95th ESA Annual Meeting (August 1 -- 6, 2010)

PS 1-2 - Developing podcast trail guides: using technology to merge community based learning with public ecology education

Monday, August 2, 2010
Exhibit Hall A, David L Lawrence Convention Center
Kevin Hopper, Courtney Sperger and Kenneth M. Klemow, Biology, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA
Background/Question/Methods .  The development and maturation of new technologies have great potential to improve the public’s understanding of natural history and ecology.  Podcasting is an especially promising technology because it affords users with on-demand access to rich content about a wide range of topics.  Well-conceived podcasting programs are being developed for museums and nature centers to augment docent-based and paper guides.  The same principle can be employed along hiking trails, where podcast episodes can be developed around marked stations.  Such podcasts can include spoken narration, other sounds, and images to educate visitors in a way not possible through paper-based guides or signs.  Podcasting programs that involve undergraduate students can have an added benefit through opportunities for community-based learning.  For the past four years, faculty and students at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA have engaged in a Podcast Trail Guide initiative.  Students created podcast series for selected trails in northeastern Pennsylvania.  Each series consisted of image-enhanced podcast episodes developed using GrarageBand software for the Macintosh OS. Podcasts were made available to the public via Wilkes University’s iTunesU website.
Results/Conclusions . In 2009, we completed and posted podcast guides for three trails.  Two of the trails are located within the Kirby Park Natural Area, which is an 80-acre riparian urban forest in Wilkes-Barre, PA.  The third trail is located in Nescopeck State Park, 15 miles south of Wilkes-Barre.  A fourth guide covering Nuangola Bog 8 miles south of Wilkes-Barre, is underway. The number of episodes per series varies from 12 to 37.  Each episode lasts 45 – 100 seconds, and is linked to a marked location along the selected trail. The podcasts cover a variety of ecological topics, including habitat types, key ecological processes, profiles of representative species of vascular plants, vertebrates, and lower taxa, ongoing research, and policy issues.  The podcast project has been reported in local and regional media outlets, and has generated considerable interest among trail enthusiasts and educators.  Since the technology is widely available and easy to use, it is adaptable to hiking trails nationwide, and beyond.  We seek to develop a collaborative of podcast trail guide creators, and welcome partners.