Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929



By Edwin D. McKee

The lecture is an admittedly good method of teaching in schools and universities — possibly the best that we have today for instruction in such places. It undoubtedly is also valuable as a method of educational work in our national parks, though in this case to a far less degree since conditions are vastly different. To what extent the lecture should be employed in the national park’s program, therefore is a question deserving much study and consideration. In the university lectures are nearly always applicable since the courses deal usually with subjects which are not and can not be seen close by. In the national parks, on the other hand, the educational work deals principally with interpreting the wonders of the immediate region. For this reason, unless a talk is given out-of-doors and in sight of the subject so that it can be pointed out, the appropriateness of the talk is often doubtful.

Perhaps the best way in which to reach a conclusion as to this desirability, is to survey both the advantages and the disadvantages. Upon examining this problem as applied to the national parks, I find that it has at least three definite advantages. In the first place, it is a method for reaching many people at the same time and with about the same amount of success. Secondly, it is a means of assisting elderly people, invalids, and others, who are extremely interested but are unable to undertake field trips or nature walks, and thirdly, still another great advantage is that it may put to good use the time after dark when people wish entertainment but cannot go a-field.

As contrasted to the advantages listed above, it seems that lectures have also certain definite disadvantages. First and fore most, comes the fact that any talk which is given indoors loses what is undoubtedly the greatest educational opportunity of a park — namely, the use of original material in place. If, then, the talk is given in the open it encroaches on the field of nature trips — though this is perhaps desirable where possible. Another distinct disadvantage of a lecture is that it does not usually assume the impersonal attitude which is reached on a field trip — in other words, people are not free to ask questions as the story proceeds.

To summarize, it seems evident that national park lectures when given in the day time should be so far as possible in the open, or rather, in sight of the natural exhibits about which it deals. It is also evident, however, that to a less extent, museum lectures with the use of hand specimens and exhibits may be desirable. In the evenings at both camp-fires and hotels, the centers of population, are found logical places for talks, and because of a more appropriate environment the former seems to be the better of these.


In the discussions following Mr. McKee’s paper, the general advantages and disadvantages of lectures in the park were listed as follows:


  • Reach many people
  • Reach many who are unable to follow trails.
  • Given at night when the people want entertainment.
  • Specialists made available on subjects with which they are thoroughly familiar.
  • Subject material not limited.
  • Gives visitor a perspective of the park and its story.
  • Provides opportunity for announcements.


  • Unable to use natural illustrative material in place.
  • Lecture more formal than guide trips.

It is important that announcements be separated from the lecture, as otherwise they would detract from the effectiveness of the latter. Where possible, announcements should be made by a ranger, by the park naturalist or by some other person than the one giving the lecture.

It is important that the lecturer be formally introduced by some other person wherever possible. This tends to add prestige to the lecture and to concentrate the attention of the audience before the lecture is started.


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