How We Made the Call: SeaPerch Challenge 2021

Written by Lindsey Groark, Pre-University Programs Director
We use the term “community” a lot here at RoboNation. That’s because community is at the heart of everything we do.Whether we’re planning for competition season, sharing new resources, highlighting stories from awesome humans, or reveling in the success of students and educators, our focus is on the collection of individuals that make up our RoboNation community. Your health, safety, and joy of learning are our top priorities and these three things have informed the decisions that we’ve made over this last year and will continue making into the future. As we hope you know by now, we don’t take the responsibility of making decisions lightly. In the spirit of community, we wanted to take the chance to share with you how we approached the decision and plans for the 2021 SeaPerch season and this year’s International Challenge.

Three main objectives

Throughout discussions, deliberations, and our final decisions, we focused on three main objectives:
  1. Reduce barriers to participation. It’s been a tough year for all of us. The last thing any of us need or want is even more challenges getting in the way of learning, having fun, and connecting over SeaPerch.
  2. Make it worth it. Anything we decided to do had to be meaningful and promote opportunities for teams and mentors to engage with one another. Whether in person, virtual, or somewhere in between we knew that human connection and learning from each other had to be at the root of whatever we decided to do.
  3. Make it scalable and sustainable. We committed to focusing only on components that we would consider including into the future. That doesn’t mean that everything you see in 2021 will persist but we promise to critically review what worked, what didn’t, and why as we explore the continued evolution of the SeaPerch Challenge into 2022 and beyond. (We’ll be looking to you to share your thoughts on this as well.)
So, with these priorities and objectives in mind, we spent months listening. We hosted regional advisory committee meetings with advocates from around the world, talked with partners, asked lots of questions, looked at data, and then we listened some more. We aimed to understand how virtual and hybrid school models affected educators’ and mentors’ ability to support students engaged in SeaPerch and similar programs. From July through November, what we heard overwhelmingly is that there was a desire to continue with SeaPerch in this unique season but that flexibility was key.

Focus on flexible participation

In addition to our three objectives, flexibility became the basis for the structure of the SeaPerch Challenge. We wanted to ensure that teams who are unable to physically be together to build an ROV, can still participate and have a real shot at being competitive. Although some teams may not have access to a pool or tank for the pool competition, we were confident that teams could find ways to work together to thoughtfully design their SeaPerch ROVs and then tell us about it through a technical report and interview. The optional events evolved out of a desire to provide interested teams the opportunity to show off their skills in the pool and to dive into deeper explorations of ROVs in real-world applications. Finally, the community and outreach event focuses on highlighting the ways we are giving back to each of our communities – something that is as important as ever right now. In a nutshell, we made the call with the helpful insight of a lot of people across the SeaPerch community. It wasn’t an easy decision to shift to a virtual International SeaPerch Challenge, but very little about the last year has been easy and we have no doubt that you all will continue to inspire us with your ROV designs, real-world projects, and creative minds. Thank you for openly sharing your hopes and for challenging us to meet the needs of students and educators. As we’ve been saying in our monthly emails, we’re beyond excited to have the opportunity to try new things with you all.

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