Family Tree University Virtual Conference Summer 2011

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Summer 2011 Family Tree University Virtual Conference – which is the first of its kind for genealogists and family historians.

The conference ran from Friday, August 19, 2011 through today, Sunday, August 21, 2011. The conference was set up in Blackboard Learn 9 which is a learning management system (LMS). I had used earlier versions of Blackboard before, but not this system, and it has changed A LOT. I had a bit of a learning curve when I first accessed the conference, but nothing too stressful.

The conference offered:

A virtual Exhibit Hall— complete with exhibitor coupons and prizes

Live chats— regularly scheduled throughout the three days, with the transcript available for saving should you have to miss the chat

A contest — in the form of a quiz, in which entries were chosen at random to win one of three awesome prizes

A discussion board– open 24/7, and a swag bag with some really awesome offerings.

Seventeen pre-recorded sessions— divided into three tracks:

Tech Track (my personal fave):

Amateur Photo Restoration – Nancy Hendrickson

Build a Research Toolbox – Thomas MacEntee

Digital Preservation for the 21st Century – Sunny Morton

Digitize your Genealogy Documents – Nancy Hendrickson

Google Surname Search Secrets – Lisa Louise Cooke

Researching the Internet Archive – Thomas MacEntee

Twitter for Genealogists – Nancy Hendrickson

Research Strategies Track:

At Home with the Family Archivist – Sunny Morton

City Directories: Key to Your Family’s past – Maureen A. Taylor

Making Sense of Pre-1850 Censuses – Maureen A. Taylor

Plattng Metes and Bounds Properties – Diana Smith

Platting Rectangular Survey System Properties – Diana Smith

Using Naturalization Records – Lisa A Alzo

Ethnic Track:

Finding Your East European Ancestors’ Village – Lisa A Alzo

German Newspapers in  America — Jim Beidler

Irish Genealogy Online – Rick Crume

Strategies for Tracking Down English, Scottish, and Welsh Ancestors – Rick Crume

As you can see there is a tremendous amount of material available – more than enough for a full weekend, and in my case, more likely a full week. When I originally signed up for the conference I had blocked out all three days so that I could participate in any online discussions or chats, and watch all of the pre-recorded sessions at my leisure.

As it goes with the best laid plans, this did not happen. I ended up stuck in New York for personal reasons, away from my computer and not happy about it. I had my iPad with me so that enabled me to start to look through the site and participate in the discussions on a limited basis, but I was dying to do more.

I was very thankful to find out that all of the pre-recorded sessions were downloadable, so once I finally managed to get back to my desktop computer, I downloaded all of the sessions, and then painstakingly checked each file to make sure they were in working order. This took the better part of the day on Sunday. It became quickly obvious to me that I would not be able to watch every session the same day – that would have taken another 8.5 hours or so, which just does not leave enough time to sleep.  Thomas MacEntee I am not— I need my sleep or I turn into one of Kerry’s zombies.

Needless to say, I have watched only a few of the videos thus far, but what I have seen is terrific. I downloaded all of the videos even if they don’t seem to apply to my present research agenda, because, well, you just never know who you’ll be doing research for in the future. Each video comes with a pdf version of the slideshows— which to me is an extra bonus since I’d otherwise be transcribing the slides while trying to listen to the presentation.

The hashtag for the conference is #FTUVC, although it was not used very frequently. I was very surprised to learn that there were quite a few participants who were unfamiliar with Twitter (my social media of choice… this month). So it was very fortunate that the conference included a chat session and a video session on Twitter. I’m hoping that some of the folks who have been holding out will decide to dive in and join us at Twitter soon.

I have one suggestion for improving the experience: The LMS (in this case Blackboard) should be available to participants before the day of the event, so that they can play around and get used to the interface. I didn’t have too much trouble catching on, but I have experience both teaching online courses and with earlier versions of Blackboard, so my learning curve was not as steep as some other participants, who seemed to be frustrated with the system on the first day. I honestly didn’t check to see if it was available beforehand, because the registration email said it wouldn’t be, and I never break the rules (okay – you can stop laughing).

Overall the conference has been a great experience. The instructors did a terrific job, there were a wide variety of sessions available, and the extras (exhibit hall, swag, chat) really gave it the feel of an ‘on-ground’ conference. It was much closer to a traditional conference than I expected it to be when I signed up. I hope FTU plans to do additional virtual conferences in the future, and maybe other societies will borrow the idea and provide similar offerings as well.

A follow-up post can be found here: wrap-up


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  1. Cheryl Palmer

    I am soooo jealous! Sounds like the Virtual Conference was a big hit! So happy you were able to attend and report on it, looks and sounds like there was plenty to keep you busy! Maybe I will be able to attend one in the future. Thanks for being so thorough and sharing your experience with us!

    • 1ancestry2littletime

      It was a big hit – my impression from everyone’s participation was that they all had the same great experience with it as I did. Join us next time! Thanks for the comments.

  2. Thomas MacEntee

    Thanks for attending and it was great to “meet” you virtually! I can’t wait for the next FTU conference!

    • 1ancestry2littletime

      Thanks for visiting, Thomas! It was great meeting you as well. I think we’re all looking forward to the next iteration – it was a great experience!

  3. Dana

    Sounds like it was a wonderful experience! Thanks for the review – makes me want to participate in the next one for sure! Would’ve signed up for this one if I hadn’t been on the road for pretty much all of today. :)

    • 1ancestry2littletime

      Hi Dana,
      It was a great experience – you should definitely join the next time. I ended up not having as much time with the material as I had hoped over the weekend, but it still worked great with the ability to download – so it is possible, even from the road (as long as you can find a computer and cloud storage)! :-)

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