Alberta Professor Creates Online Avalanche Course Using Playmobil Characters Amid COVID-19

A professor at Mount Royal University has found a way to bring a backcountry course indoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March institutions were asked to host their classes online as the virus forced schools to close across the province, but that didn’t stop Associate Professor Ian Sherrington from creating a virtual avalanche program for his students.

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A winter backcountry travel course at MRU requires students to complete outdoor avalanche training, and Sherrington made this possible by creating an interactive lesson featuring Playmobil characters.

“I decided to use this as an opportunity to find creative ways to motivate students who are used to active, experiential learning,” said Sherrington.

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A scene that was created with Playmobil characters as part of online avalanche training at the MRU.

Mount Royal University

With the help of his wife, the couple created virtual avalanche scenes in their backyard that helped students explore methods of route finding, information gathering, effective group management and avalanche rescue, Sherrington said.

“After we were set up, I took photos and woven them into a virtual scenario that walked students through every step of the guidance, decision-making, and actions required to create a safe and enjoyable backcountry experience.”

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With Calgary experiencing some snow showers in April, Sherrington added that his students were able to effectively apply what they learned in the course outdoors.

“After I taught them the theory of avalanche search, the students could go to their local parks and practice,” he said.

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“We were blessed with snow in the city well into April, which did this job very well.”

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