I forgot to post this assignment to review a scholarly paper on the use of podcasts in education.
Educational Podcasts in National Parks
I chose to research the use of podcasts in formal interpretation, as I am interested in studying new media as a means of communication for National Wildlife Refuges. I discovered an article about graduate work done by a park ranger at Canyonlands National Park on the efficacy of using podcasts compared to in person ranger talks, As Good as the Real Thing? A Comparative Study of Interpretive Podcasts and Traditional Ranger Talks. Karen Hanker and Greg Brown (2011) tested three different formats for delivering identical interpretive talks about 8 different topics in the Park: live Ranger talks, podcasts available at the Visitor Center, and podcasts available online on their website. A single ranger conducted both the in-person talks and recorded the podcasts, using the same script for consistency, and participants took a voluntary survey to assess the effect of the talks on their intellectual and emotional connection to the Park, as well as their feelings of stewardship.
The researchers documented responses that included enjoyment, personal relevance, thematic importance, interest in the topic, curiosity for more information, a knowledge score to assess understanding of the content, and a sense of stewardship that the participants appreciated the protection of the resource, wanted to help protect the resource, and an intent to change behavior to help with protection. Classic interpretation develops along a theme designed to connect an audience with a natural or cultural area and it’s relevance to their own lives; although instruction is an important component of interpretation, presentations or materials also attempt to inspire an audience with a sense of the place and a desire to contribute to its well-being. Historically, interpretation has taken the form of signs, brochures, exhibits, living history re-enactment, and ranger talks. As new media becomes a way to reach out to diverse audiences and those who may not otherwise visit a park or refuge, podcasts hold a lot of promise for expanding interpretation to online audiences. Little research, however, has been conducted on the effectiveness of podcasts in producing the same reactions and responses of traditional interpretive methods.
The researchers found statistically significant differences between the live talks and the podcasts, but concluded that the practical differences were minimal and that podcasts are almost as effective means of interpretation as ranger talks. Participants had the strongest responses to the live talks, with the online podcasts similar, and podcasts at the VC showing the weakest responses. According to statistical results, the researchers found that “it seems that online podcasts are nearly as effective as traditional programs for forging some intellectual and emotional connections, while traditional ranger talks are best at fostering stewardship” (Hanker and Brown, 12) I found this to be a relevant and interesting result, as I had predicted that the emotional connection from podcasts would be weaker than an in-person interaction. I am curious if the stronger sense of stewardship from a ranger talk may result from feelings of accountability that are heightened in a group setting or from actual experiences of enjoying the place that is interpreted.
I also found it interesting that the desire “to learn something” ranked highest across all three test group as a motivating factor, even though other motivating factors differed between groups (ranger talk participants chose to attend for fun/to experience with family while the online podcast viewers listed pictures and travel information). It is useful for me to have the researchers’ results summarized as “these results affirm others’ findings that ranger programs of any format are seen by their audiences as valid sources of information… in our study, both podcasts and ranger talks were highly valued by audiences for their educational merit”(Hanker and Brown, 14). I can utilize these results to advocate for using podcasts as an interpretive tool for our Refuge website, especially because we are a remote station with limited visitation and podcasts could be an effective way to connect with online audiences who may not otherwise visit Kodiak.