Tuesday, August 30, 2011

RoboCup Junior - How to impress the soccer/rescue interview panel... or me at least!

I helped with the interviews at the recent RoboCup Junior (RCJ) Hobart Regional and thought it might be useful to point out a few tips for competitors at future events.

(Please note, however, that my involvement has only been with Soccer and Rescue interviews - I have no experience with the Dance challenge. I guess some of what I'm going to say applies to Dance, but I think the Dance Interview score sheet is your best bet for guidance...)

My background with the interview component of RCJ dates back to 2001 when I took my first team to the Australian Open. Although I wasn't directly involved in those interviews, it seemed to be an important and beneficial process for my students. The following year, I lead the interview panels for Soccer and Rescue at RCJ Tasmanian State Finals, and in subsequent years handed over that responsibility to Neil Winter, the guru robotics/ICT teacher from Clarence High, who I was pleased to discover had a very similar idea about the value of the interviews.

The following description of the interview process from the Australian Open 2011 Information Kit is based on what we've used for the Tasmanian State Finals over the past decade.
During the event, each team is required to attend a 10-minute interview to discuss their entry. Although one purpose of the interview is to verify that the team’s work is substantially their own, it is also an opportunity for teams to share their work and to be recognised for their efforts. In assessing the quality of team entries, the interviewers are looking for evidence of engineering and programming skills, independence and commitment.

Logbooks or journals provide a good means of demonstrating these aspects, and are highly advised for all challenges.

Okay, so that's the background and the official stuff (which I totally agree with - I really believe the interview is as much, or more, about you telling me what you've learned than it is about making sure the you were the one who built it), but here's what I'm thinking as we do your interview. If you really want to impress me, you better have some good answers to these questions...

1. How much time and energy have you invested into your competition entry? Is this something you've been working on during lunchtimes, after school, weekends, and/or through the holidays? Or did you just do it during school time - either because your teacher made you do it, or because you have nothing better to do...? Did you take the initiative at any point? e.g. to check the rules, do research, manage time, get help from others?

2. Can I have a look at your journal? Your journal should give me an idea of the time you've spent working on your entry and what you did as you went along. It doesn't need to be perfectly neat. I want to see rough sketches, diagrams, and "to do" lists (maybe even as an appendix at the end of the journal). If you kept your journal/blog online, then please bring a hard copy.

(Note: If you're a RCJ entrant currently getting ready for an event, and you haven't been keeping a journal so far - start now! Make a note of what you've done so far, including photos of your robot and screenshots of your program, and then keep it up to date from now on!)

3. What have you learnt from your mistakes? Do you have photos/screenshots of your robots/programs as you worked on your entry? I want to see examples of failures, as well as successes. Odds are that you've learnt more from mistakes than success, and you never know... a failure now might be the solution for a problem you haven't discovered yet.

Finally, and this is a bit tricky because you don't know what I don't know, but anyway...

4. Can you show me something that I've never seen before? Did you find a clever way of solving a problem with hardware and/or software? Or perhaps you recognised a problem that others hadn't even noticed? Or maybe you just did something innovative with a paperclip? If you can give me a new idea, perhaps even something that I can take back to my students, then I'm going to be impressed!

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