Julie's Genealogy & History Hub

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Feedback is a Good Thing: Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research Offers New Interactive Option for Courses

A few months ago, I received word of a new genealogical institute that would be offered in a virtual manner.  I remember being excited at the prospect of such an institute, but with my schedule and financial constraints, I was not able to jump on board and try it out. 

About a month ago, I came across Jenny Lanctot’s blog post Review: Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research (VIGR) and was curious to see what she thought.  As I had feared, Jenny’s biggest disappointment had to do with the fact that it was clearly stated that courses would be limited to 100 participants to allow for “a higher level of class participation and instructor feedback than typically offered by genealogy webinars,” and she felt that this level of interaction was not a reality.  Many of the people that commented on her post, who also attended the same course Jenny discussed, felt the same way.  Following was my response to her post:

Thanks for sharing your experience, Jenny. Having run webinars for nearly three years using GoToWebinar, I wondered how the idea of “a higher level of instructor feedback” would work, especially with the modifier of “limited class sizes of only one hundred registrants per course.” Sounds like it may not have worked out so well. There are other options available to make it a more interactive experience, but I get the feeling that this was a matter of going with what you (the organizers) know and what the genealogy community is familiar with (webinars, particularly the GTW platform). Perhaps with your feedback (as well as others who participated and felt the same way) a better solution can be implemented in the future.


Fortunately, my prediction was right.  The organizers of VIGR considered the feedback and are trying a new solution, where participants can pay an extra $30 to receive “Plus” perks that include a separate one-hour Q&A session and instructor feedback via email (details in the press release below).  I’m not sure that I agree with the solution of a “Plus” package, especially since a higher level of interaction was promised from the beginning.  But kudos to the organizers for listening to the participant’s feedback and trying to come up with a solution.

Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research Offers
New Interactive Option for Courses

RALEIGH, North Carolina, 17 December 2014:

The Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research is evolving!

Student responses to our first course have reinforced our plans concerning the need for additional instructor interaction and feedback. Beginning in 2015 we will offer instructors and students this option.

Previously our courses came in a single format: four 90-minute lecture sessions with Q&A, extensive syllabus material, and at least one practical exercise.

Plus courses will consist of:

  • the same four 90-minute lecture sessions and syllabus material offered to standard students; plus
  • an additional one-hour Q&A/discussion session held on an evening either midweek or at the conclusion of the course;
  • individualized instructor feedback on practical exercises by email;
  • a Certificate of Completion for the course.

The Plus option for any course will cost $99.99, as compared to the $69.99 cost of standard courses.

J. Mark Lowe’s “Preparing the Field: Understanding the Agricultural Records of Our Ancestors” will be the first course to offer this new option. Beginning on Wednesday, 17 December 2014, buttons will appear on the website to purchase either the Standard or the Plus option for this course. Many of the Institute’s future courses will also offer this option.

For more information visit www.vigrgenealogy.com or email vigrgenealogy@gmail.com.

Your Turn

What do you think about the new solution being offered by VIGR?  Did you attend the first course offered, and if so, how did you feel about the level of interaction?  Are you willing to pay an extra $30 to get these “Plus” perks?  I’d like to know how others feel about this.  Please leave me a comment and share your opinion.

  • jennylanctot says:

    I’m so happy to hear that the organizers are at least listening to the participants. Like you, I’m not sure I agree that charging an additional fee to fulfill the original promises is the correct answer, but at least it’s a step in the right direction! I might actually consider taking another course.

    December 17, 2014 at 3:04 pm
    • Julie Cahill Tarr says:

      Jenny, let me know how it goes, if you take another with this new option.

      December 17, 2014 at 4:18 pm
  • anon says:

    That VIaGRa group is just about putting themselves on a pedestal,
    presenting themselves as experts in everything, because no one else does it…
    They PROMISED something but DID NOT DELIVER.
    Instead of making it up (FULL REFUND), they ARROGANTLY DEMAND EXTRA MONEY.
    Your feedback was good, but their response is DESPICABLE.
    And they still wonder why people make jokes about them…..

    Sorry about the anonymity, but we all know what a temper Michael Hait has.

    December 18, 2014 at 3:25 am
    • Julie Cahill Tarr says:

      Sadly, I completely understand the last sentiment. Initially I didn’t totally agree with the price increase, but the only thing I can think of to justify it is that if in fact the instructor provides individualize feedback on the assignments, that will require quite a bit of extra time to review and respond. If you figure an hour (minimum) spent on each person, that could potentially be 100 hours, compared to the 6 they were originally required to provide for each course for the lecture sessions. I do think they deserve some extra compensation for this addition…I just hope it goes to the instructor and that the instructor provides thoughtful and insightful feedback on the assignments.

      December 19, 2014 at 12:37 am
    • Rev. David McDonald, CG says:

      While “anon” is clearly entitled to her/his opinion, the last line is ad hominem. Personal attacks don’t belong in a blog, and while it is the owner’s right to publish or not, such cruel remarks only demean us all.

      December 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm
    • Rondina Muncy says:


      This is by far the rudest post I have ever read on any list or blog. If you can’t put your name behind your comments, they are meaningless. I hope that Julie will remove it from the thread as it is demeaning to the profession.

      December 31, 2014 at 5:51 pm
  • Nicole Gilkison LaRue says:

    I’m a little surprised by these comments. I’ve been hearing a few complaints about the lack of “feedback” in the initial incarnation of the Virtual Institute but what people have to remember is that the institute has to work with what is available to them. They can’t reinvent the wheel here. There’s a reason why so many genealogical societies and organizations use GoToWebinar: it’s a tried and true software useful for giving lectures and allowing questions from the participants. Let me say that part again. It allows for questions. Questions = audience interaction and feedback. Beyond that, if you have 100 people in a webinar and they all submit questions, the moderator will pick and choose relevant questions. If someone submits 10 questions to the moderator during the lecture and all but one are questioning the validity of a PEER REVIEWED article printed in the NGSQ, only the one relevant question will be asked. And rightly so. But in case someone really wanted answers to their questions, whether relevant or not, they were told in the lecture that they could ask them directly via email. So perhaps the initial negative commentary regarding lack of feedback was a misunderstanding of sorts. But now, they’ve added the option for what I see as more than just feedback, but actual practical class-type work and people are still questioning. Yes, that will cost a bit more. But as Julie stated, you have to consider that it will take the lecturers quite a bit of additional time to do that. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that these lecturers are PROFESSIONAL genealogists. That means their livelihood comes solely from genealogical work. They’re supporting themselves and their families through genealogy and their time should be considered valuable. Do you get paid when you go to work? Of course you do. So why would people say these professionals shouldn’t get paid for additional time spent working on practical assignments for the webinar? Because some feel this should have been done in the beginning? That’s just a case of semantics. If your idea of feedback didn’t match the organizers’ that doesn’t mean the lecturers should do additional work for free.

    I’m going to ignore the personal attack posted above. I think “anon” must be a little confused about the definition of the word “despicable.” Making jokes and personal attacks towards professionals who are trying to offer something new to people who want additional options for genealogical education is what’s despicable in this scenario. Not the professionals themselves.

    December 28, 2014 at 7:14 am
  • Julie Cahill Tarr says:

    Not trying to start a war here. People are entitled to their opinion, and while I did not necessarily agree with the manner in which anon’s comment was presented, I believe a person has a right to share their feelings, negative or otherwise. Do I feel bad about the negative comment made about a specific person, absolutely, however, while I do like and admire that person, without getting into specific details, sadly I do understand why it was said.

    I would like to move beyond this, and instead discuss the matter at hand. I remain indifferent about VIGR, its approach, and its changes. Conceptually, it’s a great idea, but will it work in reality? It seemed from the various comments after the first course, the reality was not-so-much. I appreciate that the organizers listened to the feedback and are trying to find an appropriate solution. Will it work? That remains to be seen. For the sake of genealogy education, I sure hope that VIGR thrives.

    Just today (a little behind on blog reading) I read DearMyrt’s post “Wondering About the New VIGR ‘Interactive’ Option” (http://blog.dearmyrtle.com/2014/12/wondering-about-new-vigr-interactive.html), where she questions the term “institute” being used to describe this educational opportunity. When it’s advertised as “Limited class sizes of only one hundred registrants per course allows for a higher level of class participation and instructor feedback than typically offered by genealogy webinars.” one would tend to expect an institute-like atmosphere conducted in a virtual manner. Having not attended (hence the reason I remain indifferent, I can only say that many people commented that this was not the case. Can it rise to the level of a true institute, but in a virtual world? Again, we have to wait and see.

    I almost hate to say it (really not trying to start a war), but I really wish the organizers would have consulted with people like myself and Geoff (from Legacy) and Paula (from SCGS), who have years of experience running webinars in the genealogy world, and people like Myrt, who has tons of experience running live interactive genealogy-related discussions. I know I have plenty of ideas, and I’m sure Myrt and others do as well. Maybe some of these people were consulted, but if not, that’s is a shame. We are not in competition with one another and I know that I and others are willing to share information for the greater good. I have been asked about starting a webinar series several times from various groups, and I am happy to respond. In fact, I was asked to write an article for FGS’s FORUM magazine about that very topic (current issue; vol. 26, issue 3). Plus, I have experience running live meetings (with various products), which plenty of our colleagues (probably more well-known than little ol’ me) do as well. You’d think a few people who have gone through the trials and tribulations of webinars (with various levels of interaction) and live discussions and meetings could come together, share what they know, and come up with a workable solution to make VIGR the interactive institute it was advertised (from the beginning) to be, without having to divide people up into a group who gets the interactive experience (for more $$), and the others who don’t. Granted, the instructor feedback, at least in my opinion, is worth the extra money. And while I think people would certainly appreciate that, I don’t think that was the major complaint. Their experience was sitting a watching a live webinar (with some Q&A at the end), like they do any other genealogy webinar currently available (often for FREE, I might add). There was no interaction with the instructor (typing a question in a box is NOT a “higher level” of interaction) or other students, which as Myrt said, it what a true institute is all about. As I’ve said before…there are other options available to make it a true interactive experience!

    December 30, 2014 at 1:45 am

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