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Show Cave Interpretation and Education

Show caves are commonly described as any cave made accessible to the public through infrastructure such as trials, lights, and hand railings. Show cave experiences can be either guided by trained tour guides or self-directed. At show caves, there is a tendency to skew towards a pure focus on entertaining cave visitors rather than balancing entertainment with educational content. Yet, multiple surveys of visitors to show caves has revealed that visitors often want to have more educational content incorporated into their guided and self-guided cave tour experiences. The course will explore proven strategies for balancing interpretation and education through guided and self-guided show cave tours. The communication of karst educational materials through exhibit design at show caves will also be discussed. Participants will gain experience in not only developing tour scripts and establishing appropriate stops along tour routes, but also the delivery of the content in such a manner that maximizes engagement for cave and exhibit visitors. Thus, the content of the course will be pertinent to both guides at show caves as well as managers responsible for balancing the needs of cave visitors with cave and karst stewardship. We will explore multiple show caves to better understand the plethora of strategies pursued to create a visitor show cave experience. Course participants will also learn how to develop and analyze tools to evaluate visitor experience, thus ensuring a show cave tour is accomplishing management, stewardship, education, and entertainment objectives.

Instructor: Dr. Leslie North

Dr. Leslie North is Associate Professor of Environmental Geoscience in the Department of Geography and Geology at Western Kentucky University (WKU). She serves as the Associate Direcotr for Education and Outreach Officer for the Center for Human GeoEnvironmental Studies at WKU. The primary focus of her academic career has been the development of effective informal learning education and communication materials and techniques, particularly those related to water resources, climate change, ecotourism, karst landscapes, and sustainability. Her research and community engagement activities also center on the use of eye-tracking for the development of visualizations and graphical education materials. Leslie has worked with a number of international organizations on issues related to these foci, including the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, Semester at Sea, The $100 Solution, City of Bowling Green, Kentucky, amongst others. In recent years, she has served as the project leader for multiple groundwater education campaigns aimed at teaching local populations about the importance of freshwater resources, and the role of individual actions in maintaining the quality and quantity of valuable water resources. She has conducted show cave research with data from over 100 show caves located across the global. Among other things, this research involved the development of effective training techniques to maximize both the educational and entertainment value of show cave tours.

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