Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Philip E. van Beynen

Keywords

environmental education, informal education, interpretation, karst, show cave, tour guide

Abstract

Despite the abundance of karst terrains and the important role they play in a wide variety of roles including supplying freshwater drinking supplies, no single, comprehensive study investigates the role of informal education for the improved understanding and protection of the terrains. Commonly overlooked anthropogenic karst disturbances partially occur because of the poor dissemination of scientific information to the general populace and policymakers and budgetary and time constraints of municipalities, thus generating a need to use informal education to fill these shortcomings. The purpose of this study was to: 1) establish the status of and quantify the amount of karst-related informal education efforts pursued in the United States and abroad, 2) reveal if any differences in the nature of educational material exist with ownership (i.e. private vs. governmental) at karst attractions, and 3) evaluate the outcomes of increasing the educational karst material presented to show cave visitors through guided tours. The results of this study reveal that karst education is overall lacking in the United States and internationally, the focus of most recent educational endeavors is bats, and educational programs for children far outnumber the quantity of programs available to adult learners. This research also reveals that disconnects between the actuality of current show cave program characteristics and tour guide and manager opinions about informal karst education are abundant. Furthermore, although differences exist in the nature of the educational material presented to visitors during guided tours, the quality and quantity of material at both privately- and publicly-owned facilities is often significantly lacking. Yet, through field-based research this research proves minimal changes to tour content and guide re-training, can result in successfully increasing visitor karst knowledge while simultaneously maintaining the entertainment value of show cave operations.

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