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Author(s): Brent Bell
Posted: July 13, 2007

I told Rick I would “blog” about research in outdoor education not really understanding the world of blogging.  So I am working out the kinks in my own learning curve.  I certainly do not do a whole lot of working with newer tech stuff because it takes time away from making progress on those pesky research projects piling up and calling out for my attention.

In my short time as a developing researchers I am discovering that it is a difficult skill, not easily developed.  My hope is to become better and better at this skill set.  I do love getting my hands upon data and seeing what comes of it.  The ability of coming across a new piece of information is completely thrilling and satisfies my questions and curiosities.   I still remember working as a risk manager and collecting incident and accident forms.  The forms were all shoved into manilla folders and kept in a file cabinet drawer.  I came across this pile of data and began to sit down put it into some reasonable form–but I had no idea what I was looking for, I just started working with data.  Soon I was slicing the data in different ways, how many accidents occurred on different types of trips, what was the accident rate per million hours of use, what time of day were most accidents occuring.  Each question led to another question.  I spent a few days crunching numbers, sorting data, creating new categories and keeping a curious mind satified.  Out of the data came an unknown but startling pattern.  Accidents were occuring on bike programs on the second or third day at a very high rate, then trailing off towards zero as the trip progressed.  For instance, a mtn. bike trip beginning on day 1, would have maybe six accidents on day two, three accidents on day three, one accident on day four and no accidents for the rest of the trip.  Looking at the data it suddenly made sense, the highest day of accidents and incidents coincided with the very first day students biked.  This led to questions with leaders trying to explain the pattern. Finally we discovered that students feared being the slowest in the group.  The fear would be most powerful the first day on the bike and to compensate, students would get on their bikes and attempt to go faster, longer, further, higher–going to great lengths to avoid being the slowest.  This one piece of information led to a rethinking of how to manage the first day of riding bikes, which led to a 100% reduction in accidents the next year, and another 50% reduction the following year.  I love when information can be used in a practical manner.  I love discovering and learning new things.  From there I have been hooked on collecting and working with data.  I see the important role it can have in outdoor education.

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