussion prep sheet listed ten questions we were to discuss and answer from the various reading assignments. Additionally, we were to read a chapter of Evidence Explained with some supplemental reading. Finally, two links to online articles on creating mission statements were included in the assignment instructions. So really, we had about half a dozen reading assignments in this lesson. I got started on the reading immediately.

We were given two writing assignments. The first was to craft a mission statement for our current business, future business, or genealogical endeavors if we do not have a business. The second was to properly cite eight sources which were given to us in image format. The written assignments were due January 25th and our feedback was due by the time our next online discussion was to take place on February 4th.

Feedback has to be more than just "good job" posted after each person's assignment. We were to be specific in critiquing our colleagues' mission statements; what we admired or suggested for change or improvement, and why. We also were required to give three constructive comments or suggestions on each of our fellow members' citation assignments.

Our first online discussion for my evening group was held on January 7th, the first Monday of the month, at 5:00 PM, Pacific Time. It was not related to the first lesson, but was more a time to practice finding and using the chat room, get a chance to meet each other online if we had not done so earlier with our mentor's chat on December 21st, and allow our leaders to address any questions we had about the website, or the reading or writing assignments. The chat room was held on the website and was a little tricky to find for some. It did not require any audio devices or microphone, but was a text-based chat forum. The chat lasted one hour.

Back when we were first accepted into ProGen, we were given an opportunity to volunteer to be a group leader. I decided my plate was pretty full and opted not to do that. The group leader generally leads the online discussion and creates a transcript. Having a copy of the discussion was very helpful for later reference.

As I mentioned above, there was a lot of reading required in this first lesson. What helped me out was to print everything up, even though I tend to be an online person who rarely prints up anything. Thus I was able to read, highlight, and study the texts as well as the printed supplemental readings while I was working one of my late afternoon jobs. I also started keeping a checklist at for my assignments.

The mission statement was difficult and required some time. Because I currently do not have an official business, I wanted my mission statement to reflect my goal for a future business, but also incorporate what I do now on an informal basis: instruct, lecture, and write. I also wanted to leave room for the possibility of taking on paying clients to do research. Finally, I wanted to honor the cultural and heritage aspect of family history, especially since it was my growing up in a Native Alaskan community and my parents' efforts to teach me about my own Dutch heritage that influenced my genealogical interests.

The statement I eventually came up with was:
My two-fold mission is first to enable my clients to increase interest, satisfy curiosity, and instill pride in their family history and culture by providing accurate and thorough research. The second is to teach quality research skills in reliable resources to the genealogical community through instruction and my published works.
I received helpful feedback on this, especially when one member recommended I switch out the word "instill" for "develop," which was actually exactly what I had been trying to convey, although I couldn't come up with the correct word at the time.

In contrast to the mission statement, the citations assignment did not seem so difficult, but did take up a lot more time. I did a lot of studying of Evidence Explained. Citation writing is not an exact science; there is more than one way to do it properly. When I was satisfied with my work, I uploaded it to the website. Then I began feedback on others' mission statements and citation assignments.

Feedback was actually the most difficult part of all the assignments. On one hand, you must give an honest review of work done, but on the other hand, you don't want to offend someone or hurt their feelings, especially when you must collaborate with them for another eighteen months and also after knowing personally how much time and effort was invested into each assignment. I found three things to be helpful. The first was something I've learned as an educator: sandwich suggestions or constructive criticism between praise. This is especially important when you are doing critiques in an online manner because your audience cannot read your body language or hear the expression in your voice. It's so easy to be misinterpreted when you can't do this in person. The second was to cite various sections of Evidence Explained to back up my statements when pointing out errors in others' citations. The third was to graciously accept the critiques of others (remembering my first point above) and to notice and point out my own mistakes as I came across them. I have to say that in giving feedback to others on the citation assignment, I did find a number of mistakes in my own. In the process, I ended up rereading the citations reading assignment and highlighting it extensively. One of the best results was to gain some clarification as to why certain items were cited one way and other similar ones were cited differently.

Reading, working the assignments, writing them up, giving feedback, and the online discussion all do take quite a bit of time. It is not for nothing that twenty hours per month is the recommended time you allot yourself to work on each lesson. Although I am a fast reader, good writer, and prepared student, I did find that I probably spent at least twenty hours, if not more completing everything.

Finally, we had our online discussion on this first lesson on February 4th. Much of it centered directly on the subjects of the two ProGen chapters we had been assigned. One of the more interesting threads of conversation was about what to do when entrusted with a family history secret. Unfortunately, we did not get a transcript of this month's discussion.

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