Using digital media and the online world to connect people to nature
By Emma Schell, Scheduling Coordinator
With the onset of COVID-19 and a variety of shelter-in-place orders throughout the country, many educational and nonprofit organizations have turned to digital media and the online world to continue connecting with their customers and audiences.
The Chattahoochee Nature Center is no different. In a surprisingly short amount of time, educators and administrators at the Chattahoochee Nature Center have churned out a variety of programs, resources, and activities in an all-new digital format.
Here are seven ways that the Chattahoochee Nature Center has taken the digital world by storm:
1. Online Spring Native Plant Sale
The Chattahoochee Nature Center’s Horticulture Department hosts two plant sales every year – one in the spring and one in the fall. Traditionally, these sales happen at the CNC greenhouse and Unity Garden, where hundreds of shoppers browse through native Georgia plants, cultivated by the horticulture team.
With shelter-in-place orders issued just days before the Spring Plant Sale was set to begin, the horticulture team and marketing department kicked it into high-gear and converted the entire operation into an online-order, drive-through event.
The horticulture team created an online order form and utilized CNC’s newly improved e-commerce system for payment, and then filled the Center’s parking lot to the brim with the plants that they had sold. Buyers entered the parking lot, drove up to the spot with their name, and loaded their new plants directly into their car.
With this new system in place, CNC’s horticulture team sold 8,347 plants during their 2020 Spring Native Plant Sale. The revenue from this sale helps to support CNC’s horticulture projects, including the Unity Garden, which donates fresh produce to the North Fulton Community Charities Food Pantry every week, even during this time of closures.
2. Virtual Merit Badge Programs
The Chattahoochee Nature Center is a popular destination for scout groups, and it offers a variety of programs to help scouts earn badges and awards.
Two such programs were scheduled for the weekend of March 21st and 22nd, and, rather than canceling these programs, the Community Programs team buckled down and turned their Nature Merit Badge and Environmental Merit Badge programs into entirely digital experiences.
Through a combination of pre-recorded videos, live video chat meetings, and activity sheets with external resources, the Community Programs team helped 25 scouts earn their merit badges while sheltering-in-place at home.
3. Georgia Forestry Foundation Partnership
The CNC’s school program team has partnered with the Georgia Forestry Foundation for over three years to deliver educational after school programs in the metro Atlanta area. These programs focus on forest conservation, forest management, and forestry careers.
When school buildings closed and educators transitioned to online learning, over 20 of these after school programs had to be canceled. Although this was a devastating change, the Georgia Forestry Foundation quickly turned around with a new plan: a weekly email to teachers, brimming with educational resources.
CNC’s education team created five different educational videos. Each video focused on a different aspect of forests in Georgia and featured one of CNC’s non-releasable, resident animals in the discussion.
Each video was accompanied by a custom-made activity sheet that encourage students to continue exploring and learning, even after the video ended.
These videos were sent out weekly to 2,317 teachers in Georgia, so that they could continue to connect their students to science, nature, and conservation, even from a distance.
4. The Virtual Nature Exchange
The Nature Exchange is a long-standing staple of the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Located in the lower level of the Discovery Center, it is a place where children and adults alike can indulge their fascination with the natural world and build up an impressive collection that reflects this fascination.
Participants can bring in items from nature to trade, earn points for what they find, and use those points to take home prizes like geodes, shells, skulls, fossils, and more.
Unfortunately, the Nature Exchange’s physical location is closed at the moment to help reduce access to high-traffic, high-touch areas at the Nature Center. But the Nature Center’s ingenuity knows no bounds, and traders can still earn points through the Virtual Nature Exchange.
The process is simple: Traders can post photos and videos of their discoveries on the Nature Exchange Facebook Page, and they will be awarded points by the Naturalists monitoring that page. Once the Nature Exchange reopens, they can redeem their points for all sorts of goodies.
5. Nature Journaling Facebook Series
In celebration of Earth Day, CNC’s education team put together a series of videos on the topic of Nature Journaling. One video was released every week during the month of April, each featuring instructions for a different type of journal entry.
Though the Nature Journaling series is now over, it can still be accessed on both CNC’s Facebook Page and YouTube Channel. Additionally, the education team will continue to post short, educational tidbits each week on the CNC Facebook Page.
6. Virtual Animal Encounters
Though school and community buildings closed in mid-March, the learning did not stop. Teachers and event organizers turned to online tools, such as video chat, to stay connected with their students and community.
It wasn’t long until these ingenious folks reached out to CNC’s education team and asked if they might be interested in joining these chats. Without hesitation, the education team said, “Yes!”
So far, CNC Naturalists have met with five different groups via online video chat, each time bringing one of CNC’s resident, non-releasable animals to the conversation. Participants in these chats get to see the animal up-close, hear what the naturalist knows about the animal, and best of all, ask any burning questions they might have.
The reception of these video chat cameos has been extremely positive – and now the education team is looking to make such “Virtual Animal Encounters” a permanent part of their programming catalog.
7. Georgia Eco-Regions Youtube Series
The Chattahoochee Nature Center is a popular field-trip destination for schools, and one of the most-loved programs is the Georgia Eco-Regions program. When the education team learned that schools would no longer be able to visit the Center for their spring field-trips, they put they heads together and figured out a way to bring this program into the students’ homes.
For five weeks, the education team produced a different video featuring one of CNC’s resident animals and detailing its connection with a different Eco-Region of Georgia. These videos were shared with over 500 local teachers, along with activity sheets that they could give to their students.
Though schools were unable to visit the Nature Center during their spring semester, the education team found new and innovative ways to keep connecting students to nature.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way people connect with the nonprofits and educational organizations in their community, and it has accelerated the adoption of new technologies among these organizations. Though the CNC is now opening its doors once more and hoping to reinstate in-person programs soon, the game has forever been changed.
CNC team members continue to brainstorm ways that they can modify and expand programs in a digital format, and there is an air of enthusiasm about the new possibilities.
Be on the lookout for new and exciting digital offerings from the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The innovation is far from over.