WRRF Spark Fall 2020 Digital Convention, Sep 19-20

Hi teams!

You’re invited to the WRRF Spark 2020 Digital Convention for FRC and FTC teams on September 19-20! Featuring nearly three dozen workshops for FRC and FTC (and a bit of FLL) throughout the weekend presented by teams across California - whether you’re in mechanical, electrical, software, business, or strategy, whether you’re a lead or just starting out, whether you live in CA or not, we have something for you to help you start off the offseason/season right!

But it’s more than just workshops! Want to hear from other team leads about how they’re navigating these tough times? Come attend our leadership roundtables! Missed meeting new folks at competition this year? How about some speed friending sessions? Or come de-stress with your fellow FIRSTers in some rounds of Jeopardy, Spyfall, or Skribbl.io. We’ll also be hosting a CADathon that will start during the event, and end a week or two after!

Check out everything you can attend in our program here, and sign up by the end of day on Thursday, September 17! (All times are in PDT.) And, in the coming weeks, we’ll also be highlighting all you can look forward to at the event on our new event-specific Instagram, so follow us there! We’re excited to be using Hopin, an new online events platform, to power this event.

Registration is still $5 / attendee as with our in-person events in the past, but the process looks a bit different this year.
[If you happen to be one of our presenters, do not follow the steps below. Instead, keep an eye out for further instructions from the planning committee.]

  • First - after you’ve reviewed the program - fill out this form here.

  • Then, we will send you an email invite to Hopin within 24 hours (we currently have to manually send invites, so you won’t receive one immediately). The email will be coming from an @hopin.to address, make sure your spam filters don’t filter it.

  • After receiving the invite, follow the link in the email to create an account on Hopin, join the event, and pay for registration to complete the process. (You can delete your Hopin account after the event if you don’t want it to stay around).

To reiterate, you need to both fill out the Google Form and register/pay on Hopin to attend. Your registration is not complete until you have received the “You’re in!” confirmation email from Hopin.

Some questions you may have:

  • I’d like to register and pay for my team members as a group. Can I?

    • Hopin requires that each attendee register their own individual account to participate in the event, but we do have a way for you to pay for all of your team members as a group if needed. First, please send the total number of people that’ll be attending from your team to workshops /at/ wrrf [dot] org. We’ll send you a link to a custom ticket that is priced at the total amount your team members would be paying altogether (so if you’ll have 4 members plus yourself attending it’d be 5 x $5 = $25, etc.). After you’ve registered and paid, we’ll create a pool of prepaid tickets for your team and, from then on, we’ll send anyone we see signing up from your team (after they’ve filled out the Google Form) a custom invite to Hopin that links to one of those tickets. Each team member will still need to register on Hopin individually, but this way they will not need to provide their own payment info or ask for yours.
  • Will the sessions be recorded?

    • We are still evaluating this. Assume no until further notice.
  • I haven’t used Hopin, and am worried I won’t be able to figure out how to get into my sessions etc.

    • We chose Hopin partly because we thought it was pretty easy to use, but also recognize that attendees may not be as familiar with it as with other platforms like Zoom, so we will be hosting quick tutorial sessions in the main stage in Hopin at the start of the event on both days to show you how to get around the rest of the platform - don’t worry!

Thanks, let us know if you have any other questions, and looking forward to seeing you there!

(Posted on behalf of the rest of the WRRF Spark 2020 Planning Committee)

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Why require registration or payment for online workshops these days?

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Good question. For some context, it might be helpful to clarify that our goal with this event is to make it more of a virtual conference - an entire event with multiple sessions and activities going on concurrently within it at any given time, where attendees can move freely between sessions, have spaces where they can interact with and meet each other impromptu outside of the sessions themselves (as if they bumped into each other in the hallway or over lunch at our physical events), and have a large room where they can all gather to hear a key speaker, with all the opportunities for networking and interpersonal interaction that that brings - rather than, say, something closer to a college professor streaming a series of lectures on YouTube - standalone, self-contained, largely unidirectional sessions that just happen to be given by the same people - which I think is the model that you’re thinking of when you say “online workshops”.

We want to do that because, from prior iterations of this event, one of the things that attendees have told us they find most valuable besides getting to learn from a variety of teams is the experience of getting to connect with a lot of them personally - getting to sit down in a room with them and having an open discussion about what their teams are going through; to sketch ideas out on a whiteboard alongside them; even playing dodgeball with them; and so on - and now more than ever, we want to be able to continue to help bring our community together in more ways.

So from that perspective - if you look at conferences, you’ll see that although many went online this year, most still require at least registration if not payment (and substantially more payment at that, in some cases), and so what we’re asking, relative to our points of reference, is actually not that unusual.

For us specifically, we’re requiring registration partly so because our choice of platform requires it for people to get into the event, and we chose that platform because, after testing nearly two dozen options, it was the one with the features and setup that we thought allowed us to - in an integrated way, i.e. not having to cobble together multiple services - best realize our event goals in a virtual format; but also:

  • Because of the non-workshop activities we’re doing - particularly for things like the speed friending session and roundtables where attendees will be interacting in relatively small, semi-isolated groups, we thought it wise to still require registration so that we know and have some control over who is at the event and don’t have random folks from the Internet wandering in to chat up kids.

  • Same as it is for our prior in-person events - because it gives us a comprehensive metric of who is attending our event. I know some groups are perfectly happy without that information, but it’s important for us. For example, it’s helpful to be able to see whether we are getting a roughly equal distribution of grade levels, and of teams with different experience levels, so that we know whether our event is really benefiting a wide segment of the community - rather than only being useful for the “good teams”, or the new teams, or freshmen, or seniors - and it helps us continue to improve this event for the future.

And as for payment, that’s cause though this event is not in person this time, we do nevertheless still have some costs we need to cover for running the event, such as the platform, so we want to make sure we still have a (at least somewhat) predictable budget to work with by maintaining a registration fee.

I acknowledge that this approach isn’t going to be for everyone. Watching a livestreamed talk on YT might be good enough for some folks; and to be fair, I’ve attended others’ workshops that were held in that format, without registration, for free, and know they can be valuable as well.

But for folks that really miss those small-room discussions, those spontaneous meetings with faces old and new, and being able to connect with others around them in more ways, what we want to do is provide for them an cohesive experience that is about as close as attending an in-person event as you can get in a virtual format - and requiring registration and payment allows us to support the infrastructure to best realize that.

And so though we might ask more than some other online events these days, we believe that teams will, in turn, be able to get something more, something different from what they can get for free, from our event.

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I believe the upcoming Capital City Classic workshops have all the same constraints. I’m curious to see if they adopt a similar payment model.

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From what I have heard and read of this year’s CCC workshops thus far, I believe they are aiming for a different event structure than we are. And in any case, CCC is organized by three separate teams, WRRF is one small organization, and so the resources we each may have and may not have, and the circumstances we operate under, as organizers, are different.

None of that is meant to be an affront to CCC workshops, by the way; I used to mentor 1678 for a few years around the time they were first getting those started, and I’ve seen some of the more recent iterations and it seems that the workshops have been growing nicely and that the organizers have been doing a great job, so I think well of the event. Just saying it may not be a fair comparison.

But yes, we’ll see.

Out of curiosity, what digital platform are you using which requires the collection of registration fees?

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We are using Hopin, as I mentioned a couple times in the OP. It’s a relatively new platform that we think is pretty exciting because unlike YouTube Live or Twitch (which started as ways for individual streamers to broadcast to vast audiences) or Zoom (which began as a videoconferencing tool intended for organizations), or some of the other free online platforms you may be thinking of (or in the case of Zoom, not actually free…but usually paid for by someone else at this point), Hopin was marketed towards encouraging people to take their entire conferences online in order to reduce the environmental cost of running such large-scale events (until all those platforms kinda got adopted for mainly other things in the wake of COVID, of course). As such, it approaches virtual events differently, and in short it allows us to organize the event in a way that we can’t do with those other platforms.
By the way - I helped run an entire other workshop series this summer with Zoom, and have been either the event manager or media lead at several offseasons where we streamed the event on YouTube or Twitch, so I’m well aware of the capabilities of those platforms. They are good at what they do, but they were not the right fit for this event.

I already wrote about our goals in a prior reply, but we’ve been running some internal tests of our final event over the last couple days so I can actually show you. This is only part of the event, but I think it’s illustrative of a couple key things I wanted to point out.
For comparison, we usually host our events in a university building (or two).

The thing we particularly liked about Hopin was that provides an additional layer of organization at the event level, not just the session level; everything about the event is contained in the platform, like at our in-person events where (almost) everything is contained in the same building.

  • In the middle, you can see (some of) all the sessions, searchable, filterable with tags, with descriptions. At our in-person events, an attendee could just walk down the hallway and see, “oh, there’s room 101, with the mech classes. Oh, there’s room 103, with the biz classes”, without having to leave the building, or look back at their email. This gives us that hallway, virtually, without attendees having to leave the platform. With YouTube, Twitch, Zoom etc. this would be a ton of separate links, and attendees would have to keep going back and forth between their email (or a different page) and the stream if they wanted to find another session. And keep in mind we are running 30+ sessions, plus activities, with up to 6 happening concurrently at any given time. So, at best, if you made everyone share streams, that would be six different links; at worst, if you left it up to presenters to each manage their own streams, that would be about three dozen links to juggle.
  • Additionally, those sessions work like videoconferences, so attendees can turn on their audio/video and share their screens, in addition to chat, rather than just passively watching a primarily one-way stream of someone talking like on YT/Twitch (granted, those have chat too at least). I don’t think I need to elaborate on how that’s closer to an in-person event. In our testing, the video quality was pretty solid, to boot. So aside from the workshops, that’s also how we’ll be running our roundtables and games.
  • Also, we can create an infinite amount of them. At our in-person events, if we can spare it, we usually set aside a room as a volunteer lounge where presenters can hang out between sessions. Here we can create an additional “session” for that, not to mention a planning team room as well. And, the sessions are persistent throughout the event – so presenters can hang back to continue a convo with an attendee while the next round of sessions starts, without (in the case of shared streams) having to worry about leaving so someone else can broadcast.
  • On the right, you can see there’s an event chat for broadcasting messages event-wide, like having a PA system (or a couple of runners) at an in-person event. With YouTube, Twitch, Zoom etc., every stream/call is a separate, self-contained entity with a different link, different comment box, etc.; the concept of “event-wide” doesn’t exist there at all.
  • On the left, there’s Networking. That works like speed networking/speed dating/whatever you want to call it – attendees can randomly meet other attendees at the event, talk with them over video for a while, and then optionally exchange contact info (we’ve set it up so students only match with other students and adults with other adults, of course). That helps provide an equivalent to randomly meeting someone else (like while sitting next to them at lunch or something) at our in-person events, and is how we’re going to do our speed friending activity.
  • Also on the left, there’s a Reception and Stage. At our in-person events, we have a front desk / reception area where people check in and where we also post some key info, and a large space of some sort where everyone gathers after check-in and where we kick off the event before directing everyone to their separate sessions. Having that available all within the platform allows us to maintain that event flow here.
  • At the top, note the flyout schedule. At our in-person events, we post our event schedule at strategic points so attendees can always refer back to it as needed without having to go back to their email or whatever. Likewise, here we can set up a schedule available to attendees at any time, no matter what part of the event they are in.

All that, taken together, allows us to provide an cohesive experience that we think is about as close to attending an in-person event as we can create in a virtual format. Like I said, we designed this event to be more than just a workshop series - we want it to be a place for teams to continue connecting with other teams and meeting new FIRST friends while we are all being kept apart. So that’s why we chose Hopin, even though it is a paid platform (and still in early access, and does not offer nonprofit discounts or donations of any sort at this time).

Regarding the registration fees then – reminder that those do not go into any of our pockets. We are not asking people to pay us. At our in-person events, the fees primarily go to cover snacks and refreshments that everyone can partake in, meals for the presenters that are sharing their knowledge with everyone, and supplies like signage and tape that everyone benefits from; anything left over is saved up by the organization to support future events. Likewise, here the fees primarily go to cover a platform that everyone can use and everyone benefits from, and possibly some prizes for the CADathon that everyone can participate in; anything left over is, again, saved up by the organization to support future events. So from that perspective, we don’t think maintaining our registration fee here is unreasonable.

For some additional context, we started planning this event as early as March/April, when the future of the pandemic within the coming months was still extremely uncertain. We initially wrote up plans for three event possibilities – in-person, hybrid, and fully online – and I can’t count how many times we went back to the drawing board as things evolved, not just with the pandemic situation, but also with changes in resources available to us. When it became clear that a fully online event was our only option, we opted to still try moving as much of the conference-style experience we wanted to provide in in-person and/or hybrid form as we could into a fully virtual format. So if it seems like we’re doing things differently from other online workshops you are thinking of - that is because we never set out to build just a series of online workshops in the first place.

If you happen to have an issue with the very concept of a paid online event, then all I can really do is point you towards the many conferences, summer camps, and other such events out in the world that went online this year and are still charging registration fees, successfully at that, even though there are other online events that are free. As the meme you posted alludes to, there’ll always be folks who think that paying for a movie that will show up later on their cable or Netflix subscription where it wouldn’t cost them extra is silly - that the “free” option is good enough. But there’ll also always be folks who find some value in some aspect of the paid option that they do not feel the free option provides. But I hope we can agree that that is a strictly personal value judgement, and leave it at that.

But if you are still wondering why we decided to adopt this event model, though, I hope this (admittedly lengthy) post sheds more light on the rationale behind our decisions.

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Speaking of things you can look forward to at our event -

For teams interested in coming, just a quick reminder that registration for this event is closing in a few days! Due to some miscommunication on our part, we’ve extended the deadline slightly to 12:30pm on Friday 9/18.

Again, you can take a look at the program to learn more about everything you can check out at the event, including 30+ workshops on a variety of topics, plus social activities and games, and the CADathon that we’ll kick off there! We designed this event to be more than just a workshop series - we want it to be a place for you to continuing connecting with other teams and meeting new FIRST friends while we are all being kept apart.

And for those of you that can’t make it, we’ve decided we will be recording some of the workshops. We’re not sure exactly which yet as that’ll be contingent on presenter consent and whether the workshop is still helpful as a recording rather than a live session (e.g. sessions that are more real-time-discussion-centric will probably not be recorded), and we’re still finalizing that.
At the time of this writing though, the sessions that we will be recording for sure are:

  • Choosing the Right CAD Software
  • Creating and Countering Strategies
  • Effectively Assessing and Using Your Resources
  • Engineering Notebooks that Excite
  • Intermediate/Advanced Mechanical Design
  • Motor Selection and Analysis

More info will be posted after the event on the WRRF website.

Remember that there’s still many parts of the event that you can only participate in if you come - like discussions with presenters and other teams in real time, leadership roundtables, speed friending, and games of Jeopardy, Spyfall and more - but if you’ve already registered and this changes your mind about attending, please contact us and we’ll get that sorted out. You should have already received some communications from the planning team, so you can just reach us via the email addresses those were sent from.

Thanks, let us know if you have any other questions, and looking forward to seeing you there!

(Posted on behalf of the rest of the WRRF Spark 2020 Planning Committee)

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Will the recorded sessions be posted for free somewhere? Or do we have to signup for the workshops to get access?

I really want to see Katie’s workshop at some point.

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We will be posting the workshops that do get recorded publicly somewhere (probably on the WRRF YouTube channel, but TBD), and people will not need to have signed up for the event, or sign up otherwise, to view them.

Nonetheless, for those of you still wondering why we set up the event the way we did, we invite you to still come join us for the live event to get a better sense of what we’re doing!

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