Thursday, February 21, 2013

The ProGen Study Group: Getting Started

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll see me make reference frequently to the ProGen Study Group that I began this year. A number of you have asked me questions about it, and I thought it would be a good idea to blog about the course, each month's lessons, and my progress. Perhaps you are merely curious, or perhaps you are actually interested in taking this course and would like some "inside information."

First let me explain what the ProGen Study Group (known hereafter as simply ProGen) is about...and what it isn't. ProGen is an 19-month book study of the text, Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Each month, members are assigned a chapter or two of the book to read, along with practical assignments related to the chapter(s). The assignments are posted online using a project management website. In addition to reading and assignments, members must provide feedback on others' assignments. Finally, the members gather once a month for an online discussion in a chat forum with their group's respective coordinator and mentor.

What ProGen is not is a course on learning genealogy research skills. As the ProGen website's home page states: "The ProGen study groups are for those who already have strong research skills and are ready to further develop their professional business, writing and analysis skills." And while members receive a Certificate of Completion, it is also not an accreditation course; in other words, taking this book study does not make you a certified genealogist. That is actually done by the BCG, the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

ProGen has an administrator as well as a number of certified genealogists have agreed to volunteer their time as mentors and many alumni serve as coordinators for the various groups. The first group was organized in April 2008. I am in the (so far) most recently organized group, ProGen 19.

So what made me decide to join ProGen? There isn't one particular, clear answer. I have a number of genealogy friends who have taken this course, and I followed their progress over the past couple of years with interest. I am still debating whether to become a certified genealogist, and am curious about the process and requirements, which this course investigates. Whatever my decision regarding certification, I want my current work--lecturing, instructing, writing and blogging, and perhaps researching for others later--to have a professional quality to it.

To get started, I had to go to the ProGen website and submit an application and join a waiting list. I did this on August 13, 2012. I received a response from the administrator and was told I might have to wait up to three months before being placed in a group, should my application be accepted. Additionally, I applied for a scholarship to cover the cost of the text, since it sells for about $60.00. On August 21st, I received an email from the Waiting List Coordinator, who had also been a ProGen Coordinator and a ProGen alumni. She told me that my application had been received and that I would hear from the administrator when a new group was ready to be formed.

On November 30th, I heard from the administrator that I was invited to register for either ProGen 18 or 19, both of which were scheduled to begin January 1, 2013. They had received so many applications, that they were starting two groups. Attached to the email were three documents: an organizing message listing the dates and times of the online discussion; a registration form in which to choose either ProGen 18 or 19; and a handbook outlining in detail the course requirements and member expectations, the history of ProGen, tips on using the Basecamp website, explaining the $95 participation fee (which pays for the website), and information about a scholarship for the fee. It was also recommended to have available a copy of Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I do own the first edition, published in 2007; a more recent edition was published in 2009.

From the organizing message, I learned there was only one choice for evening online discussions; all the others were during my work hours. So I decided to register for ProGen 19. I contacted my brother-in-law and his wife to see if they would loan me the money for the participation fee, but instead they very generously agreed to pay it as their Christmas gift to me. I also received an email on December 8th informing me that my scholarship application to cover the text had been accepted and that I was now a part of ProGen 19. My book arrived in the mail the following week.

On December 10th, I received an email with a list of all the members of ProGen 19, as well as the names of our coordinator and mentor (the latter is a certified genealogist). Besides myself, there were 15 other people signed up between the two morning groups and the one evening group.

The next day, I created an account at the website, loaded up a photo of myself, and then received a message to introduce myself to the other members of ProGen 19. As a group, we started to comment on others' introduction messages, finding many with similar backgrounds (a number of members have degrees in biology, for instance) and interests. We were also given a timeline of due dates for all the new assignment postings, assignment deadlines, feedback deadlines, and online discussion times.

Our mentor suggested that we get together for an informal chat just for fun on December 21st. About half the members (including myself) had some kind of holiday plans and couldn't make it, but the rest joined in. From what I gathered, it was an enjoyable chat and I was sorry that I had missed this first opportunity to get to know the other members a little better. Six more people were eventually added to the group, giving us a total of 22, including myself, plus our two leaders and our administrator. Eventually, we had a total of 26 members.

In my next ProGen post, I'll write about our first two online discussions and our first lesson and assignments.

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Jen A said...

Congrats Miriam on taking this big step! I've signed up and hope to get into an upcoming class myself. I appreciate what you have shared so far and look forward to reading more. Have fun with it!

Miriam Robbins said...

Thank you, Jennifer. I'm about halfway through my post about Lesson One. Best of luck to you in going forward in ProGen!