Better Communication on the VEX Forum

#1

This forum is a shared space between vex employees, event partners, mentors, refs, judges, competitors, and parents, as well as people not involved in the vex robotics competition.

Over the last 4 years, I’ve noticed an increasing gap in communication between these groups. Whenever vex or the recf makes a change, for example by switching up the alliance selection and elimination format or by introducing signature events, there tends to be some controversy. But rather than having a sensible discussion to reach a compromise or consensus, often the resulting threads deteriorate into ad hominem attacks, assertions of our own importance or merit, and the thread gets locked or becomes useless. (I don’t mean to pin this on other people- I’ve been responsible for my share of flame wars as well.) As students feel shut down, they resort to petty insults on the discord, and as EPs and mentors feel shut down, they resort to petty insults on the vex teams of the world facebook chat. At an extreme, vex employees may step down or make bad decisions, parents may pull their kids from the program, and judges and volunteers may develop personal grudges against teams in their region or stop volunteering entirely. These changes threaten the viability of the program going forward.

A lot of people are also afraid to speak up. Too often, I’ve heard competitors say things like “I hate bo1 but if I post on the forums I might get black listed by the RECF” or “The EPs always get their way so what’s the point of even posting?” I haven’t spent enough time with EPs and mentors to know if they have similar opinions about competitors and parents, but I think it’s safe to assume some degree of bitterness resides in these circles as well because of the problems on the forums.

The thing is these problems don’t seem to be ubiquitous- not even close. I can’t speak from a mentor’s perspective, but as a competitor, Technic and Meng are two adults who have the complete respect and admiration of the forum and the discord. And individual refs and announcers at Nationals and Worlds are talked about negatively on discord every day, but others are universally respected. Nobody will see eye to eye with another person 100% of the time, but a lot of people are well liked and respected by other groups, and a lot of people aren’t.

Collectively as the community that makes up the forum, with a diversity of opinions, priorities, biases, experiences, and goals, what can we collectively do increase respect between different groups to reach an end goal. How can we be more like the Technic and Meng of our group? I have my own opinions, but I’d like to hear from the community first. What is the best way to solve the issues the forum is facing?

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#2

I feel like there’s not a whole lot we can do. If we go to role-specific categories only some can post in, then we’ll have to deal with further community separation and ensuing confusion and contempt. (Plus the “wrong channel” issue that was all too common on the old forum)

All we can really do is ask everyone to be respectful. But what would that do? Countless times the general Discord has been reached out to, and from what I’ve seen on there recently, there’s been little to no change.

All we can really do is try to be good role models for one another. I’m no saint, but I like to think I’ve impacted at least some on the forum and their posting style. As have the respected individuals, and even Anomaly. For better or for worse, we impact one another.
It’s easy to say just to move on, but certain posts and situations will just be ingrained into us. Those at the top of the posting leaderboards can make a difference by being respectful and encouraging, but that’ll only do so much.

This is a community, and we need to be sure to act like it. There’s only so much we can do as individuals, but if we can make an impact on others, that would be the start to change.

Edit: “Be excellent to each other” -Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Edit #2:

This was an example of not everyone changing just because they were asked to. The Discord has a reputation of being toxic anda hostile, and I was referencing this, though I (and everyone else) understand that not everyone on there is a bad person.

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#3

It’s not entirely on topic, but don’t forget to keep in mind that a lot of discussion you see online will always skew towards those who are dissatisfied. People who are satisfied or ambivalent often don’t go out of their way to talk about it, whereas people who feel put out by one thing or another are much more likely to express it online. And there’s also the fact that negative opinions always tend to stand out more and be more memorable. We do have a fair few threads that roll through that sing the praises of VIQC/VRC, but they are far less memorable and heated than those that devolve into flame wars.

That being said, my answer to your actual question, about how to create a kind and respectful online community, is probably something along these lines: be excellent to each other. To echo @Got_a_Screw_Loose, we’re all here because we like some aspect of robotics or robotics competitions. No one here should be an enemy of someone else here. If you’re on the receiving end of antagonism, bear in mind that the person speaking has forgotten why they should be your comrade and not your enemy (or you may be reading an intention that doesn’t exist, as text can be ambiguous). Answering antagonism with a level head goes a long way to reducing antagonism overall. If you have a concern with something or someone, remember to approach it in that context. E.g. “someone else who likes robotics has done something differently than I would have done” instead of “this person must be the enemy of fun and is conducting a personal attack against me, REEEEE”. People respond much better to “Hey, I saw [thing you did] and I don’t see where you were coming from. Could you help me see your perspective better?” than they do to “OMG THIS IS THE WORST DECISION EVER!1! [thing you did] SPELLS THE DOOM OF OUR REALITY!!¡!”

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#4

I am not agreeing or disagreeing, but I am generally confused by what you are saying.

Who reach out to who? What was asked?

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#5

I think around 50% of the case, simply put, is that many people are young and provoke a lot of drama. We all are young and we have hormones developing in our bodies, mood swings, etc. Even likely in VEXU drama likely persists (but farrrr from High School and Middle School). Asking for complete maturity from students who are still developing the maturity is 100% impossible. But what I see is that VEX is asking for the competitors to at least attempt maturity thoroughly and through self-control, not letting our emotions let our still-developing brains get the best of us.

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#6

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:

  1. Competitor
  2. Team Adult (Parent, Coach, etc)
  3. Event Partner
  4. RECF

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:

  1. Increasing participation in competitive robotics, especially to target traditionally underrepresented groups & countries
  2. 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.

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#7

I agree with this completely. I would say the number one thing to remember on the forum and discord (although I’m not on the discord) is to try to see things from somebody else’s perspective before posting. Here’s an example: A team is competing at the state championship. They’re tired. They’ve been working all year towards this very moment, the finals match. If they win they go to Louisville, Kentucky for the world championships, an honor they’ve been dreaming of since joining VEX. Meanwhile, a certain referee is having a bad day. He got up at 4:30 and drove for two hours to volunteer his valuable time at the competition. Since the very start of the day, he’s heard nothing but complaining and whining from the students he came there to serve. He misses a DQ call that costs that team the trip to worlds.

What the team should know: That ref didn’t have to volunteer his own time. Without volunteers like him, VEX Robotics competition simply couldn’t exist. He’s only human, and makes mistakes just like the rest of the entire human race.

What the ref should know: These kids have worked their hearts out for this opportunity, and there is not much more disappointing to them than their season being ended by a ref. It’s also not unlikely that they know the rulebook better than the ref. After all, they’ve been doing this all year, and chances are, that ref may have just watched the training videos and studied the rules that morning. (I know I did!)

Having been in both of these circumstances, I know from experience that both of these are extremely frustrating. My team needed one more win to go to worlds last season, and there was a questionable pin, the time was disputed. That’s beside the point, it’s over. Another time, I was refereeing a Vex IQ tournament, and experienced multiple instances of kids and parents alike trying to say that they had parked in time, or else that a hub had fallen after the end of the match and not before, the list goes on. Many times ended with them shoving the rulebook in my face, and only once was I wrong. However, that goes to show that both sides must be prepared to admit they are wrong. That is the core of this whole issue, is it not? As both a ref and a competitor, I really feel that admitting when you have made a mistake and being willing to reverse that mistake if at all possible is the one principle that is most essential to participating in Vex competitions, no matter what role you play. The other side is only human, but so are you!

P.S. I am far from innocent in this, I’m just saying what I’ve learned over the years.

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#8

I’d just like to point out that I often find myself getting frustrated mainly by two things:

  • Seeing essentially the same things being posted over and over again
  • Unnecessary ignorance by one group toward another (see @MayorMonty’s post)
    • Especially by competitors toward EPs, which is easily fixable to a great degree simply by volunteering

For example, about the topic of video replays to assist in making referee calls, (to anyone replying: please don’t derail this thread to be about video replays) there has been a fair bit of back-and-forth, primarily between competitors and EPs, to try and identify a workable solution.

This sort of discussion, trying to find an acceptable compromise, is generally fine. But posting things like “I wish video replay was allowed” is really not helpful to anyone; if you are serious about getting video replay implemented, then do your part to help work toward a solution.

But even the aforementioned “fine” discussion becomes tiring after some of the counterarguments, especially those posed by EPs, are called into question by people who clearly have not played a major role in hosting an event, as some even admit.


To competitors and coaches:
Please go volunteer, especially as a judge or referee. You will quickly understand why events are run as they are and why EPs feel the way they do regarding so many topics.

To everyone posting on the forum:
Please try to do some basic research before posting. No one is expecting you to make a perfect, Stack Overflow-quality post, but at least use the forum search to see if your post is redundant and, if not, carefully consider whether your post actually contributes something meaningful before posting.


P.S. I know this may seem somewhat like an attack (especially toward a specific group of people), but that’s not how I meant this post to be. My point is that, if you take some rather simple steps, it will go a long ways toward everyone being more receptive to you and your ideas.

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#9

Please…
Almost everything technical has been answered, the answers can be hard to find but generally using google will get you close.

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#10

Why is this a fair thing to say when the vast majority of refs, judges, and EPs have never been competitors? Especially when it’s the very job of judges to, well, judge competitors?

I was going to try not to get involved in the ensuing discussion, but I’m honestly so tired of this line of reasoning. Especially in a thread about respecting and understanding groups you’re not a part of, telling people to just become part of other groups is totally counterproductive. Would you ever tell an EP to spend a year on a robot to get bo1ed at worlds before giving their honest and informed opinion on the subject?

Let’s try to keep the discussion to bettering communication on the forums by respecting opposing viewpoints, not by shutting them down by asserting our experience.

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#11

Honestly, I think this is mainly happening because of controversial topics. Sometimes I think we as students are too passionate about robotics. We care to the extent that it consumes us, and we become argumentative and stubborn about our opinions. I was strongly against BO1 when it was first put into affect, but now I’m warming up to it, partially because we can tear down tournaments and leave before 23:00 each night. I got to see in the eyes of an event partner why it is so important. We all can’t see from every point of view, and that leads to our disagreements. Honestly, the RECF is headed on the right path to remediation these issues, which I believe @DanMantz deserves a special personal thank you for. He seems to honestly care about our problems, takes time out of his day to read and respond to our concerns, and even goes as far as working on a Student Advisory Board for future decisions. I really hope that ends up being a successful outreach.

I think I recognize this one.

I think you are absolutely correct. Mixing teenagers and arguments about things they are passionate about is a recipe for disaster. Kids are going to be kids.

Personally, I think I am biased on this topic, because I have the ability to set up a solution for this at our local tournaments. I have the equipment and knowledge to do so. The more I think about this, the more I realize that it isn’t practical for many people. Also, I think what happened to us at worlds was a personal experience that made me a stronger supporter for it. I’d like to apologize to you specifically for bringing that up again.

You two really seem have high expectations for a public forum like this. I’d love for this to happen, it’d be wonderful, but unfortunately it won’t happen. That’s just the nature of it. It really is frustrating, and it makes you really feel the pain of teachers.

It always seems personal when someone questions something you obviously have more experience with, and I’ve done this more than I’d like to admit. We all have different points of views, and different experience, and being an event partner is definitely harder than it looks. If someone admits they don’t have experience in something, at least they are acknowledging their biases. That’s a step in the right direction. I still think you should listen to them, so long as they are being respectful. As @MayorMonty said, the kids really are passionate about robots, and they will always be adamant about their views.

I understand where you are coming from. Sometimes it is hard to have productive conversations in a public setting with passionate teenagers. I personally seem to take things more personally than I really should in the end, and that makes me more argumentative than I already was.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect them to. VEX Robotics is just now becoming a widespread activity, it isn’t their fault that they didn’t have the privilege of competing when they were kids.

Ultimately they are volunteering for you, to help you have a fun time, and learn life lessons from robotics. We should really take that into consideration with everything they do.

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#12

“Fair” means something different to everyone, so I will not comment on that.

My point was that, as underlined toward the beginning of my post, competitors and coaches not understanding the perspective of EPs is easily fixable — by volunteering.

The reverse is not nearly as true: the average EP cannot simply become a competitor. The best we as a community can do is hope that, as the program matures, an increasing number of EPs and key volunteers will be VRC alumni themselves.

It is not counterproductive. The best way to respect and understand groups you’re not a part of is to walk a mile in their shoes.

No, but if there was an easy way for most EPs to directly experience VRC as competitors, I would encourage doing so.

Never did I say anyone’s opinions should be shut down, for any reason. But the way to turn your opinions into reality is by finding a suitable compromise with those that disagree with you, and that means walking in their shoes if at all possible.

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#13

I have the requisite equipment and ability as well, which is exactly why I think it is impractical for the average event (and even the average championship).

There’s nothing to apologize for; you are entitled to your opinion. I just wish more people would realize that their opinion does not automatically constitute a solution.

On that note, I must say that, as much as I disagree with @Anomaly on so many topics, he has been doing a good job lately of proposing compromises rather than just voicing an opinion and nothing more.

I agree and understand. I’m just trying to convey that the best way to channel that passion and turn opinions into reality is to see why the “other side” has different views on the matter; then you can work out a solution that makes everyone better-off.

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#14

This is a fairly big claim to make; do you have data to back this statement up?

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#15

Almost every EP I’ve met has competed in robotics of some sort, or has competed in something. Robotics teams don’t have a monopoly on sinking time and being disappointed with the results. Refs in our region at least are majority past competitors. you cannot just say something like that and not provide some sort of verifiable stat to source it.

This is me and several of my support members. The guy that manages all of us did battlebots back in the 90’s and early 00’s. It is absolutely possible my world view is tainted by this experience, but I can assure you we empathize with the competitors where we host events. We’ve all been there.

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#16

In comparison to other programs, VRC for sure has more alumni in key volunteer roles. This is for my state, is true for World’s in a lot of places.

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#17

To the OP’s topic of enabling better communication on the forum, permit a PSA on a quirk of quoting in the forums:

If you “quote a quote” it will attribute it to the author of the post the most recent quote is contained in, regardless of if they were the original author. I think quoting is very useful as it makes clear to which comments your comments pertain, but it would be good to take care to make sure you are quoting the actual author of the quote.

Case in point, the quote below is quoted from a quote in the immediately preceding post.

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#18

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

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#19

+1. Lots of former competitors come back to be judges or run skills too. Honestly, Indiana VEX is backed by a strong alumni network of outstanding volunteers. (I won’t speak for other regions because I don’t know).

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#20

VA is that same way as well. A bulk of the key volunteer roles are served by alumni (such as myself). A few of us not only are KVs, we also are EP for many of our events.

A lot of alumni also come back to volunteer at States with their friends, so we build up our pipeline. Not to mention the org that runs our state also has an internship program where many of the interns were alumni.

Again, ours is just one example, but there certainly is a non insignificant amount of alumni who continue to shape VEX in our community. It’s a strength of the program in my opinion.

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