“LEED”ing the way….

by Brian Thill

Each day we have the opportunity at our centers to lead the way. It may come in the form of mentoring others, our educational programing, taking care of our staff and volunteers, or our facilities.

While attending the NAI National Conference today we saw an example of a facility that’s “LEEDing” the way (credit to Drew Heyward on that word zinger). The Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach is a LEED Platinum certified center that was on the Interpreters Road Show that showcased how they’re leading the way in efficiency and resilience.

They look at their building as an experiment, and vetted nearly every material or process that went into creating and operating it. Here are a few highlights of a center that uses what the sun, wind, water, and reusables give them to operate.

LEED photo

Brock Environmental Center, Virginia Beach

  • Car free site/No parking lot….when you access the site it requires a small hike to get to it.
  • Recycled materials throughout the building:
    • Recycled glass for donor wall.
    • Local high school bleachers recycled and used for the trim (complete with words carved in the wood from high schoolers and re-stained).
    • Recycled gym floors, sanded down, stained and reused as flooring.
    • Recycled fence posts from the Virginia countryside used as flooring.
  • Rainwater is captured and used as drinking water.
  • Compostable toilets, solid waste turning into compost and urine made into fertilizer sold to the public.
  • 2 wind turbines producing about 30% of their energy.
  • 100+ solar panels producing 70% of their energy.
  • “Vampire” settings that come on at night to reduce energy consumption from electronics that might be on.
  • Natural ventilation.
  • Natural lighting.
  • Elevated on pylons well above sea level to prevent damage from future flooding.
  • Landscaping the prevents runoff and promotes filtration.

Should you be looking into building with efficiency, balance, and resilience in mind this is one site to check out.
Check out their energy use dashboard at and the to learn more about this facility.
How will you lead the way?

Categories: Discussion topic, Technology | Leave a comment

BioBlitz Dance, a dance to celebrate the National Parks and outdoors

by Eliezer Nieves Rodríguez, CIT, CIM

During 2015, PLT International coordinators meeting in Saratoga, New York, we learned what was the BioBlitz Dance, thanks to the Hawaii coordinators, a dance to celebrate the Outdoors, And it is during the 3rd DRNA Summer Environmental Workshop in Puerto Rico, with kids from 6 to 14 age, that after a month full of adventures and field trips through the wetlands of the island that we completed this already famous dance.

We invite all Interpreters with kids program, and with a awesome staff to do and record your dance.

Here is the Tutorial by the creator of this dance, John Griffith and the video of the first BioBlitz Dance of Puerto Rico.

Enjoy it and dance to celebrate your sites!


1st Puerto Rico BioBlitz Dance:

Categories: Interpretation tools, Technology | Leave a comment

Interpretation for the Technology World: 5 Quick Tips

An app developed for the Alabama Birding Trails

An app developed for the Alabama Birding Trails

Okay, you’re an interpreter. You love helping people understand, opening their eyes to the world around them and giving them a passion for something you hold near and dear.

Good thing, too! Because in addition to interacting with visitors, you probably get charged with handling lots of other projects. Bigger facilities may have a whole team of people devoted to developing their “brand” message, to creating apps and websites and innovative tech approaches to enhancing the visitor/user experience. Smaller facilities, not so much. Interpreters often play double and triple duty. And even in large facilities, there are many benefits to involving interpreters in the entire process. Why?

Because who better to work with others to interpret and showcase the place or thing that they have devoted their lives to improving?

A few tips for working with technically oriented people.

  1. Do your homework. Gather examples of things you like—and a couple of things you hate! Developing a smart phone app that will let visitors learn more about your site? Find other apps that you like that do the same things. Find ones that you like the looks of, too.
  2. Share your vision. Sit down at the beginning of the project and give them a genuine overview of what you hope to get out of the project. Be realistic. Give the technical team the big picture—make sure they see your facility the way a visitor does. But give them an understanding of how YOU see your facility, too.
  3. Pay attention to detail. Does your site use the same colors for everything? Make sure you let them know the colors you want used. Give them examples of the colors (never tell them light blue, dark green, etc–give them a real life example). Same goes for fonts, logos, pictures, etc. The more you give them at the outset, the less back-and-forth there will be. And a reduction in revisions can translate into cost savings.
  4. Learn the language. No, you don’t need to learn the entire programming language to interact with programmers. But having a basic understanding of a few things can really help. Think of it like going to a foreign country. If you make the effort to say a few words in the native language, people always seem much happier to help you understand what they are saying.
  5. Be specific. Do you want to make sure the end user provides feedback. Tell the developers on the front end—as soon as possible—that you need it to do that! Want to show multiple photos for each item? Let them know NOW! More information early is the best. Explain how you see the app/display providing a benefit to the end user. Explain how it should be able to take a task you normally do and make it easier. Most of all, be explicit in your instructions.
  6. Bonus round: Be specific. During the revision process—and there will be a revision process—be sure to explain in detail what you want changed. Too much room between two paragraphs of copy? Don’t tell them that there is too much room. Tell them it needs to be 20% closer together.

These are just a few ideas to make the process of working with people who don’t necessarily share your passion for interacting with others easier. The bottom line is to remember that you are an interpreter. You need to interpret the project for the programmers. It isn’t magic! It’s interpretation!

About Joe: Joe Watts is a passionate proponent of nature tourism in Alabama and is currently working with the Birmingham Audubon Society on a redesign of their current website, putting together his interpretation skills and his web development skills to create something that communicates with bird lovers. He also regularly works with the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development on several tourism-related projects, including a recently completed website for Southwest Alabama, He became a Certified Interpretive Guide in 2013 and still remembers being enthralled by the stories of a Park Ranger during a visit to Alcatraz Island 20 years ago.

Categories: Technology | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Interactive Technology in the Modern Zoo and Aquarium

Guest Author: Drew Heyward, South Carolina Aquarium

Technology and education are often linked in formal education settings but we are just beginning to explore technology’s role in informal education environments. In general, people’s attitude towards technology remains positive, with studies revealing that museums with technology see visitor experience improve4. Attitudes toward technology outside of the educational spectrum remain high as well, with 67% of subjects maintaining that they do not feel overwhelmed by the amount of technology and information available in today’s environment8. These general attitudes have prompted the South Carolina Aquarium to explore new technologies within their interpretive design. Interactive iPads have recently been added to existing exhibit spaces and plans are in the works to invest in additional iPad programming for use in roaming educational initiatives.

Interactive technology at VA aquariumZoos and aquariums regard education as a primary goal of the visitor experience. Because of this, many education departments align their programming to fit national science standards. National standards are currently encouraging inquiry-based learning in the core of the science curriculum9. Learning rooted in inquiry is an active process of engaging and manipulating objects, experiences, and generating curiosity about observations made1. While inquiry-based education practices are being incorporated into informal learning environments, the task of facilitating these inquiries can be overwhelming and sometimes impossible. The use of technology as a facilitator of inquiry and a tool for interpretation could impact a larger number of people within exhibits and galleries. If successful inquiry-based curriculum is developed for technologies, this medium has tremendous potential to be replicated and easily integrated across a wide range of learning environments.

This idea is not altogether novel. We have seen an influx of learning technologies pop up in informal education venues. After decades of intense promotion by corporations, policy makers, and parents, most people have far more access to mobile technologies in their daily life than ever before3. The social media buzz has added to this demand, giving rise to the integration of mobile technologies in many new exhibits at zoos and aquariums. Quick response codes, hash tags and Facebook pages are impacting visitors long after they have left the attraction. This is expanding the potential for learning well beyond the walls of the institution.

Many elements of technology are added to exhibits to increase visitor retention within those exhibits and extend the overall stay of the guests using them. The use of “dwell time” as a measurement of public interest is not a foreign concept in the zoo and aquarium world. Many institutions research how long visitors remain in exhibits and use that information when designing new experiences2. The importance of visitor retention should not be diminished. While an enriching environment is imperative to promoting true learning, the best educational situations in the world will not lead to learning unless the visitor spends some time engaging with the exhibition in which they are present6. Since informal educators are dealing with non-captive and diverse audiences, the struggle is how to retain visitors while relaying important educational material to a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

General attitudes towards technology remain high, however it’s difficult to gauge visitor attitudes about technology within the zoo and aquarium framework. Some research suggests that visitors value zoos and aquariums as ‘‘natural’’ experiences and use them as an escape from aspects of everyday life5. If this is the case, could technology negatively influence visitor experience? This is a difficult question to answer. The struggle is maintaining relevance without losing the escapism that comes with a visit to the attraction. Drawing on other’s experiences, you can make informed decisions on where that balance lies within your own institution.

Choosing the correct form of technology can be a difficult challenge as well. Tablets and their interactive applications allow learners to participate in inquiries that would not be possible without their presence. Tablets, phones and computers all have the ability to progress curiosity with an array of digital media, much of which is featuring things guests would never be able to encounter on an average visit. Tablets in particular, allow visitors to explore something recognizable. The Pew Internet Project found that 19% of Americans own a tablet of some kind with 83% of those tablets being iPads10. Allowing guests to access technology that is both familiar and novel could spark curiosity and enhance learning.

The South Carolina Aquarium has recently added iPads to their exhibits and plans on equipping volunteers and staff with additional tablets for mobile interpretation. These units include touch screen maps, images, video, sound bites and educational information. To avoid taking away from the escapism that comes with a visit to our attraction, the Aquarium has developed programs that encourage interaction with the exhibits themselves. When looking at the results from observational studies conducted at our facility, it is suggested that iPads within a gallery do not negatively influence the interactive experience but rather supplement the exhibit in a positive way.

Many of the interactions in galleries containing iPads were sustained longer and therefore acted as ‘speed bumps’ for visitors making their way through the Aquarium. Pictures and prompts that ask questions about exhibits, specific animals or areas of the Aquarium have sparked visitor interest about various topics, including conservation, donations and animal care. Providing purpose and narrative to your technology is imperative to providing an exceptional product. This is why inquiry and interpretation is so important when developing technology for exhibits. Technology’s presence for its novelty alone doesn’t always accomplish educational goals.

As it has done at the South Carolina Aquarium, technology can provide an innovative and immediately attractive environment. While a gentle balance is necessary, the use of technology within exhibits can allow for an enhanced guest experience. If continued inquiry-based curriculum is developed for these technologies, zoos and aquariums can be industry leaders in integrating them across a wide range of learning environments.

Categories: Interpretation tools, Technology | Leave a comment

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