Monthly Archives: October 2016

What is the Role of Higher Ed in NAI?

As a professor, I have a vested interest in that question.  I find myself asking it from time to time and quite frankly, I’m not sure of the answer.  Yes, our role in higher ed is much bigger than how we interact with one organization.  We have a responsibility to provide quality education and research.  However, the question is beyond responsibility, it is about relationship.  What should the relationship be like between higher education and NAI?  The aspect I want to focus on is membership sustainability.

I think the question is important because it deals with the long term viability of NAI.  It is not uncommon for people see an organization only as it appears at the present.  What will NAI look like in five, ten, or twenty years?  I have been told that the Certified Interpretive Guide program will allow NAI to sustain a healthy membership into the future.  I am not so certain.  The retention rates beyond the first year of membership are not great.  I don’t know that the number is still accurate, but at one time only fifteen percent of CIG participants renewed their membership in NAI beyond the first year.  Of that number, I don’t know how many were already committed members.

So, what about the role of higher education?  I have come to view higher education as a part of the continuum where a person with a dream, is able to make that dream a reality.  Students arrive at our university with a love of nature and/or history but not sure how it can be a career.   I introduce students to interpretation and NAI in the classroom but it is working on-site through volunteer and paid opportunities where they really get hooked.

What do you think?  What should the higher education/NAI relationship look like?  Does it matter?  Please share your thoughts.

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Templates for Program Evaluation Would Be Nice

It’s always a pleasure to escape the office, get an inside look at another facility, and connect with other professionals.  That joy permeated both state gatherings last month.  (Many thanks to the folks at Grandfather Mountain and Discovery Place for their hospitality!)  With group discussion topics similar every time we gather, I was struck by an idea that may make an important conundrum less of a constraint.  If we had a resource for evaluation templates, that could help a lot of interpreters.  It was not my idea but it is a good one and it got me excited, which is exactly why we have gatherings of interpreters.

The riddle is this: formative evaluation delivers evidence that your interpretive efforts are fruitful and demonstrates worthiness to fund those programs.  Although it is important, often the planning and delivery of interpretation leave little time to plan and deliver assessment.  Also, even experienced professional are often not experienced with theory and research related to evaluation.  If we had access to templates for pre and post assessments in various formats for the different groups commonly served, and if it was created by experienced professionals in interpretation research with a concentration on evaluation, that could be very helpful.

Logistic hurdles will always limit how close we can get to ideal evaluation but a concentrated effort to build and make available templates modeled on methods proven to be effective would help us get closer.  Do you know someone qualified to work on it?  It could make a big difference in the field!  If you like this idea, please spread the word and maybe we can make it happen.

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NAI 2017 Sunny Southeast Regional Workshop Call for Proposals


NAI 2017 Sunny Southeast Regional Workshop: March 7- 10 Shepherdsville, Kentucky

Whitney Wurzel and I, as co-chairs of the NAI 2017 Sunny Southeast Regional Workshop, are so excited that this year’s workshop will be hosted at Paraquet Springs Conference Center in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, less than 10 minutes from Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest. Bernheim consists of 14, 378 acres including a 600- acre arboretum, with over 6,000 labeled trees and shrubs, a Platinum LEED certified Visitor Center, large Edible Garden, and much more. We think the theme for this year’s workshop “Rooted in the Land” will lend itself well to our exploration of shared, yet diverse stories and experiences. It is also a theme that is well suited to an area rich in natural, cultural, historic treasures.

Just south of the conference site is  Mammoth Cave National Park,  Abraham  Lincoln Birthplace Historic Park , and the Lincoln boyhood home. To the east is the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, and the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, the Salato Wildlife Center, and Capital City Museum in Frankfort.  Louisville, just 30 minutes north of Shepherdsville, provides many interpretive possibilities, including the Muhammad Ali Center, Frazier History Museum, The Parklands, Jefferson Memorial forest, the Louisville Zoo, Olmsted Parks, Louisville Slugger Museum,  Farmington (and 18-acre historic site and former hemp plantation), and so much more! On a different, note, Louisville is a happening place for night life, and the culinary curious, with many “farm to folk” restaurants, and great food for vegetarians, and vegans.

We are thrilled that Martha Barnette, co-host of the public-radio show A Way with Words, will be our Keynote speaker. Martha’s knowledge and passion for words, particularly the etymological origin and word roots will provide clues to stories hidden in plain sight.

2017 Regional Workshop: Call for Proposals

The call is open for session proposals for the 2017 Sunny Southeast Regional Workshop, taking place Tuesday, March 7 – Friday, March 10 in Shepherdsville, KY!

While the workshop theme is “Rooted in the Land”, proposals can cover a variety of interpretive topics – including but not limited to: science, history or cultural content, best practices and trends, general interpretive media and social media, experiences with special programs or initiatives, research in interpretation, diversity and accessibility at interpretive sites, and more.

Session proposals must include the following for consideration:

  • Presentation Title
  • Time required (45 minute and 90 minute sessions available)
  • Brief presentation description of 2-5 sentences (for program)
  • Presenters
  • Title/Position
  • Place of employment
  • Brief speaker bio
  • Contact information (email and phone number)

Download these guidelines as a PDF here.
Please email proposals to Whitney Wurzel at by Wednesday, November 30. Subject lines should include “2017 Sunny Southeast Workshop Proposal.”

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You Wear Many Hats. How about One More

In a world where things are often decided from far away, the public face of your location is often your website. People visit many online resources to find out more about your location before they visit. They can continue to learn about your location after they’ve gone home, too. One of the first online stops they will make will almost undoubtedly be your website.

If you already have a website, great. That’s a start. Many locations do. You may be ahead of the game. However, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Have you made your website all that it can be, both for potential future visitors from far away and those who live nearby? Read on and see if your website lives up to the basic goals that all nature facility websites should strive to achieve.

Getting Started: Homework

Understand your goals. A website can be many things. It can (and should) be a useful tool to lure visitors to your location for the first time. It can be a way to reach out to the nearby community to let them know what is available. And, of course, it can be a great educational tool offering teachers, students and those interested in learning more.

Don’t misunderstand. A website for your location can (and should) be more than one thing, but it helps to understand your basic goals in advance because those goals will influence the design and function of your website. A simple way to start the process of deciding is to look at what is already available for your location or for those locations in the surrounding region. The approach here is to create a small team of staff and volunteers to help steer the project. This isn’t something that one person needs to take on – there are way too many variables and too much work. Choose people who love your location and who have an understanding of what you might need.

With your new team in place, review other websites with goals similar to yours. Take a look at websites for locations similar in size to your location–similar budgets help too. Different locations have different budgets, so don’t expect a web developer to be able to give everything you might want for a specific budget; however, it never hurts to point out things you like. Some of the most complicated looking aspects of today’s websites are extremely easy to develop; some of the simplest looking parts of websites are often the most complicated and time-consuming. Don’t limit your review to just locations that are nearby or that are your size, though. Aspire to greatness. Look at locations similar to what you want to become. And don’t just make a list of those websites: pick  3-5 items you like most about each one. In addition, name the one thing you really don’t like about each one.

Gather the content you think is important for your location to reach the goals you’ve set. Find the best photos – and remember to secure permission to use the photos in writing. Based on your goals and the review of other websites, start to make a rough draft outline/chart of your website. Identify the language you already have: history, description of services, information about exhibits, trails, etc – whatever you want to include. Gather all that information and put it into documents that you can edit and change. Read it carefully. Edit it. Update it. Make it fresh and exciting. Consider hiring a copywriter to review and edit or find someone with those skills who is willing to do the work pro bono. Always remember: your website is the public face of your location. Make it look good. And more importantly, make it accurate and easy to read.

Gearing Up: The How and Who of Building Your Town Website

Platform is important. In today’s world of web technology, the general consensus is very much to build your site using a content management system (CMS). Doing this separates the appearance of the website from the content and allows you to change the look of the website with greater ease in the future. It also allow you much more freedom to edit the content without compromising the website.

What’s the right CMS for you? That’s a choice you should make after some research. There are a few open-source options: WordPress (26.4% of the top 10 million websites), Joomla (the second most popular CMS after WordPress) and Drupal (with 2.2% of websites) are perhaps the largest three. Weebly and Wix are two additional options that some consider potential and there are even more that are in use. Pluses and minuses exist in each system. But, when making the choice, whatever it is, look at the direct support your developer can provide coupled with support that you can get from the larger community of developers.

The wider the use, the easier it can be to find someone who has already created something that does exactly what you need your site to do. Sometimes, these are paid additions; other times they are free. There is no need to create everything from scratch. Need a calendar? Don’t have a developer build one, use a pre-built calendar that you can pay a small price for. Want to create a form for your visitors to let you know about trail conditions or ask questions – use a form builder created by someone else. There is no need to spend precious resources to recreate the wheel.

Finding the Right Developer/Designer. Once you’ve decided tentatively on a content management system, you can begin to look for the right person or firm to help you develop your site. Designers typically specialize in one content management system, though larger firms often have someone on staff who can work effectively in multiple systems. From one person developers to large agencies that have teams of developers working on projects, there’s a developer to fit your needs. From the in-town person who built a site for the local dog park to out-of-town agencies and even developers in faraway places like India, many people are interested in building a website for you.

How do you choose a developer/designer who will be right for you? The skill set is critical. Demonstrated ability to create something similar to what you want is important. The complexity of your initial inventory of assets and the collection of potential content should give you an idea of how complicated your website will be.

Even more important than skills is the ability to effectively communicate. A good developer can build a functional site that doesn’t include any of the things you want. A good designer can build a beautiful site that doesn’t work well. You need both, coupled with someone who understands what you need and who communicates well with you. Don’t make the mistake of choosing someone solely because of their technical abilities – they need to be enjoyable to talk with and understand the needs, and limitations, of your community and your budget. The process of building your website – or rebuilding it – should be informative and help everyone have a better understanding of your community.

Finishing Up and Moving Forward

Once you’ve developed your goals and created a foundation of content for your site, chosen the platform and hired a designer, the real choices begin – which will involve some direct and mindful conversations between you, your committee and the designer.

Then, before bidding farewell to whoever developed the site for you, there are a few things you need to be familiar with such as:

Hosting. Where does your site “live?” Websites are hosted on computers and your domain name tells the internet which computer to look for just like an address or a phone number. There are two parts to making your website live and functioning: the host and the domain name. (We’ll talk domain names shortly.) The type of web host depends on a lot of things. Managed hosts are typically somewhat more expensive, but you end up with a much faster website that is more secure than otherwise. Ask your web developer about this. Find out if you have full access to the account. Find out what the cost will be for future years. Be clear about who from within your organization will have access and be particularly sure to nd out about how your site is protected with backups. Daily backups can mean the difference between a problem that gets fixed in five minutes and one that is a complete disaster. Backups are good!

Domains. Simply put, you should register your domain name ( and it should be in the name of someone with the town’s staff, retrievable by others in case that individual leaves. Domains must be renewed periodically – the default being each year. Don’t miss this deadline. It can be very costly.

Security. See hosting above. But also talk with your web developer about security features and be sure to implement them. Safe, remote backups are a good fallback for if your security procedures fail, but having strong passwords and regularly updated les is the rst line of defense. Ask for information about keeping things up-to-date.

If you follow these steps (or if your current website lives up to the steps outlined above), your site will be well on the way to providing important, useful information to everyone, from potential visitors to nearby teachers planning a site visit to your location!

When he isn’t busy building websites, Joe is a passionate proponent of nature tourism in Alabama. He regularly works with the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development on trails and tourism-related projects, including websites for the Alabama Birding Trails (, the Alabama Trails Program ( and others. He became a Certified Interpretive Guide in 2013. He’s been building websites since 1999, including several sites that include interpretive resources.

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