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An evaluation of a Headwaters Institute watershed seminar.


The Headwaters Institute is a non-profit organization with a mission "to provide education that inspires individuals and communities to care for and connect with their watershed" (Hicks, 2006). The Headwaters Institute's main purpose is to offer seminars throughout the country. These seminars are focused on providing river raft guides with education and support so that they may act not only as guides, but also as environmental interpreters. Since 1996, Headwaters Institute seminars have been expanded to train not only river guides, but also sea kayaking and fly-fishing guides as well as other individuals who may have the opportunity to play the role of environmental interpreters to the public. "In putting [these guides] through ... educational seminars, the institute hopes to inspire participants to be better interpreters of rivers' natural and cultural history, which will give their clients a better appreciation of the waterways they float" (Reimers, 1999). However, little information has been obtained regarding how effective the Headwaters Institute seminars have been in achieving this goal.

Study Purpose

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of participation in a Headwaters Institute Watershed seminar in increasing attendees' efficacy perceptions regarding his or her ability to: 1) teach specific information about the environment, and 2) motivate clients to learn about the environment.


Research indicates that quality interpretation in recreation and tourism settings can be a key element in whether recreationists understand and appreciate the role of the natural environment in their recreation and their own role in the protection of that environment (Madin & Fenton, 2004; Tubb, 2003; Roggenbuck et al, 1992; Sharpe, 1982). A guide's self-efficacy concerning his or her ability to convey such information may directly determine the potential outcome of this effort.

While talent, skill, and physical and psychological environment influence direction, performance, and health, it is the individual's judgment regarding his or her effectiveness (or efficacy) that mediates the influence of the aforementioned factors (Bandura, 1997). Therefore, an individual's perceived self-efficacy is an indicator of maintenance, effort, and performance of specific behaviors (Bandura, 1997).

Considerable research has investigated the link between perceived self-efficacy and performance (Bandura, 1997; Cevrone, 1989; Oliver & Cronan, 2002). Specifically related to this study, one's sense of efficacy regarding his or her ability to teach has also been shown to be related to student outcomes (Ross, 1992; Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989). A teacher with a higher perceived self-efficacy regarding teaching ability is more likely to have higher achieving and more motivated students (Bandura, 1997).


The Headwaters Institute Western North Carolina Watershed Seminar took place May 24, 2007, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The opening session of the seminar, "The State of the French Broad River Basin" was attended by all participants. Each participant could then attend two of the three morning sessions: Basic Birding, Tree Identification, and Fish Ecology and Identification, and two of the three afternoon sessions: Stream Entomology, Geology, and Wildflower Identification.

Upon arrival, each participant filled out a pre-test survey. At the end of their last class, each participant filled out an identical post-test survey, both returned on-site. The survey was based on the Science Teaching Efficacy Belief instrument (Riggs & Knocks, 1990), and followed the methods described in Bandura's (2001) Guide for Constructing Efficacy Scales. One of Bandura's main points in this guide is his suggestion not to use an "all-purpose" instrument that claims to measure self-efficacy. Instead, the questions should be activity specific, for example, the specific activity of teaching about birds of the area. Bandura also suggests that questions be formatted in a Lykert-type scale. The survey was constructed of 16 Lykert-type scale perceived teaching self-efficacy items. Eight of these questions were regarding perceptions of one's ability to motivate and inspire others to learn. This was termed motivation efficacy. An example of a motivation efficacy question is: "How much can you motivate a client/student who shows little interest in learning about the watershed?" The other eight questions on the survey were regarding perceptions of one's ability to teach specific content. This was termed specific content efficacy. An example of a specific content efficacy question is: "How confident are you in your ability to teach your clients/students about the birds of your area?" The survey also included basic demographic questions, including age, gender, type of position (job), and length of time in that position. The scale was found to be reliable, with a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of 0.87.


A total of 30 individuals attended the Western North Carolina Watershed Seminar. Eighteen participants were female, 12 were male. All attendees participated in the study. The average age of participants was 30, with a range from 18 to 63. The participants fell into three basic categories of job type: raft guides (30%), fishing guides (6.7%), and environmental educators (63.3%). Paired samples t-tests were run to determine if there were significant differences between pre- and post-test specific content efficacy, motivation efficacy, and a combination of the two, termed "total teaching efficacy."Mean scores for all attendees on the pretest surveys indicated at least a midpoint score of "somewhat confident" score with regards to motivating efficacy All three comparisons were found to be significant (p< .005), indicating an increase in self-efficacy as a result of the seminar training. Neither age, gender, position, nor length of time in the field were found to be significant predictors of total teaching efficacy or motivation efficacy. However, a significant difference was found (p= .007) between male and female post-test specific content efficacy. Further investigation revealed that, while both genders showed significant increases in specific content efficacy, men came into the seminar with a higher (though not significantly so) specific content efficacy than women, and on average,males had significantly higher specific content postteaching scores than women did.


In the current study,mean scores for all attendees on the pre-test surveys indicated at least a midpoint score of "somewhat confident" score with regards to motivating efficacy. However, pre-test scores for specific content efficacy were higher (though not significantly so) for male participants than female participants. All mean scores then increased by statistically significant measures following the seminar training, with the scores for the men resulting in a significantly higher specific teaching efficacy score than the women. This suggests that regardless of confidence level coming in, participation in the seminar was still effective in increasing self-efficacy. In that the people who attended the seminar did so voluntarily and so were an already interested/self-selected group of participants, it makes sense that they would likely be motivated to learn. Regardless of how confident they were about their ability to teach and motivate,most were still able to benefit from attendance and increase this confidence level related to information presented. This may reflect a variety of ways in which the seminar could have an impact on self-efficacy. For example, either the seminar introduced new and previously unknown information to participants, presented new and engaging ways to teach or present the information to future clients, or perhaps it was the very factor of being engaged in and simply attending the seminar with like minded professionals that lead to the increased scores. The significant difference between male and female post-test specific content self-efficacy scores deserves further investigation.

For future participants not attending voluntarily (i.e., attendance is required as part of staff training), participation may still have a similar impact. However, non-volunteers might come into the training with less motivation to learn as well as with a lower initial self-efficacy concerning their knowledge base and ability to motivate. Therefore, coordinators may consider gearing the content to better meet participants at their level, so that they would have an opportunity for several small successes, creating greater probability for efficacy enhancement. This may include not only offering sessions that teach specific information, but also offering sessions that focus on facilitation and teaching skills that are appropriate in the guide/client circumstance.


These results indicate that participation in the Western North Carolina Watershed Seminar, regardless of age, gender, job type, or length of time in the field, did indeed increase participants teaching efficacy perceptions. Research shows that interpretation programs not only add to visitor enjoyment, but also help protect the very resources upon which that recreation is based (Madin & Fenton, 2004; Tubb, 2003; Roggenbuck et al, 1992; Sharpe, 1982). Previous research has also indicated that river guides may be an important, and potentially underused, source through which environmental interpretation can take place (Bange, 1984; Roggenbuck,Williams, & Bobinski 1992).

In the effort to increase knowledge and awareness of our ecosystems and watersheds, the Headwaters Institute has developed a system that supports a continent-wide network of educators by focusing its efforts on professional guides that have the opportunity to act as ambassadors and spread information. The results of this study indicate that this first step, the empowering of these ambassadors, is one that is being accomplished. Subsequent research should explore the next step in the Headwaters Institute objectives, the impact that seminar attendees have on their client's experience of the river and attitudes towards conservation.


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Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York:W.H. Freeman.

Bange, S. P. (1984). Normative influence processes among New River Gorge Boaters. Unpublished master's thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg.

Cervone, D. (1989). Effects of envisioning future activities on self-efficacy judgments and motivation: An availability heuristic interpretation. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 13, 247-261.

Hicks, T. (2006). Headwaters institute at ten: Still providing leadership in watershed education [On-line]. Available:

Madin, Elizabeth M. P., & Fenton D.M. (2004). Environmental interpretation in the Great Barrier Reef marine park: An assessment of programme effectiveness. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 12(2), 121-137.

Midgley, C., Feldlaufer, H., & Eccles, J. (1989). Change in teacher efficacy and student self-and task-related beliefs in mathematics during the transition to junior high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 247-258.

Oliver, K., & Cronan, T. (2002). Predictors of exercise behaviors among fibromyalgia patients. Preventive Medicine, 35(4), 383-389.

Orams, M.B. (1996). Using interpretation to manage nature-based tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 4(2), 81-94.

Reimers, F. (1999). Grassroots conservation with the headwaters institute. Paddler Magazine, [on-line]. Available:

Riggs, I., & Knocks, L. (1990). Towards the development of an elementary teacher's science teaching efficacy belief instrument. Science Education, 74, 625-637.

Roggenbuck, J.W.,Williams, D. R., & Bobinski, C. T. (1992). Public-private partnership to increase commercial guides' effectiveness as nature interpreters. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 10 (2), 41-51.

Ross, J.A. (1992). Teacher efficacy and the effect of coaching on student achievement. Canadian Journal of Education, 17 (1), 51-65.

Sharpe, G.W. (1982). An overview of interpretation. In G.W. Sharpe (ed.) Interpreting the Environment. New York: Wiley.

Tubb, K.N. (2003). An evaluation of the effectiveness of interpretation in within Dartmoor National Park in reaching the goals of sustainable tourism development. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 11 (6), 476-498.

Marion B. Harrison Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Health, Leisure, and Exercise Science

Appalachian State University

Holmes Convocation Center

ASU Box 32071

Boone, North Carolina 28608

(828) 262-6324

Fax: (828) 262-3138

Sarah Banks Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Health, Leisure, and Exercise Science

Appalachian State University
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:IN SHORT
Author:Harrison, Marion B.; Banks, Sarah
Publication:Journal of Interpretation Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Previous Article:Why we should communicate, rather than interpret: a reply.
Next Article:A note from the editor.

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