Almost every issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly contains a long detailed case study that illustrates some general principle of effective research with a particular problem a researcher has solved. Let me give you an example: T.Mark James, “Abraham Ott of Orangeburg, South Carolina: Direct and Indirect Evidence”, NGSQ 93:2 (June 2005) pages 85-93. How could you use a 9 page case study in your work as a genealogy educator?
I started using these lengthy case studies several years ago. My first venture was as discussion group for “advanced” genealogists. Most were not that advanced. I identified about eight of these case studies that I liked. I then contacted the editor of NGSQ as a courtesy to explain what I was doing. The editor at the time, Elizabeth Shown Mills, was very encouraging. She explained that after 6 months from the date of publication, NGSQ had no claim on the articles I was interested in. My next step was to track down the authors. That was a bit of a challenge. I recall one required quite a bit of searching to find. I eventually found a phone number and called her in Texas. All the authors gave permission for me to make up to 20 copies for my group.
My next step was to make the copies and distrubute to the students. With each article I enclosed a set of open-ended study questions to help them get inside the article. There were lots of how and why questions, some questions asking for their opinions on what was done. One or two that asked them if particular bits of logic made sense to them. On the average I think there were 15 questions for each article. I also explained in a cover sheet one of the best strategies for getting the most out of each article.
I suggested they read each article four or more times in the 10 days before our roundtable session, with particular objectives for each reading. I challenged them to check on the citations used. And I asked them to write down every question that occured to them as they were reading.
At the round table ( ours was square and sat 3 per side) I served as moderator. Moderators do not lecture. The students came knowing that everthything they learned would come from their efforts not my lectures. My job was to draw people into the conversation. When there was a lull I might ask a question– one from the study questions, or another new one. I might turn to a quiet person in the group and invite them to comment, or to raise an issue that the article evoked in them. And I invited people to briefly share their experiences as related to the issues in the case. After about 90 minues they started to wind down. Here was the point I’d ask for a comment on the article as a whole, “Are you persuaded to agree with the author?” THen I’d ask, “What have you learned from the article and the discussion tonight?”
Before breaking up I’d assign the next article, pass out the study materials and remind them of the date. It was very well received.
I cannot claim to have invented this roundtable. Its been used in academia in graduate seminar classes for decades. I suggest you read William M. Litchman “Teaching analysis, logic and the research process: a seminar approach” National Genealogical Society Newsmagazine (Nov/Dec 2000) pp. 340-343.
Does this roundtable discussion sound interesting? Perhaps youlike to have me come to your group and do a demonstration event, and show you how to set up your own discussion group?
Your comments are always welcome.