Imagine being a novice pianist and being told that you are welcome to join a public piano competition against others who may have been playing piano for years? Does this feel like a welcoming situation? Now imagine being one of only a few people of your gender in the competition. Does that make it any more welcoming?
Though many students find motivation in the timed and judged obstacle courses of robotics competitions, for other students, that environment is a barrier. In fact, professors from MIT and Wellesley say that one of the four keys to attracting diverse students into robotics is to organize exhibitions rather than competitions.
The professors recommend exhibitions as one way of providing multiple pathways into robotics, accommodating multiple kinds of students. In recommending that programs culminate in an exhibition rather than a competition, they say that exhibitions maintain the motivational benefits of a public display found in competition, while eliminating competition's alienating side effects.
The three other keys identified by the professors are: focus on themes as opposed to challenges, combine art and engineering, and encourage storytelling through projects. This photo shows a robotic xylophone created during Wellesley's Robotics Studio course.