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Kate Jurow, Ph.D., is a 2016 graduate of the PhD Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Joy Ackerman, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Carol Saunders, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Will LaPage, Ph.D., Committee Member

Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2016

Abstract

Interpretive nature walks are an important tool for conservation organizations, which use them to educate, and to connect visitors with their sites. Interpretive studies often focus on program outcomes. However, less research exists on how the experience itself is perceived by visitors. Is it primarily a learning process? What role does the guide play, and how does the process of interpretation affect the visitor experience? What implications might this have for interpretive techniques, and for organizations seeking to build supportive stewardship communities? The purpose of this study was to explore how the process of interpretation affects a short-term nature experience by examining it through the lens of both visitor and guide. I accompanied nature walks on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA, and subsequently conducted semi-structured interviews with guides and visitors. This provided a trifold perspective on each trip, enabling an examination of the trip as observed by the researcher, and as perceived by both visitor and guide. Learning was an important part of the experience, as expected. However, interviews revealed that a major aspect of a trip is social. A large proportion of respondent narrative was devoted to social observations: about group dynamics; the sharing of knowledge, experience, and personal history; social norms; and the guide’s social aptitude. Information transfer did not always originate with the guide, but resulted from visitor-to-visitor interaction. Visitors learned from each other by comparing past experiences, speculating about observations, and generating questions for the guide. Thus, in addition to receiving knowledge delivered by the guide, visitors were engaged in active, constructive social learning and building and reinforcing common interests. At the same time, they were reinforcing a common identity as members of a particular social “tribe.” Guided nature walks are thus revealed as a social forum for constructive learning. Visitors are not merely passive recipients of knowledge, but active participants in a social learning experience. This discovery has implications for the role of interpreters, their selection, and training. It also offers an opportunity for organizations to use this social aspect as leverage for community-building and development of a stewardship identity among visitors.

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Kate Jurow

ORCID Scholar ID# 0000-0003-4316-9773

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