Where there’s an internet connection, there’s a way to share nature engagement.
By Christine Chessler-Stull, Volunteer and Membership Coordinator
Matthaei-Nichols docents pose for a group photo in mid-February 2020 about a month prior to the COVID closure. Would-be docents go through a 9-week training early in the year. The 2020 docent team was in its final weeks of training when the pandemic hit.
As I write, we have been closed to the public for 212 days. The pandemic has resulted in many missed events and experiences at Matthaei-Nichols, but it also has allowed our volunteers to create and collaborate like never before!
While most of our volunteer programs have been on hold for the last eight months, a group of nine volunteer docents continue to work remotely. And they’ve produced some fantastic virtual content. Since April, this group of volunteers led by Liz Glynn, Matthaei-Nichols youth education coordinator, have put in 300 hours of effort!
Docent Kathy Friedrichs, rear left, conducts a tour for schoolchildren in the conservatory at Matthaei. While nothing can completely replace the experience of a live tour, our video tours provide an entertaining and informative opportunity for learning, all packed into a easy-to-watch three- to four-minute video.
Videos Open a Virtual Gateway
We know videos can’t fully replace the experience of walking our trails on a sunny fall morning or exploring the smells and sights of our conservatory. Even so, they have made these spaces accessible no matter where our audience lives. With many schools hosting an online semester or hybrid learning, we wanted to be ready with our own virtual materials.
Kathy Wirstrom, volunteer docent for 12 years and a retired teacher with 32 years of experience, has been instrumental in creating videos during our closure. “I hope that families will see these videos as a sort of gateway to Matthaei, introducing them to parts of the property they might not have experienced before and encouraging them to explore,” said Wirstrom about what she hopes folks can gain from our virtual experiences this fall.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of not being involved with the Arb and Gardens in some way,” Wirstrom added. “Being a docent is a very important part of who I am. It was interesting to brainstorm with Liz Glynn and the other docents on ways to engage with our public while Matthaei and the schools are closed. I had some experience a few years ago in helping to create a virtual tour of the conservatory, so I thought we might be able to do something similar outdoors.” Wirstrom and fellow docent volunteer, Greg Nowak, were able to accomplish just that this summer.
In this video, Matthaei-Nichols docent Kathy Wirstrom explains what makes the tulip tree such an amazing plant.
From IRL to URL
Although some docent volunteers had experience with virtual engagement prior to the pandemic, most found the sudden shift from hands-on activities to a new virtual experience to be the biggest learning curve.
Some docents, like Mary Fowler, were familiar with virtual learning but still found certain aspects of it—for example shifting activities like plant ID to a virtual format and researching the best methods to share this type of information—to be a new process. Fowler has been a volunteer for six years and is a new docent of the 2020 class.
In real life, Liz Glynn (in light-blue shirt, bottom-center) leads a 2019 field trip to Fleming Creek at Matthaei for students participating in the Wolverine Pathways program. Students are invited to get into the creek to collect samples for examination and to determine the health of the waterway. While Matthaei-Nichols has remained closed this year due to the pandemic, docents continue to film videos to fill in the learning gaps. Not only are videos effective learning tools, they are also easily saved and shared for future reference in a virtual learning library on our YouTube channel.