June 3, 2019 at 12:57 pm

Certified Interpretive Guide Training Sparks Collaboration

Jordan Zdinak

Through Certified Interpretive Guide training, Jessica Cyders ’06 and Jordan Zdinak ’20 have not only become colleagues and collaborators, they also have honed their ability to impart specialized knowledge to the public.

Cyders, Executive Director of the Southeastern Ohio History Center, earned a B.A. in History from Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences.

Zdinak is a current M.A. student in History, with an emphasis on race relations. Cyders is providing guidance for Zdinak’s exhibit to memorialize Christopher Davis, a biracial man who, in 1881, was lynched on the Richland Avenue bridge in Athens.

Cyders and Zdinak met through their mutual participation in the nationally renowned Certified Interpretive Guide program, which teaches best practices to those who provide public education, gallery talks, seminars, and tours.

“The major piece of advice in CIG training is to make sure you emphasize your main message at the beginning and end of your presentation. Tell your audiences what you want them to take away from your tour, talk, or exhibit,” Zdinak explains.

A Student-Alumnus Collaboration

Cyders was part of Zdinak’s audience for her Certified Interpretive Guide presentation on Christopher Davis. At the training program, they discovered that they could each benefit from one another’s expertise.

“Jessica and I met every week to talk about my research materials and primary sources. She has guided me in wrapping my head around some of the material that is especially hard to grapple with. I’m definitely building upon Jessica’s experience,” Zdinak states.

Cyders, too, describes their collaboration as mutually beneficial.

“Working with students is rewarding, especially students like Jordan who have a passion for what they’re researching,” she states. “As we dig into their projects, students introduce me to things I’d never heard of, such as Jordan’s discoveries. It’s a privilege to help them find something that nobody else knows about.”

Honing Presentation Skills and Teaching Techniques

The National Association for Interpretation, which provides Certified Interpretive Guide training, explains, “Whether you’re a new hire, a professional looking to refresh your skills, or beginning a second career, this course will aid you in improving your presentation techniques. The course combines the theoretical foundations of the profession with practical strategies in delivering quality interpretive programming to visitors.”

In conjunction with the NAI, Ohio University offers Certified Interpretive Guide training, which consists of a 32-hour course, plus certification in interpretation. Cyders explains that the program consists of four full days of education, followed by a day of presentations for those who want to earn official certification.

Keeping Student Audiences Engaged

“CIG training is a way to make sure an audience stays engaged, that we’re not just ‘guide-talking’ to the audience,” Cyders states. Leading a tour or giving a talk, she notes, is really about opening up a conversation with one’s audience.

“It’s all about engagement, creating that back and forth dialogue with the audience,” she adds.

In Cyders’ role as Executive Director of the Southeastern Ohio History Center, she works with a wide variety of audiences, including elementary school students, middle-schoolers, and adults. The ability to work with such distinct groups, she notes, is a highlight of her job.

Cyders used her Certified Interpretive Guide training to help administer an education series to a group of eighth-grade students who were learning to evaluate primary sources. Every Tuesday for one month, Cyders met with local eighth-graders to study photographs, documents, and objects.

The goal of the series was to teach students different methods for evaluating and interpreting such items, and to give them experience in applying those methods.

“Eventually, the students considered the items’ cultural and historical contexts. By the end of the month, their work was college-level! I believe this will help them as they enter high school,” Cyders explains.

Cyders also applied her Certified Interpretive Guide training when working with second- and third-graders on history and language arts.

“With the elementary group, the goal was to get them to use language arts terms to discuss history. I’d ask, for example, ‘Can you make a connection between these objects? Can you make a supposition about this item? Can you draw a big idea that shows what this exhibit is about?’ It was really rewarding to see them make those connections,” Cyders states.

Bringing CIG Skills to the Athens Area

Cyders’ familiarity with Certified Interpretive Guide principles also allowed her to highlight and share the area’s rich history, including the Ridges, with broader audiences.

“We’re using real material culture to show the importance of this place,” Cyders explains. “We want to tell a bigger story about the shared history of the region, including its industries and institutions. For example, almost everyone can say they knew someone who worked at the Ridges—it really is part of our shared history in this area.”

2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the Ridges. To commemorate this milestone, the Southeastern Ohio History Center worked with Ohio University, Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare, Athens NAMI, and the community at large.

OHIO’s vast collection of local history materials, particularly those belonging to Alden Library, helped contribute to the events surrounding the Ridges anniversary.

“A lot of OHIO’s materials have been digitized,” Cyders explains. “In fact, the SEOHC’s collection is digitized via Alden. The State of Ohio’s Library Collection is digitized via Alden, as well.”

Using CIG Training to Teach Local History

Zdinak, whose Fall 2019 exhibit at the SEOHC memorializes Athens lynching victim Christopher Davis, used her Certified Interpretive Guide training to help audiences engage with her project—and to tell Davis’ story.

“CIG training helped me conceptualize the exhibit’s message,” Zdinak states.

In her end-of-week presentation to her fellow Certified Interpretive Guide-trainees, Zdinak provided information about Davis and asked the audience to evaluate some of the research materials she provided.

“I was able to lay out the facts of Davis’ case while involving the audience,” she remarks. “I printed copies of the census record and gave them to the audience. I asked them to conduct research based on newspaper articles I’d displayed, and I asked them to find and discuss the significance of the discrepancies in the newspaper articles.”

Zdinak reiterates that Certified Interpretive Guide training provides indispensable information for those who regularly engage in public speaking.

“I think the CIG program would be very helpful for Teaching Assistants at Ohio University. It’s important to learn how to engage students in the classroom,” she states.


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