Error Recognition Exercises

Red Maple Leaves.jpg

When each of our students’ ancestors seems as different as one leaf is from the next, we often need to devise learning activities all can do that give practical experience. Error recognition exercises are good examples of controlled practical experience. We all make mistakes, but if we know what we are doing ( i.e. if we are competent) , we recognize those errors. So we can pre-test for competence by asking people to look at flawed examples and offer corrections. For exampleA group of students was taught how to write letters and e-mails to reference libraries and archives. They were given the instructor’s favourite dreadful examples and asked to identify the problems. This was done in general discussion. The home assignment was to write an e-mail request for information to a library, and send it to the instructor that night. These were graded. Error recognition was used as a re-inforcement activity.

Another example: Students are given a cluster of document facsimiles for a person and a research question. They are then given a flawed proof summary in the best “cover-sheet’ list format as modelled in the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual. Their task; to study documents and summary, and identify the flaws. This sort of problem could be prepared to demonstrate unsound presumtions, flaws in math, in logic etc.

Error recognition activities can be used to reinforce learning points, or to test competence. Have you created any for your students?

Your comments are always welcome.


5 responses to “Error Recognition Exercises

  1. Ken,

    No, I haven’t, but it’s a good idea! Another one – you seem to have many! Too many for me to keep up with, so I’m going to cherry-pick as time marches on.

    Are there any of these problems already defined, or have you compiled them yourself? The documents are the hard part, of course.

    It seems to me that a prerequisite for doing this is some sort of course or workshop in problem solving, evaluating evidence, applying a proof standard, etc.

    I think I will try to put a presentation together for my group on the this and I can use some of my research successes and frustrations as examples. I’ve touched on it before with them, but not to the extent of putting a presentation together.

    I will review the articles I’ve downloaded from BCG and Ancestry and other sites and review my magazine collection for ideas. Any suggestions for books?

    Cheers — Randy

  2. There is so much faulty reasoning and bad research in my own first five years of research, that generally I can draw on it for a steady supply of blunders and dumb thinking to create cases and problems. But I do look for fresh ideas all the time.

    Writing case studies, case problems is a skill but it can be learned. sounds like an idea for a future entry!

  3. LOL!!! Me too.

    The first five years are a blur now. I was so immersed in it and I collected so much…most of it secondary info. I did make xerox copies of books and journal articles, so I still have the info. And most of it was compiled, so I didn’t really attack the brick walls until after the 6th year. By then I had made plenty of mistakes and learned a lot. Over the last 10 years, I have looked critically at my database and supporting documents and have disconnected more than a few otherwise fine families from my ancestry.

    I still have almost all of the brick walls, and I revisit them occasionally to see if someone else has solved them for me (nope! – they are all mine, I think). I made some forms to help me remember what materials I had searched for (eg, probate, land, tax, census, military, etc) and what internet databases I had searched. I only do this for my elusive ancestors (one of the problems of a fine New England ancestry is having several hundred surnames to search for – I’m not complaining! just stating fact), since they are the ones that need this level of critical thinking and analysis.

    When you create a case study, do you take a relatively simple problem or are they as complicated as we find in NGSQ or NEHGR?

    Cheers — Randy

  4. The challenge of those first 5 years of dreadful research practices lies in the fact that I did not understand the weakness of basing my research on what we now call derivative sources. For example, if you are doing New England research are you consulting the original town records, or are they the published versions. If you are trusting the published versions, you are too trusting.

    Next, I think is the problem of depending solely on birth, marriage, death and census records, then just winging the fuzzy bits. Bad move.

    With those two factors alone, impacting on my early research, the product is very dodgy, and lends itself to building many many very short case problems about a half page in legth. These are the best length I think for classroom situations. I can make the cases sound more generic, to focus on particular principles.

    The third major flaw of my early research was not recording the citations of the sources searched. I know now that the list of unsuccessful searches is as telling as the shorter list of sources yielding the critical facts sought.


  5. Yep, been there, done all that. New England is so rich with resources and one tends to think that “everything I need is there somewhere.”

    To address your cogent points, I soon realized that the VRs in the published town records mainly came from the town clerks records, so I started reading them and found many nuggets, and not a few errors in the published VRs.

    Then on to land and probate records, which I am still collecting and abstracting. I have completed my 200+ Middlesex County MA ancestors’ probate records (the FHL films are of the original papers in the probate packets – all together – hooray for FHL), but am bogged down in land records. I am up to about 1720 but each volume has 20 to 40 ancestors’ deeds and I am so bored by it all…

    To overcome the boredom, I’m shifting course to find more probate records in other New England counties. I’m presently making a list of all my Rhode Island ancestors and searching the RIGR for their will abstracts. I’ll then go to the town records (probates are in the towns in RI) and find the will transcriptions.

    I love probate records!

    Cheers — Randy

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