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Planning Park Interpretation 310
Interpretive Media Development 311
Leaning Interpreters 330
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Component for Module 311

Meaningful Media

Content Outline | Resources | Suggested Developmental Activities | Next

The interpretive aspect of media development involves the integration of complex elements and layers that make conceptualizing, planning, and organizing much more complicated than for personal services presentations. While the core of concept development is the same for any interpretive product, the added and overlapping components of a media project require an additional level of knowledge about the interpretive function and structure of media. In addition, since visitors cannot "ask" an exhibit or brochure for clarification of a concept, it becomes imperative that intent is focused so interpretive opportunities are successfully conveyed.

Upon completing this component, learners will be able to:

  • Apply an understanding of the difference between the function of personal vs. non-personal (media) services in park interpretation;

  • Engage in an effective, systematic approach to interpretive concept development for assigned media projects;

  • Visualize the interpretive structure of media for application to concept and design development;

  • Articulate an interpretive vision for an assigned media project to media advisors, designers, producers, and other contractors.

Interpreters must understand the potential uses of media compared to personal services to make wise recommendations and decisions about new media development. The advantages and disadvantages must be considered in light of budget/time constraints, as well as intended interpretive purpose and need. Once the choice to use media has been made, an understanding of media function and structure can facilitate the process of determining interpretive focus and concept development.

This component introduces a suggested interpretive concept development phase of media planning. This interpretive element is often overlooked when a park embarks on a new media project, but represents the best chance for a completed product to communicate a meaningful message to its audience. The elements identified in this process can provide a bridge between the overall project definition planning phase (component: Project Definition and Planning) and the beginning of the design phase (component: Principles of Design). Interpreters who participate in this process will be able to apply a specific vision for the product's purpose and concept to its in-house development, or effectively communicate that vision to media advisors, designers, producers and other contractors.

Through this concept development process, the interpretive need is connected to the broad subject-matter content. This in turn, is distilled down to the most significant and meaningful elements, which are linked to universal concepts for effective interpretation for the intended audience. The process then leads naturally to the development of meaningful themes and objectives to creatively guide both content and design development. Determining the interpretive focus for a product must also take into consideration the general interpretive structure of media, as expressed in the tenets for media concept development.

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Content Outline

I. Interpretive function - media characteristics compared to personal services

A. Advantages and limitations of personal services programs

1. real person experience

a. the audience can ask questions
b. the interpreter's personality can enhance or detract

2. adjustable experience

a. the interpreter can tailor the experience to each audience
b. can personally engage individuals within the audience

3. Linear presentation of concepts

a. the audience must follow along the linear path the interpreter presents
b. interpreter has more control over direction of audience thinking and experience

B. Advantages and limitations of media (overview - see also the component: Choosing Appropriate Media)

1. audience has control of experience
2. greater freedom to choose own level of participation and exposure
3. visitors/audience select what they will focus on and when/how/if they will interact
4. greater opportunity to appeal to different learning styles and attention spans
5. increased options for interpretive effectiveness
6. greatly increases the complexity
7. multi-dimensional and multi-directional access to the concepts presented
8. can provide access to unseen time and space
9. much more complex to develop because of integrated elements, overlapping layers, and audience options
10. not easily adjustable

II. Interpretive focus

(The following is a suggested method to identify and focus interpretive content and intent, in order to choose the most appropriate type of media for an identified interpretive need, and to most effectively provide interpretive opportunities)

A. List the primary subject matter areas or information concepts related to the identified interpretive need (see component: Project Definition and Planning)
B. Are the primary information concepts simple or complex, concrete or abstract, or mixed?
C. Are there multiple perspectives to convey?
D. What types of known resources/materials (tangible resources) are available (i.e. objects/artifacts)?
E. Brainstorm and list all the intangible meanings and universal concepts which can be linked to these relevant tangible resources (see Module 101)
F. What possible thematic concepts emerge from the step this list?
G. Identify one or two potential overall themes for the product and sub-themes as appropriate.
H. Articulate/distill the potential objectives that emerge as the interpretive "so what" is defined in steps E, F and G
I. Determine what type of media product could most effectively convey selected thematic concepts and objectives (see component: Choosing Appropriate Media)

III. Interpretive structure of media - tenets for concept development

A. An effective media product is an organized framework of smaller tangible/intangible links that support more meaningful tangible/intangible links and universal concepts, to facilitate connections between visitors/audience and park resources.
B. Interpretive media development involves effectively creating, altering and/or manipulating a physical space or environment in order to facilitate connections between visitors/audience and park resources.
C. Media concept development applies the requirements of the "Interpretive Equation" (see Module 101) in two equally important integrated layers to create interpretive opportunities:

1. content - info/graphics/objects/resources (tangibles); meanings, significance and universal concepts (intangibles); themes and objectives; interpretive hierarchy; conceptual accessibility
2. space/environment - basic design elements; flow/direction; interactive design; organization and structure (hierarchy and layers); interrelationships; use/presentation of tangibles; physical and conceptual accessibility

IV. Interpretive effectiveness

A. Understand the difference between interpretive opportunities and interpretive outcomes (see Module 101 component: How Interpretation Works)
B. Using evaluation to increase interpretive effectiveness

1. front-end evaluation - before a project gets under way in detail
2. formative evaluation - during development and draft writing
3. summative evaluation - after completion of the product

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Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach. Beverly Serrell. AltaMira Press/AASLH, 1996.

Harpers Ferry Center, publication of Harpers Ferry Center, 1997.

The Interpreter's Handbook, Russell K. Grater, 1976. Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. Chapters 6 and 9.

Interpreting the Environment, Grant W. Sharpe, John Wiley and Sons, 1976. Chapter 5, 13, and 16.

Interpretive Centers: The History, Design and Development of Nature and Visitor Centers, Michael Gross and Ron Zimmerman, The Interpreter’s Handbook Series, 2002. This book contains more than 650 full-color photos and graphics, and case studies featuring 125 interpretive centers.

The Interpretive Process Model, 2002. The Interpretive Process Model furnishes a sequence of activities with which an interpreter can develop opportunities for their audiences to make emotional and intellectual connections to the meanings of the resource as well as cohesively develop an idea or ideas that are relevant to the resource and the audience.

Matching Media and Need, Interpretive Skills II, Lesson Plan 2, L. Young and N. Dickey, 1992.

User Friendly: Hands-On Exhibits That Work. Jeff Kennedy. Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1990.

Visitor Surveys: A User's Manual. Randi Korn and Laurie Sowd. American Association of Museums, 1990.

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Suggested Developmental Activities
1. Choose a major subject-matter theme at your park that is presented to visitors through both personal and non-personal interpretive services. Determine which format seems to most effectively convey the meanings/significance associated with the subject information. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of media that apply in this situation.

2. Ask your supervisor if you can facilitate a brainstorming discussion at your next division staff meeting to generate new theme and objective ideas for interpreting one or more park resources. Follow the proposed interpretive concept development steps presented in Section II, E-H, of the component outline above. Be prepared to assist staff members in defining the terms "tangible," "intangible," and "universal concept."

3. Choose a panel or section of an existing interpretive exhibit or page from an interpretive publication in your park and analyze its interpretive structure, based on the tenets outlined in Section III of the component outline above. How have the space and content of the panel/page been structured/arranged to maximize interpretive effectiveness? Identify all the tangible/intangible links and universal concepts that are presented and if/how they are arranged in a hierarchy to maximize interpretive effectiveness. Apply the elements of the Interpretive Equation - how is knowledge of the audience and knowledge of the resource reflected in the spatial and content structure of the product? Are identifiable interpretive techniques a part of the structure? How could the spatial and content structure be made more effective?

4. Use the assessment rubric from this competency module to evaluate several media products in your park. Invite co-workers to participate and volunteer to lead a group discussion. Help participants articulate how the elements of each media product did or did not "work together to create opportunities for the audience to form their own intellectual and emotional connections with the meanings/significance inherent" in the park resources being interpreted.

5. Use the attachment "Critical Appraisal Checklist for Exhibits" to practice evaluating exhibit media in your park or at another site. Determine how these appraisal elements contribute to the interpretive effectiveness of each exhibit you appraise.

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Critical Appraisal Checklist for Exhibits

1) Conceptual Orientation
___ Is there a label telling what the exhibition is all about?
___ Is the label short?
___ Is the message clear?
___ Is the label placed in a location where it will be read?

2) Physical Orientation and Circulation

___ Is it clear how visitors are expected to circulate through the exhibition?
___ Are there choice points that confuse the visitor or create a chaotic flow?

3) Label Text

___ Are the text labels short (50-75 words)?
___ Do labels fall easily within the visitor's line of sight?
___ Do label titles stimulate thought and interest?
___ Is there adequate lighting? No glare?
___ Are letter sizes adequate?
___ Is there good contrast between letters and background?
___ Is the layout of labels consistent? (same type of information in the same place from one label to another).
___ Are labels in a location where one can look at the object and read at the same time?
___ Are labels written in a friendly, lively style?
___ Do labels help focus visitor attention on important aspects of objects?
___ Can labels be easily understood?

4) Factors within Exhibit Displays

___ Are the goals of the exhibit display obvious? Do they get across to the visitor?
___ Is it easy to understand the organization of the display elements?
___ Is the focus of the exhibit appropriate? (focus produced by design, lighting, layout, etc.)
___ Can the message be communicated in a brief period of time?
___ Do the exhibit elements work together to accomplish the goals of the exhibit?
___ Are hands-on elements effective? (visibility, feedback, conceptual model, minds-on, etc.)

5) Factors between Exhibit Displays

___ Do exhibit displays compete for attention with one another?
___ Is it clear how the exhibit displays are organized?
___ Is it clear where one exhibit ends and another begins?


Next Component

Choosing Appropriate Media

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Editor: STMA Training Manager Interpretation

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