Avalanche Center Home Update - April 3, 2011

An Update from the Avalanche Center

April 3, 2011
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  • Incidents Blog - March Review
  • Admin Blog - Finance Update
  • Store Blog - Spring Sale
  • Admin Blog - Social Media Project Update
  • Online Education Comment

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Introduction, From the Director

This is the tenth newsletter of the season. It's been two weeks since the last one so we're closer to the frequency we'd like to send these out with. We will never bombard you daily the way some marketing oriented mailings are, but we hate to get so busy that we're out of touch much longer than two weeks.

This newsletter will rely quite a bit once again on links to our new section blogs for some of the more detailed information, rather than including all of it here. Comments are welcome on any of the blogs, and if anyone wants to prepare a full entry we can arrange guest posting for them. Also, one interesting feature on the nucleus blogs is a little "karma" button where you can click + or -, if you'd like to just "vote" on an entry without commenting.

As always, it is essential to comment on our budget situation. We don't like having to constantly point out the costs of running a non-profit any more than readers like to hear it. But nobody has found a magic alternative, which is why you endure radiothons for community radio and get direct mail from groups seeking support. It's easy to just expect that somebody else will pick up the tab. They're not, and we need your support. Keep us in mind if you're getting a tax refund later this month. Our financial information online has been updated through February and there is a little bit more below with a link to the admin blog.

On the topic of budgets, there was a lot of commotion recently over allegedly intended cuts to the budget of the CAIC, which is a state agency within the CO government. There were immediate calls on forums to write letters, and lots of people immediately wrote donation checks. It turns out that the threat of budget cuts was not only not real, the budget was being increased by the state to add another part time forecaster at the very time of all this commotion. This clarification was posted in our forums and directly quotes a response from a state senator. The reaction to this false alarm is a classic example of jumping on the bandwagon without collecting information and making an independent decision - something avalanche classes supposedly discourage.

Finally, we have not yet updated the current quiz but have it on the list. For now the one on precipitation is still available. The next one will hopefully be a crossword from the safe travel section of our online course. We've found the quizzes, even for enrolled students, are very useful teaching tools as well as assessments. Crossword quizzes seem to be inherently this way. Of course we are still assuming this format can be adopted for use outside the courseware, so far we have not been able to implement matching quizzes so there is a chance the crosswords will be the same way.

Incidents Blog - March Review

The Incidents section is current for fatalities in the US, Canada, and Switzerland. For this season we have 47 incident entries and 59 fatalities entered at this time. Our searchable database now has 1663 accident reports going back to the 1998-1999 season that can be searched, sorted and filtered.

A couple weeks ago we pointed out that March can sometimes be one of the months with the greatest number of fatalities. It turns out that over the past ten seasons it ranks fourth, although 2nd, 3rd and 4th are almost identical. This year it did turn out to be the deadliest month in the US, although not by much of a margin since there have not been very many total fatalities compared to most seasons. The average per season over the most recent ten complete seasons is 31 or 32, so far this season there have been 14 or 15. (These numbers are for the US only.)

There are some graphs and additional comments on the Incidents Section Blog, which now has a link to it near the top of the main section page. Feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog.

Looking over the ten year average we see that April does generally show a drop in fatalities. In addition to seasonal snowpack factors (which are average and can vary) there tend to be less people out and about. Whatever the reasons are, we generally see less fatalities in April in North America.

Admin Blog - Finance Update

You're most likely not interested in how we fund our work as long as we're still here, but it's tough and gets harder each year. We rely very much on our supporters to contribute. Or at least purchase gear from us and tell their friends to as well. (This is important since we now raise significantly more on sales than from contributions.)

Our publicly posted graphs are now current through February and show that we very much need your help and support. A post in the Admin Blog goes into it a bit more with links to a few key graphs, and you can find all of our information from the finance index page. Even though few people care about this stuff we have always taken time to post budget details online just as a matter of principle. We're a non-profit seeking donations and you should be able to see what we raise and what we spend.

At least we have never resorted to sports illustrated type calendars. We used to joke about doing this since the websites that were first making big bucks were the adult ones. (They're probably still the most profitable.) Even as a joke a few people found it objectionable. We certainly never considered it. Thus we were surprised a few years ago when two of the largest avalanche centers in North America actually did try this. They at least announced that they were going to publish calendars with women of the avalanche world , we never saw the actual calendars. The idea seemed to go quietly away. We may struggle and have an incredibly small budget but we haven't gone that far in our fundraising. However, we did find this quite amusing given our past joking about it.

Store Blog - Spring Sale

We recently announced our spring sale on the Store Blog. Or you can just go to the public sale page in the store, or for greater savings go to the members store page.

The items we are sitting on in stock are only 10% off to the public at the moment while members get the opportunity to purchase the same things at 30% off (with no shipping). We give members a chance for a little while but soon we will increase the public discount. This is likely to happen between newsletters so you just need to check back on the sale page, and hope any items you wanted haven't yet been purchased.

Admin Blog - Social Media Project Update

Back in December and January we were excited about an offer we had received from Wildfire Studios to help us develop a stronger and more useful social media presence. They seemed to just disappear without a word, and a longer description of that experience is posted on the Admin Blog in the Organization section.

Well it now seems they are back and the project may still be on. Out of the blue we received an email that we've been assigned a volunteer campaign manager that we should hear from soon. The blog post has been updated at the top and with a comment, and further updates will be added as comments until there is something significant enough for a new entry or inclusion in a newsletter.

Apparently one reason they disappeared for a while was the need to revamp their program due to changes at Facebook in how fan pages work. Facebook seems to have a habit of doing this fairly often - changing the way key things work just as users are getting used to them.

Online Education Comment

It was mentioned above that assessments in our course often play a key instructional role as well as assessing progress. We have found that the online approach provide a great deal of insight into how students approach the material and how they learn. And it's not the same for every student, of course. This allows us to make improvements to the material and the course based on what we discover about the methods of learning, as well as on explicit feedback.

The following quote was interesting to come across given our own experiences:

"When students are learning online, there are multiple opportunities to exploit the power of technology for formative assessment. The same technology that supports learning activities gathers data in the course of learning that can be used for assessment (Lovett, Meyer, and Thille 2008). An online system can collect much more and much more detailed information about how students are learning than manual methods."

It's a lot more academic than our recreational program, we have never talked about such things as "formative assessment". But we have been able to discern a lot more about how students learn than is possible in a traditional approach.


We are up to 801 friends on Facebook and adding a few more each day. Are you one of them? If you are have you suggested us to any of your friends?

Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

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