Its debatable…Speak Up!

June 17, 2012

And, we’re baaaaaaaack!

Filed under: Uncategorized — bk2nocal @ 11:55 am

So, after some time away (two years to be exact) while I dealt with a two year old, a full time job, traveling for debate on a lot of weekends (with said two year old in tow often) and a traveling debate coach husband who took a job that required him to be out of town three days a week minimum most weeks, I am ready to return.

I have spent some time thinking about this thing we do as speech and debate coaches…the loss of personal time, time with family, time that could be spent on other things for our jobs such as grading, planning, etc., and weekends spent driving and working long hours, eating often unhealthy and sporadic meals and dealing with annoying students 24/7 instead of just the three hours a classroom lends us for that experience.  I have thought about finding a different job or changing the way our team experiences competition or figuring out a way to step aside and do less than I currently do (which arguably is much less than a lot of coaches do).  But, in the end I always come back to the fact that when this job goes right, its awesome!  I get to work with some fantastic students and colleagues.  I get to see students in a totally different light than that of a classroom.  And, I get to see them really grow through their experiences in forensics.  So, I come back to doing this job.

But, I would like to do this job better.  I would like to find ways to help others do this job better.  I feel like in other professions, there is so much support and training and sharing and opportunity for new things, but in ours, we are all so often burnt out and at our institutions our positions as coach are treated like an add-on to our positions as instructor or professor, that we often treat professional development specific to coaching as an add-on.  So, I am starting back to the blogging in the hopes that maybe it can be a place for me to work through ideas that may help support, train, share and build opportunity.  

So, I am going to spend this week cleaning up the sidebar making sure links are functioning, updating websites where they need to be updated, and figuring out where to go from here.  I may also be asking some friends/colleagues to do guest posts here to broaden the discussion from just one of debate to one that includes all of forensics.  And I will be mulling over where I want to go this next season of forensics – one that holds promise for me as a coach, a director and a teacher! 


May 22, 2010

Inspired to seek clarity

Filed under: Debate,Instructional Ideas — bk2nocal @ 2:26 pm

So, I was reading a blog on tech education (NCS-Tech) today, and read this quotation:

“Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.” —37signals quoting Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

and I thought, wow – that so describes what I go through with debate each year when working with new novii.  I always catch myself thinking, “why aren’t they getting this…oh wait, they’ve never even SEEN a debate round”.  Its one of those things where it is nice to know you aren’t alone in struggling, but how to change it?  So, what are some strategies you use for teaching novii?  I am going to list my top offerings, but would love to hear what others have to say/do in these circumstances as well.

  1. Show them a debate. If you can have live people do it, great, but even a video is helpful.  Even if they don’t understand everything that is going on, you can refer to the debate often while instructing them.  Be sure its simple, slow and planned out to prevent it becoming a BAD example that they then model in their own debating.
  2. Use planned activities related to what you are teaching. The more you can get them DOing, the less they have to understand the abstraction.  Figure out a short method of demonstrating the skill or idea, then let them have at it.  Then talk about it afterward to see what they “got” and what they didn’t “get”.    The NDCA website, Planet Debate and some other online resources offer a lot of ideas for this kind of thing.
  3. Do mini-debates. One argument, one issue, one area – short speeches with focus on understanding the arguments, articulating the arguments and then answering the arguments is a great way of garnering more understanding of abstract concepts.  The mini-debate offers a level of focus that even a brand new novice can appreciate – they only have to think about/understand one thing for a short time.  Its also good for experienced debaters who have problems staying focused.
  4. Have an FAQ page. I love this idea.  Part of the reason we are often struggling to teach novii concepts is we don’t remember being novii ourselves – we don’t remember what our questions/struggles were.  So, now we have a bunch of novii – figure out what their questions/struggles are and then have a wiki page or webpage where you post the answers, some ideas about these questions/struggles.  It would be a great resource for all future novii as they (1) won’t feel they are the only ones who “don’t get it” and (2) can revisit the page again and again if something just isn’t sinking in.  I don’t have one of these now, but I definitely plan on starting one and adding to it with each new group of novii.
  5. Make it fun. This was something we did a great job of when I worked with the Southern California Urban Debate League.  We had a great group of debaters working with the high schools and their enthusiasm and pure joy at working with the high school students really made it fun for the high school students to do debate.  I often feel like I am just going through the motions or I’m so frazzled from the hundreds of things on my to-do list that I forget to just have fun with my debaters.  Often, its just a matter of remembering why we do this – because we love it and think its pretty fun – and being able to communicate that to the novii.  We try much harder to understand what we love than something we dislike.

The blog post I was reading included a link to a post on another blog titled, “Making the implicit explicit,” which if you translate the suggestions from computer-speak into debate-speak, makes some great sense for coaching the novice.  Being able to identify things that are common from debate to debate is a key factor in coaching novii.  And although we often want to fall back to “every debate is different,” we really need to figure out how to create commonalities between debates in order to help novii learn.

The post ends with a few questions that are designed to spur reflection and response.  I have taken the liberty of changing the wording to relate to debate and here is what I came up with:

  • What do we assume people know when we are teaching/coaching a novice debater (in class or at a tournament), answering a question, or teaching a lesson? (Formative assessment? Hello?)
  • Do master teachers possess innate skills that allow them to instantly & effortlessly change their delivery for different learners struggling with different aspects of a particular topic?
  • How do you approach a complex, broad, multifaceted topic in a meaningful but casual conversation? Sort of like me asking a veteran web designer how to use “html code”  and someone asking me how to do “debate”.


April 30, 2010

“Great Debate” = Great Success

I am writing about an exciting new speaking opportunity CSU Chico and the Chico City Council has introduced to our community this semester and which it looks like we will be continuing into future semesters.  Designated as the “Great Debate”, this was a one-day event that took place at our City Council Chambers (and two additional meeting rooms in that facility) and involved students from our Small Group, Public Speaking, Argumentation and Debate, Forensics, and some select English classes.  The process actually began before this semester, when we met with the Assistant City Manager for Chico, who was looking for a way to foster more healthy and civil discussions at City Council meetings and other political events in the area.  We discussed controversial issues that would be of interest to the citizens of Chico as well as the students and landed on the Tax, Regulate and Control Act of 2010 – a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on the California ballot in November.

We had stakeholders from the community come to campus and do presentations and answer interview questions from the English students, who then posted the interviews on a website for review.  We assigned students in select sections of Small Group communication a group presentation representing a specific stakeholder group in the debate – law enforcement, recreational users, medicinal marijuana users, addiction counselors/health care workers, local/county officials, and state legislators.  The presentation was designed to be an informative presentation on the stakeholders position.  Public Speaking students from select sections of the Public Speaking course were assigned a persuasive speech on marijuana legalization – taking either the pro or con stance.  Argumentation and Debate students researched and wrote affirmative and negative cases on adopting the initiative in the State of California.  Finally, two debaters from the Forensics team were assigned to do a demo debate on the issue for the “main event”.  Top performers in each of the classes were invited to present at the City Council offices throughout the day, with webcasting being done for those presenting in the City Council Chambers.

The “main event” consisted of the team debaters from the Forensics team doing a debate on the initiative, followed by a debate between community members who are active in the marijuana legalization debate.  The debate between the two debate team members was amazing – it was a proud moment for me and I think the audience and the community members who had to follow them were extremely impressed.  Footage of them made up the bulk of the local TV coverage at 11 p.m. last night!  The debate between the community members was also impressive – respectful, insightful, educational, and truly representational of what can be done when you get rid of the hostility and partisanship that often is involved in these debates.  The speeches were not designed to be filled with sound bytes, but actually included research, studies, and valuable information for the audience-members.

I’m not sure that anyone’s mind was changed or made-up because of the events that took place in yesterday’s Great Debate, but I can tell you that students were made to feel like what they had to say mattered for something other than a grade.  Community members were made to feel like their opinions were important, but were not the ONLY opinions that mattered.  Faculty were shown that students can do amazing things when empowered and given a forum.  Finally, the community was shown that contentious issues need not be discussed in a contentious way, but instead can be presented in an open forum, with both sides well-represented and articulately explaining their position without ad homs or anger.  I think we all learned a lot from the experience and I look forward to learning more each semester from this program.

Here are some additional links to coverage of the event:

TV coverage of daytime student presentations

Newspaper coverage of evening events

I encourage all of you to explore ways to reach out to your community if you are not already doing so.  I was shocked to hear from one of the initiative’s spokespersons that this was the FIRST forum of its kind on this initiative!  This initiative has received nationwide attention and has been in the media for months.  I can’t imagine this being the first forum that involved both sides in a format that allowed both sides to present their concerns and their hopes and their fears.  What better way to foster good decision-making in a democracy?  If you are in California and would like to put a similar program together in your area, I know the initiative representatives are interested and I bet you can find some community members who are also interested.  Its a great way to have your students see the value of debate and public speaking in the public arena and I really can’t say enough good things about our experience!

September 7, 2009

Another Season, Another Set of Resources for Policy Debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — bk2nocal @ 2:10 pm

I am giving up on predicting that I will be more regular about posting to this blog.  I really have the best of intentions, but often get caught up in other things and neglect it for so long it is almost embarrassing to post again!  🙂  But, I’m going to post now and hopefully post again soon – no promises!

I wanted to update the previous list of resources that I provided on this blog with some additional resources that have appeared online since then.  Some of these are additional items on the National Debate Coaches Association’s website – which, in my humble opinion, is the best policy debate resource out there at this point.   Some are new wikis available to the debate community.  Some are simply spots in already existing webpages that have some great consolidation of items from around the web.  Hopefully, you will find it helpful.

The 3NR Blog

This blog is designed for high school policy debate, but I find that most of the information is just as applicable to college policy debate.  They have three or four high school coaches (most of whom had pretty successful college debating careers) who write for them and I have started forwarding some posts to my college debaters as discussion and educational items.  The comment section of a lot of the posts offer just as much educational information as the posts themselves.  This is another resource offered by the NDCA and its a great one!

Introduction to Policy Debate Textbook

Planet Debate has taken a number of great articles written over the years and put them into a single location organized in a usable format for educators.  I found it when looking for Dan Shalmon’s “Consult NATO” article from the Hitchiker’s Guide and I’m glad I did.  Articles like these are great educational resources for debaters who may not have access to a ton of experienced coaching, but are motivated to learn more about different debate arguments.  Its also a great resource for teachers who would like to organize their classes with reading material, etc.

Whitman’s Tech Support Page

With the surge in paperless debate this coming year, these resources are going to be important.  There are a number of pages available on paperless debate, but since Whitman was the first large squad to go completely paperless and is kind of leading the charge for other teams, I decided to link to their page in particular. If you want a broader perspective, you can check out the Paperless Debate Wiki.

From the Blog

This is yet another NDCA project.  Although it does not focus totally on debate education, it is a great resource for students and coaches alike.  It has quite a few educational resources (Maggie Berthiaume has posted some great stuff on institute attendance and electronic resources from summer institutes), some travel resources (for example a chart of airline fees for baggage, etc.), and some great “issues facing debate” posts.

I am going to have a separate post on topic specific resources for this year’s debate topic, but these are general resources that, in combination with the list I previously posted, should put people on pretty good ground as far as policy debate is concerned!  Enjoy!

July 18, 2009

reBlog from Alfred Charles Snider: Global Debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — bk2nocal @ 6:05 pm

I found this article on the Global Debate blog and thought I would share it.  I think the reviewer somewhat missed the point that the documentary was only covering a very few elite teams to the national championships and that there are hundreds of other teams out there whose purpose in debate goes far beyond the “win” – and especially the one win the movie focused on – the NDT.  I have seen the movie a few times and I agree that the interviews with Michael Miller are depressing and make elite debaters out to be a fringe population with no future.  I think they should do a sequel showing the success that has been reached by a number of ex-debaters – even those whose sole focus was winning the NDT!  One of my debaters found the movie to be depressing, but I thought it was somewhat a lesson in perspective…

Review: ‘Debate Team’ a feast of ruthlessness

David Wiegand, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, July 17, 2009

Debate Team: Edited and directed by B. Douglas Robbins, produced by Robbins and Joseph W. Walling. 5:30 p.m. Sunday, KQED.

Back in high school, debate teams may have ranked just above audiovisual clubs in the social pecking order, but Bay Area filmmaker B. Douglas Robbins takes us inside the kill-or-be-killed world of obsessive arguers at a college level to suggest that these nerdy young men and women will either take over the world some day, or represent it in court.

“Debate Team,” a Truly CA documentary airing Sunday on KQED, focuses on the 2005 national debate tournament in which the UC Berkeley team of Stacey Nathan and Craig Wickersham came from behind to beat Dartmouth in the finals at UC San Francisco.

That’s no mean feat, considering that some 180 teams were competing, but the film is much more than a “Bad News Bears” of the debate world: It’s an often compelling, and even scary, look at people who spend hours and hours without sleep or showers, researching topics and amassing files of data which are culled down to debate length through a process called “cutting cards.”

If you think a debate is a staid, gentlemanly (or gentlewomanly) event where each side quietly offers either an affirmative or contrary argument, Robbins and his subjects are here to show you otherwise. The goal of presenting a good debate is to pack as many arguments into a six-minute period as possible, to give your opponents so much to chew on that they choke. To do that, debaters stand in over-lit meeting rooms and rattle off their positions like tobacco auctioneers, gasping every few hundred words for breath. “Sometimes you just have to deal with drool and spit,” one debater offers.

And sometimes, you have to deal with a degree of depression and personality disorder – one debater insists unconvincingly that the practice is not nihilistic. “You never hear the possibility of human extinction discussed so much as in debates,” another debater concedes. Topics usually range from world political crises, to global warming, to the depletion of fossil fuels.

While it’s fascinating hearing today’s herd of debaters, we also get incredible and rather sad insight from Michael Miller, one of the most victorious debaters ever, who racked up win after win after win, only to see it all end when he lost the nationals in 1969. He had no plan for his life after that tournament and 40 years later, he’s still wounded by the loss.

Debaters are ruthless strategists, who must be willing to “kill the puppy,” in debate parlance – to unnerve their opponents at every opportunity. They have to think on their feet and be prepared for anything from the other side.

“Debate is primarily about psychology,” offers a seasoned debate coach, but the fascinating aspect of Robbins’ film is what we learn about the psychology of the debaters themselves. One kid tells us he tried and failed at every sport imaginable in high school, only to find his niche in debating. One of the most intriguing characters is Aaron Hardy, a debater from Michigan State University who was formerly known as Mountain Man because of his beard, long hair and aversion to soap and water. Listening to him talk, you almost think he’d literally kill a puppy to win. And when his side loses, the intensity of his unspoken rage is downright frightening.

Robbins has done a terrific job detailing a world that seems almost entirely disconnected from the rest of us. The editing of the film makes it a bit challenging here and there as Robbins skips back and forth from the 2005 finals in San Francisco, to earlier tournaments. You may have some difficulty remembering who’s who at various points, as well, because the fast-talking heads aren’t always identified. Given how many of them we hear from, it probably would be helpful to ID them more frequently.

That said, “Debate Team” is a surprisingly comprehensive look into a world where winning is really the only thing, for better or worse.

Want to make something of it?

E-mail David Wiegand at

Alfred Charles Snider, Global Debate, Jul 2009



June 15, 2009

National Intercollegiate Policy Debate Topic: 2009-2010 Possibilities

Filed under: Uncategorized — bk2nocal @ 11:23 am

The three possibilities for the 2009-2010 season of intercollegiate cross-examination policy debate are:

The topic choices for the 2009-2010 school year, to be voted on in July 2009:

Resolution 1:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially change its nuclear posture to be more consistent with its nuclear disarmament commitments.

Resolution 2:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal, and/or substantially reduce and restrict the role and/or missions of its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Resolution 3:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially change its nuclear posture in one or more of the following ways:
* Ratification and implementation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
* Adoption of a nuclear declaratory policy substantially reducing and restricting the use of its nuclear weapons
* A substantial reduction in the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal
* Negotiation and implementation of a bilateral agreement with Russia that at least includes a substantial reduction in nuclear weapons
* A substantial decrease in the operational readiness of its nuclear weapons.

I am usually involved in the topic process, but due to health issues with my daughter, was unable to be involved this year.  I like the area of nuclear policy and the list in the third is pretty comprehensive without being too overwhelming, but I wish at times we could have some shorter resolutions!  🙂

I will try to provide some links to resources and discussions on these topic areas in the weeks and months to come!

Great post on Adaptation over at 3NR

Filed under: Debate,Judging — bk2nocal @ 10:35 am

I just wanted to point everyone to a post on adaptation for debaters over at the new(er) blog, The 3NR.  The post is written for high school debaters going to CFL and NFL nationals, but I think it has applicability to all debate at some point.  I know on our regional, California circuit we will sometimes have judges who are primarily parliamentary debate judges or who do not have a background in policy debate.  In parliamentary debate, you will sometimes get judges who have a primarily Individual Events background.  In LD, I think you can get a mixture of these types of judges.

I did debate prior to the days of Mutual Preference Judging, so adaptation was much more important to me than it is to today’s debaters.  But, I think adaptation is a valuable skill and I think that Scott Phillips (who wrote the post over at 3NR) does a good job of pointing out some of the mistakes debaters make when debating in front of judges who may not be their top choices for the back of the room.  So, take note debaters!

I also think its valuable for those of us who judge to realize some of the more specific things we can be asking for from the debaters.  As you go through your judging career, more and more things get added to the list of expectations you have for those who debate in front of you – and making sure you communicate these things to debaters is highly valuable to both the debaters and your enjoyment of debate.  As the saying goes, “honesty is the best policy” – and when debaters know what to expect from you as a judge, they are better able to give you those things.  So, don’t be afraid to constantly add/change your judging philosophy (and if you don’t already have one in the debateresults judging database and/or the judging philosophy wiki and/or the Planet Debate judging philosophy database.  Where you put your philosophy will largely depend on where you spend most of your time judging, but putting it in all three locations can not hurt if you judge high school debate regularly – debateresults is the primary resource for college policy.  If you can put any links to parliamentary debate judging philosophy locations in the comments section, that would be much appreciated (I looked around online, but could not locate a central location).  I also looked for a college LD one, but could not locate a centralized list – so, again, if you have one, please put the link in the comments section of this post!

Thanks all!

June 13, 2009

Gordon Mitchell on Ethics and Evidence – Repost from edebate 5-18-09

Filed under: Academics,Blogging,Debate,Pedagogy,Research,Technology — bk2nocal @ 1:23 pm

The following is a repost of an edebate post from Gordon Mitchell, Director of UPitt’s William Pitt Debating Union.  It is one of the most comprehensive and useful posts on ethics and evidence I have seen to date.  I believe this will be a big issue in the coming years in debate and getting ahead of the curve as far as evaluating evidence is concerned will be helpful.


What is a legitimate source to cite as evidence in a policy debate contest round? Should forensic specialists publish material that addresses the topic area on which they are currently coaching? How can members of the policy debate community relate their simulation-based research to “real world” decision-making and analysis of relevant policy issues?

These questions about publicity and publication have received extended treatment recently on debate lists and discussion boards, with conversation sparked by specific events. On the high school level, controversy swirled in the wake of revelations that a high school coach apparently published a topic-relevant article using a pseudonym with fictitious credentials (Marburry, 2009). Then two Center for Strategic and International Studies analysts (CSIS JY, 2009, 8) successfully persuaded college debaters and forensics specialists to select nuclear weapons policy as the 2009-2010 intercollegiate policy debate topic area, in part by claiming, “there will be a demand for your expertise in the policy analysis community.”

Roughly speaking, the act of publishing entails preparing material for public uptake, and then announcing the event to facilitate circulation. For many years, this process was structured largely as an economic transaction between authors and printing press owners, with editors often serving as gatekeepers who would vet and filter material. Readers relied on markers of professionalism (quality of print and ink, circulation, reputation of editors) to judge the relative credibility of publications. In the academy, referees employed similar metrics to assess a given writer’s degree of scholarly authority, metrics that were rooted in principles of publication scarcity and exclusivity – that a scholar’s caliber was in part demonstrated by his or her ability to persuade editors to publish their work.

Acceleration of Internet communication and the advent of digital online publication destabilized these arrangements fundamentally. Publication, previously a one-to-many transaction, has become a many-to-many enterprise unfolding across a complex latticework of internetworked digital nodes. Now weblogs, e-books, online journals, and print-on-demand book production and delivery systems make it possible for a whole new population of prospective authors to publish material in what Michael Jensen (2008), National Academy of Sciences Director of Strategic Web Communications, calls an “era of content democracy and abundance.”

In content abundance, the key challenge for readers and referees has less to do with finding scarce information, and more to do with sorting wheat from the proverbial chaff (the ever-burgeoning surplus of digital material available online). The pressing nature of this information-overload challenge has spurred invention of what Jensen (2007) calls “new metrics of scholarly authority” – essentially, new ways of measuring the credibility and gravitas of knowledge producers in a digital world of content abundance.

For Jensen, traditional “authority 1.0” metrics, such as book reviews, peer-reviewed journal publications, and journal “impact factors,” are gradually being supplanted in popular culture by “authority 2.0” metrics such as Google page ranks, blog post trackbacks, and diggs. Jensen’s point is not that these new metrics of scholarly authority are necessarily superior to the old measurement tools, or that they are especially reliable or appropriate for assessing any given author’s credibility (especially in an academic context). His point is that they are developing very fast, and becoming more widespread as markers of intellectual gravitas: “Scholarly authority, the nuanced, deep, perspective-laden authority we hold dear, is under threat by the easily-computable metrics of popularity, famousness, and binary votes, which are amplified by the nature of abundance-jaded audiences” (Jensen, 2008, 25).

While Jensen (2008, 25) sees this current trend from an era to content scarcity to an era of content abundance as a “revolutionary shift,” a “cultural U-turn so extreme it’s hard to comprehend,” he also eschews determinism by stipulating that this “is a transformation we can influence.” One key avenue of influence entails invention and refinement of what Jensen calls “authority 3.0” metrics – sophisticated instruments that track and measure knowledge creation and dissemination in ways that blend traditional “authority 1.0” principles such as peer review with newfangled digital tools like Reference Finder (a National Academies Press “fuzzy matching” search tool) and Microsoft’s Photosynth.

How does this relate to the world of policy debate? Certainly the new metrics present tools for debaters to measure the credibility of online publications, a task that is becoming increasingly salient as digital material increasingly finds its way into contest rounds (see e.g. Alderete, 2009; Phillips, 2009). But there are also other connections. Jensen’s brother was a successful high school debater under Randy McCutcheon at East High School in Lincoln, Nebraska, so Jensen knows all about inherency, index cards and spewdown delivery. And in the debate community’s early efforts at collaborative online knowledge production (such as DebateResults, Planet Debate, and caselist wikis), Jensen sees seeds of new metrics of scholarly authority.

Consider what takes place in a debate tournament contest round, one held under today’s conditions of digitally networked transparency. Debaters present their research on both sides of a given topic, citing evidence to support their claims. Those claims (and increasingly, the precise citations or exact performative elements supporting them) are often transcribed and then uploaded to a publicly available digital archive. The yield is a remarkably intricate and detailed map of a whole set of interwoven policy controversies falling under the rubric of yearlong national policy debate resolution. Who cares about this? Of course debaters and forensics specialists preparing for the next tournament take interest, as the map provides a navigational tool that leverages preparation for future contests. But recall the CSIS JY (2009) pitch to college debaters and forensics specialists researching nuclear weapons policy: “There will be a demand for your expertise in the policy analysis comm
unity.” Let us reflect on how this demand could manifest, and how intercollegiate debate might meet it halfway.

* Professional training. On a most basic level, the CSIS JY “public merits” case for the nuclear weapons policy topic area is colored by the legacy of William Taylor, former vice president and now senior adviser at CSIS. Taylor created a fellowship program that brought recently graduated intercollegiate debaters to Washington, D.C. for work at his highly influential security think tank. Since 1997, a host of former debaters have utilized their debate research skills in applied policy analysis for CSIS, often on nuclear issues. Meanwhile, other former debaters have ascended to prominent posts in academia, where they often mentor scholars on nuclear policy. In this respect, debate training on nuclear policy today might result in career advancement in a research field tomorrow, where there is “demand” for the unique type of skill-set honed in the crucible of debate competition. These types of opportunities could be cultivated further by through informal recruitment channels, inf
ormation exchange, and perhaps development of additional fellowship programs modeled on the CSIS Taylor initiative.

* Digital debate archive (DDA) as a public research resource. With refinement (perhaps through incorporation of Django, GeNIe and SMILE web tools), online caselist wikis could be transformed into publicly accessible databases designed to provide policy-makers, journalists, and others resources for interactive study of the nuclear weapons policy controversy. Let’s say a reporter for the Global Security Newswire is following the START arms control beat. She could visit the DDA and not only pull up hundreds of the contest rounds where arms control was debated; she could click through to find out how certain teams deployed similar arguments, which citations were getting the most play, which sources were cited most frequently by winning teams, and which citations on arms control were new at the last tournament. Such post-mortem analysis of the debate process could enable non-debaters to “replay the chess match” that took place at unintelligible speed during a given contest round (
Jensen, 2009; see also Woods, et al., 2006).

* Authority 3.0 metrics. The marriage of a DDA with Jon Bruschke’s ingenious DebateResults online resource could pave the way for a host of new statistical measures with great salience for a wide array of audiences. Internally, the debate community could benefit from development of a new set of measures and corresponding rewards associated with research outcomes. Who are the most productive individual researchers in the nation? The most original? Which debater or forensics specialist has the greatest “research impact factor” (a possible metric measuring the persons whose arguments tend to be picked up and replicated most by others in contest round competition). A system for tracking and publishing answers to these questions could open up a new symbolic reward economy, with potential to counter the drift toward sportification entailed in strict tournament-outcome oriented reward structure. The same system could be used to track frequency and mode of source citations, yielding
statistics that could answer such questions as: Which experts on nuclear weapons policy are cited most frequently in contest rounds? Which experts are cited most broadly (on a wide range of sub-topics)? When a given expert is sided by one side, who are the experts most likely to be cited by the opposing side? Scholars are increasingly using similar data to document their research impact during professional reviews (see Meho, 2007). Since the intercollegiate policy debate is driven by an intellectual community committed to the rigorous standards of evidence analysis and argument testing, a strong case could be made that citation in that community is more meaningful than an website hit indicating that a scholar’s work product was viewed by an anonymous person browsing the Internet (this is a good example of the difference between a 3.0 and 2.0 scholarly metric).

* Publication of policy analysis. One exemplar of this mode of engagement comes from the 1992-1993 intercollegiate policy debate season, when the University of Texas extended its advocacy of a Flood Action Plan affirmative case beyond the contest round grid: “The skills honed during preparation for and participation in academic debate can be utilized as powerful tools in this regard. Using sophisticated research, critical thinking, and concise argument presentation, argumentation scholars can become formidable actors in the public realm, advocating on behalf of a particular issue, agenda, or viewpoint. For competitive academic debaters, this sort of advocacy can become an important extension of a long research project culminating in a strong personal judgment regarding a given policy issue and a concrete plan to intervene politically in pursuit of those beliefs. For example, on the 1992-93 intercollegiate policy debate topic dealing with U.S. development assistance policy, th
e University of Texas team ran an extraordinarily successful affirmative case that called for the United States to terminate its support for the Flood Action Plan, a disaster-management program proposed to equip the people of Bangladesh to deal with the consequences of flooding. During the course of their research, Texas debaters developed close working links with the International Rivers Network, a Berkeley-based social movement devoted to stopping the Flood Action Plan. These links not only created a fruitful research channel of primary information to the Texas team; they helped Texas debaters organize sympathetic members of the debate community to support efforts by the International Rivers Network to block the Flood Action Plan. The University of Texas team capped off an extraordinary year of contest round success arguing for a ban on the Flood Action Plan with an activist project in which team members supplemented contest round advocacy with other modes of political org
anizing. Specifically, Texas debaters circulated a petition calling for suspension of the Flood Action Plan, organized channels of debater input to ‘pressure points’ such as the World Bank and U.S. Congress, and solicited capital donations for the International Rivers Network. In a letter circulated publicly to multiple audiences inside and outside the debate community, Texas assistant coach Ryan Goodman linked the arguments of the debate community to wider public audiences by explaining the enormous competitive success of the ban Flood Action Plan affirmative on the intercollegiate tournament circuit. The debate activity, Goodman wrote, ‘brings a unique aspect to the marketplace of ideas. Ideas most often gain success not through politics, the persons who support them, or through forcing out other voices through sheer economic power, but rather on their own merit’ (1993). To emphasize the point that this competitive success should be treated as an important factor in public
policy-making, Goodman compared the level of rigor and intensity of debate research and preparation over the course of a year to the work involved in completion of masters’ thesis” (Mitchell, 1998).

Regarding the latter engagement mode, publication of policy analysis, it is illuminating to compare the 1992-1993 Texas Flood Action Plan initiative with Justin Skarb’s recent publication of debate-related research on solar-powered satellites with Space Review. While the work products stemming from both projects evince a level of polish and detail that is de rigueur for advocates trained in the art of policy debate, there are significant differences. One significant difference concerns representation of authorship status to external audiences, with the Texas project backed by the actual identities of the debaters and forensics specialists who worked on the development assistance topic, and the Skarb piece carrying the pseudonym “John Marburry” (replete with fictitious qualifications). Although use of pen names by authors is uncommon, it is sometimes justified under special circumstances, and even celebrated in fantastic cases. However, in these exceptional instances (e.g. for
mer CIA analyst Michael Scheuer’s publication of a book by Brassey’s as “anonymous”), usually readers gain confidence that the editor knows the author’s real identity, and sanctions use of a pen name for a justified reason. As Space Review editor Jeff Foust’s account attests, this did not appear to be the case in the Skarb affair:

“I added the note crediting Skarb the same day the article was originally published (April 27), after getting a request to do so from ‘Marburry’ (he said that the omission was an oversight because ‘neither of them’ were sure the article would even be published, and that if it was not possible to do so it was fine with him.)  At the time I had no reason to believe that Marburry was not who he said he was, or that he was the same person as Skarb.  I am waiting to hear back from Marburry/Skarb regarding this situation.” (Foust, 2009)

A second level of distinction is that the Texas project transparently links contest round research with public advocacy, drawing explicitly upon the academic debate experience to ground public claims regarding undesirability of the Flood Action Plan. In contrast, the Skarb piece is opaque with respect to its origin as a work product flowing from debate research on the 2008-2009 interscholastic alternative energy topic. The result of such opacity is a missed opportunity for Skarb to highlight the methodology of debate as constitutive of his work product, an aspect that CSIS JY suggests may be especially appealing for external audiences.

To more fully unpack this final point, it may be useful to revisit David Zarefsky’s (1972, 1979) theory of academic debate as hypothesis testing. During the heyday of policy debate’s “paradigm wars,” hypothesis testing had its share of adherents, some in the judging ranks who applied the paradigm as a tool for adjudication of individual contest rounds, and others in the debating ranks, who used the paradigm to justify certain argumentative strategies (e.g. multiple, conditional and contradictory negative counterplans).

Lost in this process of reduction was Zarefsky’s vision of academic debate as a vehicle to transport the theory and practice of argumentation to wider society (see e.g. Sillars & Zarefsky, 1975; Zarefsky, 1980). Hypothesis testing, in this wider frame, was a construct for establishing the gravitas and authority of forensics specialists in conversations about the nature of argumentation beyond the contest round setting. Here, the analogy linking debate to scientific hypothesis testing was not designed to show how debate itself was a scientific process, but rather to alert external audiences to the fact that academic debate, while deviating significantly from established patterns of scientific inquiry, features its own set of rigorous procedures for the testing of argumentative hypothesis. Skarb missed a chance to leverage his claims regarding solar power satellite policy by making a similar point, an oversight that future attempts of a similar sort might do well to bear in min


Alderete, T. (2009). Just musings and questions. Standards for Evidence thread. website. May 13.

CSIS JY. (2009). Nuclear policy topic paper — draft. April 23. Cross Examination Debate Association website. Online at

Foust, J. (2009). Personal correspondence with the author. May 14.

Jensen, M. (2007). The new metrics of scholarly authority. Chronicle of Higher Education, June 15. Online at:

Jensen, M. (2008). Scholarly authority in the age of abundance: Retaining relevance within the new landscape. Keynote address at the JSTOR Annual Participating Publisher’s Conference. May 13. Online at:

Jensen, M. (2009). Personal correspondence with the author. February 27.

Marburry, J. (2009). Space-based solar power: right here, right now? Space Review, April 27. Online at:

Meho, L.I. (2007). The rise and rise of citation analysis. Physics World, January, 32-36.

Mitchell, G.R. (1998). Pedagogical possibilities for argumentative agency in academic debate. Argumentation & Advocacy, 35, 41-60.

Phillips, S. (2009). SPS article controversy. The 3NR: A Collaborative Blog about High School Policy Debate. May 11. Online at:

Sillars, M.O. & D. Zarefsky. (1975). Future goals and roles of forensics. In J.H. McBath (Ed.), Forensics as communication: The argumentative perspective (pp. 83-93). Skokie, Illinois: National Textbook Company.

Woods, C., Brigham, M., Konishi, T., Heavner, B. Rief, J., Saindon, B., & Mitchell, G.R. (2006). Deliberating debate’s digital futures. Contemporary Argumentation and Debate, 27, 81-105.

Zarefsky, D. (1972). A reformulation of the concept of presumption. Paper presented at the Central States Speech Association Convention. April 7. Chicago, Illinois.

Zarefsky, D. (1979). Argument as hypothesis-testing. In David A. Thomas (Ed.), Advanced debate: Readings in theory, practice and teaching (pp. 427-437). Skokie, Illinois: National Textbook Company.

Zarefsky, D. (1980). Argumentation and forensics. In J. Rhodes & S. Newell (Eds.), Proceedings of the summer conference on argumentation (pp. 20-25). Annandale, Virginia: Speech Communication Association.

March 30, 2009

Black Participation in CEDA 20 Years Later?

Filed under: Academics,Debate,Research — bk2nocal @ 10:44 am

Peter Loge wrote this paper in 1990 for the Speech Communication Assocation conference.  It seems that this coming year would be a good time to revisit it – two decades later.  With Towson teams deep in outrounds at both CEDA Nationals and the NDT, but without the changes suggested in Peter Loge’s paper in place on a large scale, have we improved?  And if we have not made major improvements, were Peter Loge’s suggestions inappropriate or just not instituted on a large scale?  Some interesting questions and possibilities for research this coming year!

March 25, 2009

Debate as Curriculum

Filed under: Academics,Debate,Instructional Ideas,Pedagogy — bk2nocal @ 11:02 pm

I remember joking around with people I went to college with that I wanted to start my own charter high school where all of the curriculum matter revolved around the high school debate topic for the year.  It would be the perfect way to solve the competition between homework and debate research – they would both be one and the same.  Considering the breadth of arguments on any debate topic, there is no reason you could not tie the topic into just about any class subject matter.  Of course, this was just a joke…but, then I read this post on a tech and learning blog that referred to this article about a district in Colorado that is switching over to student-designed curriculum, joint grades, etc.

So, if debaters could design their own curriculum, would they learn more than they learn in traditional classes?  Would they work harder at it?  Interesting thought…

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