More tea please.

Sowing the seeds

I want Student Robotics to grow. I want this to happen for many reasons. The most greedy of these is that I get to play with some cool kit and meet some cool people. Hopefully the least greedy reason is that pre-university engineering education in UK schools sucks. Student Robotics can and does make it better. The impact of Student Robotics on schools in the UK at the moment is very small. I want that to change.

Student Robotics is run by university students. This is really important. Those students gain a massive amount of knowledge and experience from running it. I know this to be true as I was and still am a student member of SR, and I’ve spoken to at least one other person who thinks the same. I’ve yet to find someone who admits otherwise!

Student Robotics is a young community. I guess that all just-starting communities have to grapple with the problem of getting new people involved. Over the last couple of years there have been a few attempts at doing this. These initially appeared to be successful but almost none of the people who joined continued past a month or two. This certainly wasn’t a problem with the people who joined. I don’t think it was that they didn’t have time or didn’t like my face (OK, it could have been the face). The problem is difficult to understand.

I’ve spent many hours discussing with people why we have this recruitment problem. The answer that’s come up quite a lot is that new members have to climb an extremely steep learning curve before they can participate in discussions about what the group is doing, let alone discussions about developing the hardware that will fits those goals.

There’s always going to be a barrier to entry set to an arbitrary level by a community. Working out what to change to lower that barrier can be a hard problem that I think can only really be approached through experiment.

So, I’ve decided to try and inject some new variables into that experiment and start by addressing the problem in two ways. You’ll find out what they are soon :-)

Posted at 2:54 am on Wednesday 28th January 2009

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