Fundamentally, the problem of communication can be traced to a difference of perspectives, and a lack of empathy (on all sides) I would argue there are a few different positions that a person involved in VEX can be in:
- Team Adult (Parent, Coach, etc)
- Event Partner
Now there’s a lot of overlap there, and many people (especially on the forums) wear several of these hats. The fundamental disagreement between each of these groups comes from a difference in the goals of each.
Student Competitors and Team Adults have a more team-focused view of the program. To them, success in VEX Robotics is directly related to the success of the team for which they are directly involved. Success here is largely up to the team: it could mean competitive success, whether the team had fun, number of students who are now going into STEM fields, etc. This is not to say that these people don’t care about their region/the program as a whole, but I think it’s fair to say that most competitors and coaches define the success of VRC in terms of what their team(s) got out of it.
Event Partners have a little bit of a broader view. To them, the success of VRC/VEXIQ is related to their region. If you’ve ever been involved in an event, you know that it can be very difficult to keep track of a single team, especially when you are busy running an event. This is why Event Partners prioritize their schedule (and consequently Bo1), because, from their perspective, the success of the program is based on the success of competitions (a perfectly rational idea, it is the VEX Robotics Competition after all). Again, this is not to say that Event Partners don’t care about individual teams, just that an event is still successful even if a single team isn’t happy with it (you will basically never run an event where every single team who participated is happy with it)
The RECF has a broader view still. As a 501© charitable organization, it is imperative that they are showing that they are making a measurable impact. I would encourage you to look at what exactly the RECF says in their annual reports (2017), as it can give you great insight into what exactly they are prioritizing. Some of the relevant sections are quoted below
From Dan Mantz’s opening letter:
We now engage students on over 20,000 competitive robotics teams in 50 countries. Our staff and event partners ensured a fantastic competition experience by offering over 1,700 events this past season. As a result of our collective effort, 93 percent of teams report their intent to return to competitive robotics next season.
The REC Foundation and VEX Robotics are working to make robotics reflective of the diverse world we live in. Our dynamic Girl Powered initiative includes
team grants, workshops, Online Challenges, a new website and support materials. Over the course of the past year, the participation among young women grew from 23 percent to 29 percent. We are very excited about this and many of our other great new programs.
Page 7, STEM Education
Even more compelling is the direct feedback from educators, who report that 9 out of 10 students express interest in pursuing STEM careers after participating in the VEX Robotics Competition. Closing the STEM gap remains a complex and multifaceted issue and we are confident we’re on the right track. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, during the period 2010–2020, employment in science and engineering occupations will grow by 18.7%, compared to 14.3% for all occupations. This is promising news and an even more compelling call to action to redouble our efforts to provide students with hands-on, fun, and challenging robotics engineering opportunities.
Based on this information, I think it’s fair to say that the main goals of the RECF are:
- Increasing participation in competitive robotics, especially to target traditionally underrepresented groups & countries
- Preparing those who are already in the program for STEM fields after graduation
A good analogy of the RECF is of that of an Event Partner, but they are managing entire regions instead of teams. In the same way, there’s too much going on be able to focus on a single team or region for any extended period of time.
If anyone from the RECF would like to clarify/correct my assessment of them, I’d love to hear it!
Fundamentally, the problem of communication here on VF is merely a reflection of that difference in metrics for success. What makes it especially a problem is that the vex forum is a confluence of all these different groups in a way that other places aren’t.
Now, on to actionables! In order to fix this, I would argue that each person should make a concerted, active effort to understand each position, and why each group does the things they do. It’s my (maybe naive) belief that most everyone involved in VEX are not evil, or uncaring, and are generally want to see the program grow and be successful.
For Students, Coaches, and Parents, I would encourage you to volunteer at a local tournament. It really makes you think about events differently, and can help you empathize with why event partners do things the way they do. The more involved you are, the more you’ll get out of it; being a head ref is great for this. I’m sure Event Partners would love to have you!
For Event Partners, it’s important to underscore just how involved & dedicated students can be. Just a single local competition can be the end result of thousands of student hours from across your entire region. I would try to build a little wiggle room into your schedule so that the event isn’t as rushed. Relaxing the pace at events can go a long way to make sure that everyone is having a good time.
To the RECF, you create and mold the competitive landscape to balance all of these different metrics of success. The more information you have, the better you’ll be able to do this. Actions like the Student Advisory Board and the thread requesting feedback on Team Kits are great for this and really demonstrate that you are not acting in a vacuum.