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  • 11 Aug 2021 6:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Lauren McAusland

    The mass closures of schools, libraries and other public institutions in March 2020 prompted parents, teachers, students, and community members to search for resources to support their learning from home. Across the country, museums, art galleries, parks, zoos and historic sites jumped into action, creating innovative ways to connect with our audiences digitally and support distanced learning.

    At Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), we created a new virtual learning platform called RBG at Home. This platform sought to provide educational resources in four primary forms—blog posts articles, pre-recorded videos, activity worksheets, and live virtual learning sessions—to three audiences: teachers, caregivers, and life-long learners.

    Before the pandemic, creating a virtual learning platform would have been a project that took months of development. However, given the urgency of the situation and a strong desire to support our audiences through the challenging transition into a provincial lockdown, our amazing team had the program up and running in a matter of weeks. In the early days of the program, our education department quickly published a lot of content that we felt would resonate with our understanding of what our audience would like. On the surface level, our offerings received a positive response, so over the next few months both in and out of the lockdowns, our education team continued producing content that we felt our audience would like. As we approached the one-year mark we began to ask ourselves some questions; Is this program doing what we want it to? Is it reaching who we want it to? What could we do to make this program even more successful? Is it worth continuing to run this program once on-site learning resumes?

    Standing at this crossroad of ‘do we continue this program, and if we do, how can we make it better,’ we knew the time had come to do an evaluation. Evaluations give you a detailed understanding of how your program is operating in the real world so that you can make decisions on what you want to modify to improve the programs ability reach and engage your audience and meet program and institutional objectives. However, evaluations can be very daunting tasks. Having a staff member dedicated to evaluation is a luxury most institutions don’t have, leaving program coordinators and educators struggling to fit evaluation into their already busy schedules.

    The good news: you don’t need to be a professionally trained evaluator in order to collect good data to support programming decisions! If you are thinking about doing an evaluation, but don’t know where to start, the most important thing you can do is sit down and think about your evaluation’s objectives and big picture questions before you start drafting a survey or begin any data collection. Understanding what you want to learn will help make sure you ask your participants the right ‘little’ questions to get good data to help you answer your ‘big’ questions

    For example, one of our evaluation questions was ‘to what extent has there been engagement with French content on RBG at Home?’ By asking this, we wanted to learn if people had been using the French content to help us figure out if this is something we should make more or less of. To answer this question, we collected engagement metrics (likes, shares, views, etc.) of French content and we also asked participants to identify in a survey if they engage with content in French and/or English.

    In total we identified eight of those ‘big’ questions we wanted our evaluation to answer. Perhaps the biggest one was: Are people interested in continuing to use virtual learning programs when on-site learning resumes? Our survey found that yes, 70% of our respondents indicated that they were very likely or likely to continue to use RBG at Home. Additionally, we found that our two audiences, ‘adults’ and ‘caregivers,’ indicated equal interest in continued engagement.

    Every virtual learning program operates slightly differently, so the results of the RBG at Home evaluation might not apply to every similar site. For all institutions who have also put out online educational content and are contemplating if this is a strategy they should be continuing with, the time has come to examine our programs with a critical eye and assess how we can modify them to produce content that continued to engage virtual audiences during a return on to site programming.

    Lauren McAusland is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s Masters of Museum Studies program and led the RBG at Home evaluation in her position as Interpretation Intern at Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington, ON.
  • 15 Apr 2021 9:56 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Book Review of "The Object's the Thing" edited by R. Kool and RA Cannings
    Review by Jacquie Gilson, Doctor of Social Sciences

    Yorke Edwards has always been an inspiration to me. I recall excitedly reading his book The Land Speaks: Organizing and running an interpretation system when it came out in 1979. That is the year I started studying interpretation at university and his thin, but jam-packed book, was introduced to us. I devoured this “required” reading and felt an immediate connection with Yorke as I read it. I too was a nature-loving urbanite from Toronto who wanted to break the bonds of the city and work in the natural world. Like Yorke, I went on to spend my entire career working in the interpretation profession within various parks systems. Yorke was a leader in the new field of interpretation in Canada. He laid the groundwork for us to follow, and when I proudly refer to interpretation as a “profession,” I now realize that I have Yorke to thank.

    The Object’s the Thing is a collection of his writings from throughout his long career. I am grateful to those who saved these writings and chose to make them available to all. I love the title, as it hints at deeper ideas, and I waited patiently until the section in which the meaning was revealed (it’s on page 264, if you can’t wait.). I did the math and discovered that The Land Speaks and The Object’s the Thing (the original piece of writing under that name) were written around the same time, when he was 55 and at the peak of his career. Both spoke to me because they encourage taking a deeper look at our profession. It was worth the wait and that particular piece gave me much food for thought.

    The book is chronologically divided into three sections, based on his places of employment over the 25 years from 1962-1987. I enjoyed reading his writings in this order and I pictured him gaining confidence and becoming more and more enthused about the idea of interpretation as the years went by.

    As a child, Yorke spent as much time as possible exploring nature in the outdoors and at the Royal Ontario Museum’s collections in Toronto. This led him to a lifelong belief that for people to connect to nature they needed to experience the real thing. His love of nature shines through in his writings, as does his concern that modern people are disconnected from it.

    As a young adult, he moved to BC to study and then to work for the Parks Branch. His writings in this first section reflect his youth and enthusiasm for parks and this new idea of interpretation. I enjoyed reading his brief annual reports to management, in which he highlighted the growth of the programs and the increasing visitor interest in the nature houses. I loved his reference to “spot talks” as informal interpretation provided where and when people were available. The terms used to describe these interpretive moments have changed over the years, and we have called them point duty, point stations, pop ups, and my favourite, activity stations.

    Yorke then moved to Ottawa to work for the Canadian Wildlife Service, planning a series of nature centres to be developed across the country and aimed at helping Canadians understand conservation. His writings in this section remained positive and hopeful and you can see that he is formulating his ideas for what makes interpretation successful. He seems to struggle with the idea of developing centres, since they take people indoors, when, in his opinion, they need to be in the outdoors, i.e., in the real thing. Reading this section was difficult for me, knowing that the conservation program and centres soon received major cutbacks, something he was blissfully unaware of in his writings.

    His career aspirations then took him back to BC, where he worked at the BC Provincial Museum as assistant director and director until his retirement in 1984. The writings in this section to me seemed to show his maturity, but also his frustrations with financial restraint and bureaucracy. Regardless of his role throughout his career, he always advocated for “inspirational public programming” as a way to connect visitors to the parks and the natural world (p. 14).

    The introductory sections written by Richard Kool, Robert A. Cannings and Bob Peart helped me to put Yorke’s writing into context. It was very useful to know how his work fit into his career and the times he was in. After I finished each of Yorke’s pieces of writing, I found myself wishing that my contemporaries would weigh in and share their thoughts on the relevance of that writing for us today. I especially wanted this kind of a summary from the editors after I completed my reading of the final piece of Yorke’s writing. I guess that task falls to me as a reader; I need to make the content relevant to my work. I did go back and reread the editor’s sections after completing the book and this gave me the closure I was desiring. I suggest that you do the same; read it from front to back and then read the writings of the editors. I realize that this does not give Yorke the final say, but I think it helps to put all his writings in perspective.

    Interestingly, Yorke addressed issues that we still grapple with in interpretation today. He wondered about the term “interpretation,” describing it as a dull and colourless name; something that many in the field still question. The definition he published in 1977 still guides us, and yet is cause for ongoing debate. At that time, he said, “Interpretation is attractive communication, offering concise information, given in the presence of the topic, and its goal is the revelation of significance” (p. 28.)  We still haven’t come up with a better one that is more relevant to our times. Also, he was adamant that the real object needed to be present for good interpretation. This notion is now questioned and the debate continues, as we wrestle with the role of technology, exhibits, and even visitor centres, as sources of inspiration. He addressed the role of information a number of times and I sometimes found myself in disagreement with his views. At the time he was writing, sources of information were limited and the interpreter was seen as the purveyor of knowledge. I think we now have the opposite problem, with TMI (too much information) dominating our world. For today and the future, I think an interpreter’s role is to help dispel misinformation, but also to engage people in honest dialogue about topics of relevance. Information clearly has a role to play, but perhaps not as strong a place as he believed.

    As someone who completed her doctoral dissertation on the concept of inspiration in interpretation, I was overjoyed to see his use of the idea of inspiration throughout his writings. At one point, he said, very simply, that interpretation “shows, orients, informs, inspires and entertains” (p. 30). Inspiration was the one of these five words that he used the most in his writings. I wholeheartedly agree with his assertation that an interpreter is an “Enthusiastic purveyor of inspiration” (p. 30) and that interpretation should inspire people to take action. I am thankful to him for his original writings, in which he was not afraid to wax poetic about such lofty subjects as inspiration. I know his work inspired me to explore inspiration. 

    I am pleased that I now have two books by Yorke Edwards on my bookshelf. I trust that my copy of The Object’s the Thing will be just as well loved and marked up as my copy of The Land Speaks. They both already have many tabs marking special sections and my favourite quotes. If you don’t already have it, you can access the full text of The Land Speaks here: http://parkscanadahistory.com/publications/nppac-cpaws/the-land-speaks.pdf and then you too can have both his books standing proudly next to each other in your collection.

    Yorke wrote with so much enthusiasm for the nascent profession of interpretation that you cannot help but be inspired. However, he wrote during simpler times. As we face today’s challenges, we need to keep his writings in mind and let his passion inspire us. Modern interpretive professionals need to figure out how we will navigate this new world. I believe, as Yorke did, that the profession of interpretation has something to contribute towards making the world a better place. Let’s use Yorke’s enthusiasm as inspiration to keep interpretation alive and well, because, in his words, “… interpreters never can know how far the ripples travel from where they have dropped new understandings” (p. 293).

    Book Review of The Object’s the Thing: The writings of Yorke Edwards a pioneer of heritage interpretation in Canada, edited by R. Kool and RA Cannings, published by Royal BC Museum, 2021.


    Jacquie has been involved in interpretation, and loving it, for more than 40 years. After studying the concept of inspiration in interpretation, she received her Doctor of Social Sciences degree from Royal Roads University in 2015. Jacquie recently retired from being an Interpretation Coordinator for Parks Canada in Banff National Park and she now runs her own company, InterpActive. She focuses on interpreter training and her specialty is online training on dialogic and participatory interpretation. Check out her current offer here www.interpactive.ca. Look for her book Inspired to Inspire: Holistic Inspirational Interpretation on Amazon.ca  https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B08SB3922Y

  • 30 Mar 2021 8:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Book Review by Interpretation Canada

    Inspired to Inspire - Holistic Inspirational Inspiration by Dr. Jacquie Gilson offers a fresh approach to interpretation. It’s contemporary, filled with practical information, and it’s Canadian. This book should find a space in your everyday practice. The Interpretation Canada review team gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

    Brief summary of the book

    Inspired to Inspire is a practical guide that explores more holistic ways to approach interpretation. It provides an overview of where the field of interpretation has been and the direction that it is moving towards in a way that is accessible and enjoyable to read. It is full of examples from the field and grounded in research that provide news ways of thinking about engagement and inspiration.

    As interpreters, we aim to inspire others. Dr. Gilson provides a framework in which to do that more effectively.

    Inspired to Inspire belongs on every interpreter's bookshelf.

    Evaluation of the book

    The IC review team read the book and then met as a group to discuss their thoughts and impressions of the book and its content. After comparing and compiling notes, the team then wrote a review summarizing their discussions and overall thoughts on Inspired to Inspire. Here is their review:

    It isn’t often that you see an interpretive text actually using interpretive theory in the way it is presented, but Dr. Gilson’s book does exactly that. One of our reviewers mentioned “The way the book is written hits all the letters of the POETRY model, so much of Dr. Gilson’s voice comes through”.

    Inspired to Inspire is written in a purposeful and thematic manner, is organized so that you can read it cover to cover or skip to a relevant section, is written in a voice that is accessible and enjoyable, and speaks to the changes happening in the field today. One cannot ignore Dr. Gilson’s passion for the subject; it shines through from the very first page to the last one. Throughout the book, Dr. Gilson asks questions that help you to create the connections between the ideas being presented and your own interpretive practice. As the reader, you are encouraged to write down your answers within the book, thus making each copy unique.

    One of the strengths of this book is that it encourages us to change the language we use to describe interpretation, such as in Dr. Gilson’s discussion of provocation vs. inspiration. One of our reviewers mentioned “I would never advertise a program by promising ‘provocation’ to the audience, but I promise inspiration in my program descriptions all the time.” The shift from provocation to inspiration when describing what we do instantly makes interpretation more appealing and understandable to managers, visitors... and anyone who hasn’t read Tilden. Ideas like this may seem subtle, but are incredibly beneficial to our profession as we strive to become less insular and more relevant to the agencies that employ us, and this book is full of such ideas.

    The book is written in an engaging and approachable voice and clearly explains the theoretical foundations of the work. It does assume the reader has some experience in interpretation, but is still accessible to someone new to the field. The Interpretation Canada review team noted that this book may be especially useful for visitor experience professionals outside of interpretation who wish to understand our profession better, as it takes the time to explain the psychological theory behind inspiration and how it connects to interpretation.

    Review team members took different approaches to reading the book. Some read from cover to cover, while others jumped in between chapters. The team appreciated that the book offered this flexibility and that it could be used as a reference as well as a more all-encompassing text. When reading the book yourself, find the method that works best for you.

    Inspired to Inspire is full of ideas grounded in research and practice. It is filled with examples from the field and ideas that you can put into practice right away. It is moving the field forward by challenging and inspiring us to re-think how effective our interpretation can be and the approaches that we use.

    This is a book that everyone should have in their interpretive library. We hope it inspires you as much as it has inspired us.

    This book review was written collaboratively by Interpretation Canada board members Pam Murray (Chair), Jennifer Dick (Secretary), Sarah Rauh (Awards Chair), Nicole Cann, Sylvie Binette, and David Lloyd. On behalf of Interpretation Canada, we highly recommend this book as a resource for everyone working in heritage interpretation and visitor experience.

  • 15 Mar 2021 2:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Pam Murray

    It was early in my career as an interpreter. I was working for a contractor in BC Parks, doing many, many school programs, mostly on beaches. One of the most popular programs involved hauling a beach seine net through an eelgrass bed with the class, so that they could see the incredible diversity of creatures that lived there, and hopefully gain an appreciation for a habitat that they otherwise could not see.

    I got in trouble one day when a particularly cynical group of 5th graders arrived. I introduced the group to eelgrass and showed them the net, then enthusiastically set off down to the beach as I envisioned the mind-blowing formative experience that was about to take place. All of the kids were about to become champions of sensitive intertidal fish habitats!

    An eelgrass bed

    Then, a kid asked "Are we going to catch anything?" and I stupidly replied with:

    “If there's not at least one fish in this net for everyone here, I'll buy you all ice cream!"

    I quickly led the group in setting the net and organized them into two teams to pull the ropes to bring the net in. When the net arrived on shore, I talked about how to safely pick up the creatures and place them in Ziplock bags of water to bring them to our observation pool, then led the class to the net to check out the hundreds of fish we had doubtlessly caught.

    I began to feel nervous as I realized there was not much moving around in the net. I soon discovered that I had made a huge mistake, and forgotten to check the net thoroughly. There was a twist in the middle of the net, resulting in a big space at the bottom, large enough for all of the fish to escape through. Horrified, I began desperately searching for any creatures I could find in the net. I found three or four fish and a number of shore crabs. When the net was empty, which didn’t take very long, we gathered at the observation pool.

    The group was completely engaged.. … in counting how many fish we had, as well as reminding me that shore crabs were not fish. It was glaringly obvious that there had NOT been a fish in the net for everyone.

    It was the last program of the day, and so I ended up on the same ferry home as the kids, and spent the entire ride awkwardly avoiding questions about what flavour of ice cream I was going to buy them, while doing math in my head to determine just how much this mistake was going to cost me.

    When we got off the ferry, the teacher tried to let me off the hook by announcing that they would be late getting back to school if we went for ice cream. I, however, felt that if I had totally failed to teach the class anything about eelgrass, I could at least show them an example of coming through on one’s promises. I pulled $20 out of my wallet and asked the teacher to use it to buy a bucket of ice cream and some cones, then drove back to the nature house that served as our office, completely embarrassed, where I said nothing to anyone.

    A few weeks later, a package of thank you letters arrived. My coworkers were all very curious about why this particular class was thanking me for the ice cream.

    This experience taught me to always double-check my equipment, and make sure the net was free of twists and tangles. The bigger lesson for me, however, was that it is important to set reasonable expectations for your group, and not let your ego get in the way of your participants’ experience. If I could go back in time, I would not have made any promises about what we were going to catch, and I suspect that without the distraction of ice cream, my group would have been pretty excited about catching shore crabs.

    • Always double-check your equipment before your programs.
    • Don’t promise the moon (or ice-cream for that matter). Keep expectations reasonable.
    • Remember that what seems ordinary to you (like a shore crab) may be extraordinary to your group – especially if you show them why that is so! 

      Pam Murray is the Chairperson of Interpretation Canada and one of the editors of The Interpreters Big Book of Disasters.  She manages and delivers school programs at Milner Gardens & Woodland and has never again even mentioned ice cream to a school group. 

  • 17 Jan 2021 2:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Frankie Marquez

    One way many interpreters are looking to engage with the public during times of COVID-19 is through virtual programming! The public might not be able to feel your props but they can see and hear more than ever through the magic of online learning! The CBC FU Public Outreach and Education Team wants to show you how to set up your own studio to deliver exciting and engaging virtual programs. 

    The bare minimum that you need to deliver virtual programming is a laptop with a webcam and a stable internet source. In the Vancouver office we use a magic internet box with an air card - we honestly don’t really know how it works but it basically creates its own Wi-Fi by using cell-tower data. With these two tools you should be able to use platforms such as Zoom, FacebookLive, YouTube, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams. 

    If you want to take your program to the next level the first thing you should do is find a friend to be your designated tech support. Once you find your friend, you can take your tech to the next level. 

    The first piece of tech that will bring the “WOW” factor to your programs is a green screen because it allows you to manipulate backgrounds on Zoom and other platforms. You’ll be able to host game shows or take your audience to different sites in a matter of seconds! To ensure the best results, clamp your green screen fabric to the poles and make sure it’s nice and tight! 

    The other pieces of tech needed would be an external webcam (instead of the one that came with your laptop), a second monitor, and a set of external speakers. We use the Logitech C920 webcam and have it propped on top of our second monitor that faces the presenters. Not only does this improve your video quality, but the second monitor also allows for the presenters to point at the right places on the green screen and respond to participant comments in real time. 

    Also, if you are planning on using sound for your program such as a bird call, having a set of external speakers will ensure that the sound quality is crisp and clear for audience members. 

    Finally, to glow bright like the star that you are, use a ring light to bring out your best features for the camera! 

    Even though we need to keep physical distance from our visitors, that does not mean we have to compromise program quality. Virtual programming is new and exciting with so much potential! What will you deliver? 

    Frankie is a passionate educator who works for Parks Canada’s Learn-To Camp Team and connects various audiences to the outdoors. Her favorite part of the job is teaching newcomers to Canada how to camp safely and dressing up as Parka Parks Canada’s Beaver mascot.

  • 17 Dec 2020 11:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Book Review by Bill Reynolds

    The book is published by Institute for Earth Education and is available through Amazon. Find out about the not-for-profit & other resources when you delve into a treasure trove by searching their sourcebook on

    “Structured fun, not unstructured play!” 

    • Book Cover courtesy of Institute for Earth Education

    Read on if you want to discover how to carefully craft an outcome-driven, impactful Earthwalk for your participants.  
    In-depth practical notes are shared on how best to choreograph a different kind of nature walk. Earthwalk structured fun involves doing like:
    • looking for pieces of a melted rainbow,
    • framing snow scenes,
    • composing a song of spring,
    • smelling a pine split sundae,
    • creating canvases with magic paintbrushes
    • using a treasure finding homing device
    • hatching out of a nest and
    • helping earth relatives

    • Photo credit Mike Mayer, EID Song of Season Activity Set-up

    Earthwalks are a touch of nature providing a new way of sensing familiar things, sharpening perceptions, nurturing empathy and stilling oneself to let nature in. Earthwalks are fun, but not frivolous. They are a serious educational and interpretive response to our increasing separation from the planet’s natural systems. If you want your visitors to make a deep personal connection with the natural world, this book provides a path through their hearts to the earth.

    Carefully Crafted Guidelines

    Earthwalks are described as a prelude for people and as an initial contact to stimulate further experiences. They last 45-70 minutes and utilize 4-6 activities that are meant to be carefully chosen and linked together in a seamless flow, where one activity moves purposefully into another. These walks have been workshopped and used by outdoor leaders around the world for decades yet have never been arranged in a book with detailed leadership guidelines before.

    After delving into the 100 pages of leadership guidelines you begin to understand how well thought out an Earthwalk needs to be to attain a sense of buoyancy and delight when experiencing a sense of place. Close to 200 pages are dedicated to activities.

    A great benefit of the book: In-depth practical notes on how best to choreograph this different kind of nature walk. Refreshing JK Rowling-Tolkienesque like activities, such as Gardens of Lilliput, Shadow Posse, Windancers, and Mysterious Niches (50 in all) abound. Readers will be caught up in the activity descriptions, being composed in a narrative “you-are-there” style.

    Earthwalks aim to develop 4 successive feelings “for this incredible planet we share and its amazing natural systems and communities of life.”  Each activity is designed to generate 1 of the 4 key feelings:

    • Joy at being in touch with the elements of life.
    • Kinship with all living things.
    • Reverence for natural communities.
    • Love for the earth.

    Photo Credit: Cooper Center for Environmental Learning Hidden Worlds Activity

    Keeping Walk Participants Focused and Motivated

    Van Matre stresses how structure in an experience keeps the participants focused on the task at hand.  Many helpful details are shared on how to prepare and organize Earthwalks and how to perform the leader’s role who:

    • sets the stage and pulls the participants in
    • ensures the small, mechanical details of setting up
    • leads activities to create a feeling of “lightness”
    • achieves fully engaged participation
    • demonstrates desired behaviour
    • nurtures a sense of flow & foreshadowing
    • handles smooth activity transitions & suggests further applications
    • is more of a font of interest than information.

    A Pinch of Magic and Pound of Adventure

    Readers will unravel how Earthwalks were designed with “a pinch of magic” as a bit of extra stimulus to reach those accustomed to the intensity of the purely artificial and digital special effects. The author explains how the use of props as valuable experiential tools can introduce fun, new perspectives and help make the abstract, concrete. You will find out about subscopes, sky-eyes, scent sacs, touch cartons, and reverence triangles.

    Always felt you wanted to be an earth symphony conductor? This book provides a path where visitors can make a deep personal connection with the natural world.

    “An Earthwalk leader sets the expectations, the stage, and the tone for this special experience with nature, and then leads the activities, almost like a conductor of a symphony: channeling the participants’ energy, setting the tempo, and assisting them in tuning into what’s being performed.”

    If this writing style resonates with you then have a grand time exploring the Earthwalk book as a prelude for future nature engagement.  After reading Earthwalks: an alternative nature experience you are left with the feeling that any natural community will offer up its delights when you travel through it with openness. This, in turn, will make clear which activities you choose and interweave for your participants so you can highlight the land’s special places and passengers, thereby crafting a rewarding journey.

    Bill Reynolds is a CEO of Experiential Interpretive Design (EID) in Canada. Reach him at bill.reynolds@eidcoaching.com Get inspired and read the thought-provoking blog at www.eidcoaching.com Discover visitor experience insights from around the world @InterpDesign  

  • 15 Nov 2020 11:41 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Erin Poulton

    Part 2: Planning for Success


    This article is based on segments of All About that Baseline Experience; a presentation delivered at Interpretation Canada’s annual conference in September 2020. Part 2 explores the development and application of graphic standards to ensure ongoing interpretive cohesion within permanent exhibitions at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.


    A portion of the museum’s First World War area, highlighting a newly-developed thematic panel. (Credit: Erin Poulton)

    The Canada Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) has recently developed graphic standards with the aim of increasing the overall cohesion of our interpretive approach. The document includes a breakdown the main panel types that will recur in the museum’s open-concept Main Exhibition Hall, and parameters for their content, design, and layout. In developing our approach, we knew that full-scale gallery redevelopment wasn’t possible—we didn’t have the time or funding for a project of that scale.

    Accordingly, we needed a phased plan that would allow us to:

    1. Execute our updates by means of existing remedial priorities (i.e. replacing missing or damaged exhibitry);

    2. Minimize costs by retaining exhibitry that is objectively ‘in good shape’; and

    3. Ensure in turn that new panels coexist smoothly with existing ones as we cycle through remedial work over the long-haul.

    In developing the graphic standards, our first step was to take stock of all panels within the Main Exhibition Hall—categorizing them, and planning for their retention, adaptation, or removal. To simplify this task, we found it helpful to ask ourselves some guiding questions:

    • How many different panel types (or purposes) can we identify?
    • How many different styles of panel are used for each purpose?
    • Which panels share a design treatment that makes them read as a “family”?
    • Within these families are there recurring patterns (writing style, graphic approach) that help visitors navigate the content?
    • Does one family grouping show the least wear or damage?

    This list is not exhaustive, but was a good starting point in assessing which “families” of panels were the most effective and worth retaining. We also conducted visitor testing to challenge our assumptions before proposing any changes. Our new graphic approach drew inspiration from our most successful existing panels, incorporating key features such as shape and colour while improving accessibility and readability. This enabled us to move towards greater overall cohesion while still combining older and newer panels within the same space. 

    As we kicked off our remedials updates, our first focus was the low-hanging fruit: artifacts with missing or temporary signage. We retained one existing style for our basic caption panels, adding new panels where required that were larger and easier to read. In time we will transition to the new panels throughout, but in the meantime, we can save costs by retaining one style of existing panel until the end of its lifecycle.

    From there, we began to address our ‘consoles.’ These large back-lit panels tell the story of each aircraft on display. When we began this update, many of our console panels dated from the museum’s opening in 1988. Over time, past remedial updates disrupted the overall interpretive flow by introducing different graphic approaches. The console updates are ongoing, and we are taking a two-fold approach:

    • When we replace a console in a thematic area that we cannot yet fully update, our graphic style is heavily influenced by the original 1988 panels (which still make up a slim majority in our Main Exhibition Hall).
    • Where we are able to fully update a thematic area, we transition to a new “look” that includes larger panel structures and a more timeless design. We also incorporate a new layer of interpretation—thematic panels that present background concepts to non-expert audiences.

    Once again, this approach enables us to gradually transition to a new style without disrupting the flow within existing areas.

    An example of the museum’s original console panels, dating from 1988.

    A new panel, for use alongside older existing panels.

    A new panel, for use in a redesigned section of the museum.

    Overall, we are finding the graphic standards to be a helpful tool for implementing remedial work, guiding exhibition development, and envisioning long-range plans. Having standards in place is helping us to take one-off projects—the type that could once obscure our main messages—and shape them into novel experiences that complement existing learning objectives. Part of this success involves fostering buy-in within our museum. If colleagues can reasonably argue that they can’t follow a plan, it will lose momentum—so we’re striving to keep things flexible and attainable. On that note, we wrote the standards in such a way that they are only prescriptive where truly necessary. This leaves project teams with clear boundaries, and room to innovate. Similarly, support from leadership is also crucial for long-term success. Over the past decade the CASM’s leaders have been committed to updating our baseline experience to better serve family audiences—but these are the same leaders who have to make difficult decisions about how we spend our time and money. Our commitment to finding phased approaches, and overlapping updates with required remedial work, has helped our leaders to see that updating the baseline experience doesn’t conflict with their other goals. Over time, we hope that this approach will enable the CASM to shift with intention—making strong strategic decisions that enable us to stretch our resources while providing visitors with the clearest and most engaging experience possible.


    Erin Poulton is the Exhibition Interpretation Officer at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. She has been working in museums for twenty years, with experience developing and coordinating a wide range of exhibitions, programs, educational resources, and events. A skilled communicator, Erin approaches her work with a balance of critical thinking and creativity.

  • 12 Nov 2020 10:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Erin Poulton

    Part 1: Identifying Obstacles


    This article is based on segments of All About that Baseline Experience; a presentation delivered at Interpretation Canada’s annual conference in September 2020. Part 1 explores the importance of maintaining graphic cohesion and message hierarchies within exhibitions, proposing graphic standards as a tool for maintaining a structured approach over time. 


    Main Hall with Canadarm - Part of the museum's Main Exhibition Hall, as seen from above. Note Canadarm 1 on the left. Photo Credit: Audrey Vermette

    The Canada Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) is a true destination for aviation enthusiasts. Cited among CNN’s top 20 Aviation Museums worldwide, we present a unique collection of historically significant aircraft. Visitors can see a replica of the A.E.A. Silver Dart (the first aircraft to take flight in Canada), the last remaining segments of an Avro Arrow interceptor, and even a space-flown Canadarm. While eager to maintain our cachet among enthusiasts, we have been working over the past decade to increase the CASM’s appeal among generalist family audiences. To this end, we have been adjusting the CASM’s non-personal interpretation to better serve its changing audiences.

    A major facet of this adjustment has involved examining and streamlining our ‘baseline experience.’ Consider what a visitor experiences when they visit a site on their own, without taking part in an organized program or staffed experience. Their exploration will likely involve circulating from one object or experience to the next, guided by appealing sight lines and other prominent visual cues that surround them. We can consider this to be the ‘baseline experience’—what a visitor encounters at bare minimum if they explore on their own, and don’t engage in ‘personal’ interpretive experiences. Visitors will most likely engage with the information that is physically easiest to access—typically the main recurring interpretive elements in our permanent galleries which can include higher-level introductory and thematic panels, and repeating elements such as artifact and image labels. The cues that we send, in large part through these interpretation panels, guide visitors as they select which objects and experiences will hold their attention. Our approach in developing these elements, and ensuring that they work well together, in turn sets the groundwork for an engaging and informative visit. 

    In order to set the stage for a strong baseline experience, museums and interpretive centres need to assess the baseline experience, identifying obstacles that complicate visitors’ engagement. In taking stock of the situation at our museum, it was clear that we faced a number of common challenges. The CASM is largely a hangar-style museum. More than 80% of its exhibition space is contained within the Main Exhibition Hall, which measures over 100,000 sq. ft. Content is organized into loosely chronological groupings that we call ‘thematic islands.’ With few inner galleries or wall-based displays, and sightlines from one thematic area into the next, our museum cannot have a defined circulation path. In turn, we cannot base our interpretive through-line on the premise that visitors will encounter content in a given order—traditional introductions and conclusions are “out.”

    CASM Visitor Map: Overview of the CASM's Exhibition Areas Credit: CASM

    The CASM opened in 1988, and over the years there have been a number of partial updates to our interpretive approach. While there was an initial design direction for all of our main interpretive panels, subsequent updates introduced disparate approaches that eroded the intuitive connection and hierarchy among thematic panels. This was further compounded by the addition of tangential artifacts and experiences—items that were added with the intent to enrich the visitors’ experience, but which do not align with or support thematic goals within the area. Similarly, the CASM has pursued many funded “one-off” projects with the support of partnering organizations. These experiences have their own unique messages, and often a look and feel that distinguishes them as being special. While these opportunities do enrich the museum’s overall offerings, they can compete for visitors’ focus and subvert the planned hierarchy or flow of ideas within a space. These are all common challenges for museums and interpretive centres—exhibition teams are continually balancing the need to maintain and renew existing exhibitry with the push to innovate and seize new opportunities. 

    Over about the past decade, CASM has been working to balance these competing needs. From 2013 to 2016, we began to assess many aspects of our personal and non-personal interpretation—an initiative that culminated in a Master Interpretive Plan. Along with a focus on service fundamentals, the report set forth expectations to restructure content in ways that are more welcoming for family audiences. This involved placing greater focus on “people” and “people stories” rather than purely technology and traditional historical narratives. One of the plan’s recommendations was the development of graphic standards to bring cohesion to the museum’s baseline experience.

    The graphic standards themselves cover everything from the broad to the concrete. Key items include text and graphic hierarchies, colour palettes, and graphic approaches for a defined set of recurring panel types. The idea is that panels within each area of the museum will include common elements to ensure that the Museum reads as a cohesive whole, and yet there will be variation between thematic sections to keep things interesting and help distinguish one key theme from another.

    For this initiative to succeed in ensuring lasting cohesion, it needs to be different. Part of this difference involves ensuring that the document includes adequate breadth—creating rules and guidelines that won’t prevent us from pursuing future opportunities (like “one-off” projects). Throughout the document, we make the distinction between more rigid rules that apply to our Thematic Islands, and more fluid guidelines for exhibitions located in enclosed galleries (where the same degree of uniformity with the rest of the Museum is not essential). An effective standards document should be a tool after all, and not an obstacle. 

    The success of graphic standards also lies in their application, and in fostering buy-in for the initiative—ideas that we explore in Part 2 of this article.

  • 14 Oct 2020 12:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Margaret Vaughan

    Two online-tools in the world of educational technology allow participants to create sound bites spoken by creative characters or to crowd source ideas using multi-media. Using Voki.com, you create a video of a talking character (a “talking head” or a talking, semi-animated portrait). Using Padlet, you can create an interactive place to pin information or make a static poster. I have used both, and they might be options to explore for interpretation work and working with all age groups that have comfort with technology.

    Voki is a site that features creating talking avatars and characters that your participants can make in response to a prompt or question that you pose. You can even create a classroom and generate usernames and passwords for the students or participants. There is an option for you or your participants to create a slideshow almost like Power Point, except that you can insert different characters who can speak a short monologue, creating a longer presentation than just a regular one-character monologue.  

    Participants or users can choose characters that are close to their own or vary far from their own identities. Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama are character choices, for example. Participants can use their own voice-over or choose among ones provided through “fon-net-ik-ly” typing out the script, calling in by phone, or uploading a recording. Voice choices include Martian, Giant, and Troll. The Voki characters can speak their pre-arranged message for 90 seconds. Participants choose different backgrounds, clothes,  and features of the character. When done, there is a sharing capability for using the Voki artifact outside the Voki site.

    I found a few drawbacks for the site. For some participants, the site poses a medium-level of difficulty in actually creating the video and would require an alternative activity for participants who require screen-readers. If encouraging remote use of the Voki website, it is best that you make your own tutorial showing how to use the Voki tools. Sometimes the characters are difficult to understand (which would mean the best practice is to encourage uploading the script to the character). In other examples, students have made inexplicable decisions in their characters and background, such as a capuchin monkey in the ocean or a horse in a coral reef. In an educational setting if things get too crazy you can ask for a re-do. I usually just chalk such decisions up to creativity. Looking back at some of my Voki videos, I did the same thing, such as putting a dolphin in a thunderstorm, a garden, or in front of a fireworks display to mark the season. 

    You may want to stay more authentic, depending on the purpose of the Voki video. This is a site worth playing with and exploring if, for example you want short answers to things like science or history-based questions or reflections on what your already technologically-comfortable audience has just seen.  Better yet, you can also use the Voki videos as learning objects. In one learning experience, I kept utilizing a video of a talking dolphin for informational videos and to make quick reminders, including the video and the actual script for accessibility. In the future, I plan to use Voki.com only for this purpose, as participants have run into technical difficulties in their video-making. There is another learning tool that contains even more interactive possibilities.

    Padlet can be used for making what I call “posters” that contain links to the internet. Padlet needs Javascript and Cascading Style Sheets for successful implementation. A “padlet” consists of sequential tiles from which you build a lecture or informational segment. Mine are stand-alone, but they really are for making interactional bulletin boards, in which learning participants add to the bulletin board, including posting drawings and audio files. You can set up your padlet using different modes, including wall, shelf, canvas, stream, timeline, backchannel, map and grid modes. You can even add interesting backgrounds. For example, one of my padlets features a symbolic brick wall to emphasize a barrier to sound environmental policy that is portrayed in the poster. There is a tutorial you can access here. And check out one of one of my padlets on places of trauma and trauma museums related to the Cambodian genocide: Cambodian Traumascapes and Memoryscapes. You can add videos, images, and websites to a padlet. The best part is that Padlet is screen reader friendly for many types of screen readers.

    Interpreters might want to set up a padlet for an interactive activity or if they are doing remote work they could offer short Voki videos for brief informational sound bites.  Maybe a computer site is part of an exhibit where a Padlet could be used to reflect pre- or post-experience. Both tools have a free version with the option of a paid upgrade. Explore Voki at Voki.com if your curiosity has been piqued. Explore Padlet at padlet.com.

    Author Biography

    Margaret Vaughan teaches in the Ethnic and Religious Studies Department and the Master of Liberal Studies program at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

  • 15 Sep 2020 8:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Tim O’Grady

    Historic Edmonton and Doors Open Virtual Festival

    Welcome to the Festival

    The Historic Edmonton and Doors Open Festival is an annual event designed to encourage people to engage with history. The Festival is the flagship event of the Edmonton District Historical Society (EDHS), a volunteer-run non-profit charitable society dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of Edmonton and the surrounding area. EDHS organizes and promotes the Festival, but the programming is put on by partner organizations in the community, including museums, archives, government, non-profits, businesses, and faith organizations.

    2018 Festival Launch

    Tour during 2019 Festival

    Moving Online

    Planning for this year’s festival began in January, but by March, with the emergence of Covid-19, EDHS had a big decision to make: do we cancel, do we continue planning and hope for the best, or do we transition to an online event - something that we’d never done before.

    Ultimately we decided to move online. We thought it would be a good way to continue supporting our partners, to allow us to continue fulfilling our mandate of providing meaningful opportunities for people to engage with the past, and it would help us maintain a connection to our stakeholders.

    The festival ran from July 5-12 on our website.

    The Partners

    This year we had 24 partners - half of last year’s number. Not all our regular partners were able to participate in an online medium. Some didn’t have the resources (either technical capacity, or just lowered capacity due to the pressures of the pandemic), while a few didn’t foresee a significant return on investment in creating online content.

    The Events

    There were 38 separate pages of offerings on the website (though some of those pages contained multiple links). Of these, 24 pages featured unique content created specifically for the festival. The production value varied by partner, as some had better equipment and more technical prowess. Mostly tours, these offerings were done in a variety of ways. Many were interpreters speaking on video, interspersed with shots of contemporary scenes and archival images. Some partners made tours using the Google Street View app; 360 degree photographs linked together and augmented by interpretive text, sound, and additional images. This was an option encouraged by EDHS, as the app is free and fairly easy to use. There were also a few slide shows: some had interpretive voiceover, but a couple were of a local cathedral and only had organ music playing in the background. Only two of the offerings were live events: one through Facebook Live, the other through Zoom.


    The other 14 pages contained content that was recycled from previous initiatives, such as online exhibitions, inventories of historic places, or interpretive videos that had been done in the past. These were generally larger projects and therefore had a considerable amount more time and money put into them.

    Visitor Behaviour


    Because the online festival is so different from the in person festival, it isn’t possible to compare them. However, EDHS is happy with the number of new users and total page views. The bounce rate (the percentage of users who only looked at one page) of 59% isn’t great, as we had hoped people would explore multiple partner offerings. The average session of 3 minutes could also be better, as in a typical year visitors could expect to spend 30-60 minutes on a tour.

    Traffic Acquisition

    Direct links = 45%

    Social media = 30%

    Organic search = 25%

    Traffic came through a number of ways, with organic search having the lowest bounce rate (29%). It can be assumed that if someone used a search engine to find the site, they heard about the festival somewhere but didn’t have a direct link. This can likely be attributed to the traditional media we used to promote the event (a promotional package through CTV Television), as well as through subsequent interviews on CKUA Radio and CBC Radio.

    Users who came via social media had the highest bounce rate, at 72%. The social media effort done by EDHS included Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit:

    # of posts/tweets

    % of total traffic

    Bounce rate













    Other than a few dollars promoting the Facebook posts, the social media advertising was free. What was particularly surprising was the interest generated by Reddit. We posted on r/edmonton, which is a subreddit for all things Edmonton. Not only did this result in around 400 site visits, it also generated a media enquiry from CBC radio which led to an interview later in the week. And with 50% of Reddit users under 30, it is a community that is underserved by our organization. That said, the bounce rate was very high among users coming from Reddit (87%), so while we will continue using Reddit, it will have to be one of several tools in our online tool box.

    Our takeaway from this analysis is that it is important to advertise in a variety of different ways, but that traditional media is still very important for our audience.

    Pages Visited

    Surprisingly, despite the recycled content being more polished, the most popular content by far were the tours created specifically for the festival. The most popular tour, with 1,161 visits, was an historical tour of a local fallout shelter. This tour was featured on Reddit and resulted in the CBC interview. The rest of the content averaged about 124 visits each. Although less than the fallout shelter, these numbers are far higher than a typical tour would reach (or be able to accommodate).

    Another surprise was the amount of traffic we received to parts of our website that were unrelated to the Festival. Our About Us page, for example, was the 6th most popular page with 279 visits. Our blog, membership page, publications page, and speakers series page were all in the top half for visitorship, and averaged 155 visits each.

    Partner Comments

    In a short post-Festival survey, two thirds of our partners said they would consider providing an online portion in addition to in person offerings next year. There were numerous comments about the increased accessibility (both from partners and visitors), as well as appreciation that the Festival was done digitally rather than cancelled.

    I will quote a particularly lengthy and thoughtful comment:

    “I think I would prefer to do only one format: either live or virtual. This is because each event creates its own time demands and as the only volunteer for my organization, it would be a lot for me to do both formats. The virtual format was much more labour intensive for me and with the live event, if I am not able to be in Edmonton during the festival I have to look for and prepare another volunteer. When I do the tours myself, I have to schedule a number of days in addition to the preparation, so both formats can be demanding. With that in mind it would be helpful to know the festival theme a bit earlier in the year, so that it would be easier to prepare (but especially for the virtual format).”


    In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, moving to an online format was a success. With 3,683 people participating in the online festival, EDHS fulfilled its mandate of providing an opportunity for people to explore this area’s history. With 24 partners, we supported our colleagues in the local heritage ecosystem by providing an opportunity to continue connecting with the public in a difficult time. And with a surprising number of people interested in our organization, as evidenced by the page hits to unrelated parts of our website, we’ve managed to stay engaged with our stakeholders - and hopefully found some new ones along the way.

    That being said, an online festival is not a replacement for an in person festival. Although more accessible, engagement with partners and visitors wasn’t as high. In the future, we plan to go back to in person events, though we will offer our partners a place to host or promote online content as well should they wish.

    Author Biography

    Tim O’Grady is passionate about local history and the importance of telling our stories. He has worked in museums, archives, built heritage, and historic sites for nearly 20 years, and has served on several history-related boards. He is currently the President of the Edmonton and District Historical Society. You can email him at timothywogrady@gmail.com.

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