Virtual Tree Tours: Branching Out Into New Territory

In recent months, online events have become the rule, rather than the exception. COVID-19 brought unimaginable changes to the way we all connect with each other and, to adapt, LEAF went virtual. In my journey to re-imagine how the in-person Wychwood Barns Park tree tour could be done online, new and exciting ways of engaging with people emerged.


Going into my second year of coordinating educational programs at LEAF, I knew the ins and outs of running in-person events. Then COVID-19 swept the world and everything was turned upside-down. I never would have imagined that, in 2020, I would become a quasi-YouTuber.


After things settled, one question was left: How can the Wychwood Barns Park tree tour, which was always done in-person, be moved online and still be engaging?

Zoom became the new Netflix. In my quest to see how other speakers engaged with their audience, I binged more webinars over the span of a few weeks than I thought was possible. It was clear to me that online participation came in many forms, from passively absorbing information, to actively engaging with the speakers and others. I found that what made an online event interesting were visually captivating photos on the screen, answering polls and open dialogue during the session. With that in mind, work was underway to put on the first-ever virtual tree tour at LEAF.

Instead of bringing people to the trees, I had to bring the trees to the people. I scouted every tree to capture photos that would best highlight it. An avid believer in “the best way to learn something is to do it”, a mix of poll questions and chat box prompts were incorporated around the images for people to respond to. One example was to invite participants to share how they would describe a particular tree feature on the screen. Try it for yourself: How would you describe the leaf on the right?


Responses included “long, lop-sided,” “serrated/toothed edges” and “tapered/skinny tip” for this hackberry leaf. This dialogue created opportunities for the audience to participate and direct the flow in what was being spoken to, where the speakers would confirm their observations or explain any technical terms mentioned. Poll questions were also used to recall information that was previously discussed or segue into the next topic for the evening in order to give variety to how people could participate and keep things interesting. 

Re-thinking an event for a virtual platform was quite a fun challenge and, in the process, I discovered new ways to engage with people online. If you missed the virtual tree tour, not to worry! LEAF has another virtual tree tour lined up on September 23, centered on the trees at Lake Wilcox Park. Register for the online event today


Lam Tran is the Education Coordinator at LEAF.


This event was supported by the City of Toronto’s Urban Forestry Grant, Ontario Power Generation and GrandTrees Climate Solutions.


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