Paper No. 47
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


CLARY, Renee M., Department of Geosciences, Mississippi State University, 108 Hilbun Hall, P.O. Box 5448, Mississippi State, MS 39762 and WANDERSEE, James H., Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice, Louisiana State University, 223 F Peabody Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803,

Because audio trails can deliver aural science content on demand, they may be more effective than traditional signage methods and trail brochures. The Talking Rocks trail at Clemmons Educational State Forest, NC, is the premier interpretive geology audio push-button trail in the United States. Designed by Jeffrey Reid, the trail features 7 stand-alone audio interpretation stations which each play an independent science message when accessed.

We conducted a mixed methods, case study analysis of the Talking Rocks audio trail in order to determine its effectiveness as an informal geoscience learning environment. During our on-site visits, we participated in the trail experience, observed visitors, recorded and transcribed each station’s audio content, and conducted a content analysis of the scientific messages presented. Clemmons’ other audio push-button trail, Talking Trees, served as a benchmark against which Talking Rocks’ transcripts were analyzed for communication effectiveness. The trail’s science content also was analyzed against the Big Ideas of the Earth Science Literacy Initiative, the EarthScholars science signage optimization model, and the revised Bloom’s taxonomy for cognitive domains of learning.

Our analysis results revealed that multiple Big Ideas of Earth Science literacy were targeted within the audio trail, and most waypoints effectively invited visual comparison. Audio trails can stimulate geoscience conversations, engage the reluctant science learner, and communicate diverse scientific concepts. However, there exist untapped opportunities for addressing higher orders of cognitive learning, maximizing critical thinking, and engaging visitors’ cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains. By monitoring readability statistics, and considering the revised Bloom’s taxonomy and the Big Ideas of Earth Science, trail designers can develop inclusive signage that is appropriate to the target audience. More research is needed to elucidate the effects of optimized audio trails on informal science education as compared to other communication venues.