Research: As Good as the Real Thing?

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.


Gray Whale podcast

I couldn’t attend the two in-person classes for my podcast class, so decided to make a video podcast as a project for the class and for the Refuge.  Although I have several projects in different stages of completion, I started a new one that I knew could be put together quickly because the interviewee was practiced at telling her story, and there were plenty of photos that would complement the interview.

Stacy Studebaker agreed to the project and we filmed about 60 minutes worth of footage about her 7 year experience of re-articulating a gray whale for the Visitor Center display.  This is a lot more than I needed, but I plan to create other instructional videos that might be incorporated into training for our seasonal staff, telling the story in more detail.  The final product is about 10 minutes long and narrates the process from start to finish:

The Kodiak Gray Whale Project

I just posted this to our FB page to celebrate the 4th anniversary of the installation on Halloween night, and was really glad to see a response from a teacher (mother of a volunteer) in Pittsburgh who enjoyed the podcast and plans to show it to her class before their Halloween party tomorrow.  I think that this is an ideal way for social networking to connect classrooms with our visitor center – even when they are a continent away!  If we can keep up with posting educational materials, teachers and students may be more likely to check in with FB than with a webpage that tends to be more static.


In searching for podcast examples that are relevant for my work with the Refuge, I came across a really wonderful resource for independent filmmakers, Terra: the nature of our world.  Appears to be a site sponsored by Montana State University, and I think it mostly features advanced student work.

I just watched this 30 minute film about wildlife connectivity and ground truthing a corridor between Yellowstone National Park and the Frank Church Wilderness.  Worth watching!  And, I want to do the same thing for our research projects.  The Kodiak bushwacking would put these guys to shame 🙂

Connecting the Gems

Terra: The Nature of Our World

Mobile Podcasting

I’m linking an experimental podcast that I did as an assignment for CSE 696.  We used an online program called Yodio to create a narrated slideshow by uploading photographs and calling in by phone to record voice segments.  I’m not really a fan of this method because it was labor intensive and I can get a better product by recording my voice on my phone or computer.

This is a narrated slideshow of a recent trip into the Refuge for a public use camp – the audio is a little awkward because I did not script anything ahead of time, but the photos are pretty 🙂

Uganik Podcast