Its debatable…Speak Up!

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!

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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.

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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, Cross-x.com 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
d.

REFERENCES

Alderete, T. (2009). Just musings and questions. Standards for Evidence thread. Cross-X.com website. May 13.http://www.cross-x.com/vb/showthread.php?t=992035&highlight=alderete+skarb&page=4

CSIS JY. (2009). Nuclear policy topic paper — draft. April 23. Cross Examination Debate Association website. Online at http://topic.cedadebate.org/?q=node/11.

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:http://chronicle.com/free/v53/i41/41b00601.htm.

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:http://www.nap.edu/staff/mjensen/jstor.htm.

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:http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1359/1.

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: http://www.the3nr.com/2009/05/11/sps-article-controversy/

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…

June 27, 2008

Series: Web 2.0 for Forensics – Part I

I’ve been trying to incorporate a little more of the web 2.0 programs in my academic life, and this has led me to consider the way these same programs can be used for forensics.  So, I am going to start brainstorming ideas for using different tech to make our forensics lives easier and turn them into a series of blogs.  I’m sure that many of these are already being used by those who are more advanced in the web 2.0 experience than I am, but hopefully it may spark some ideas for you to expand your technological helpers for forensics.  Please feel free to post any additional items in the comments section and the series will continue on a weekly-or-so basis and as other items strike my fancy!

This first blog in the series will include wikis, facebook and del.icio.us.

WIKIS

I began using a wiki in my Argumentation and Debate class last semester to collect the evidence that students turned in.  I had them turn in the evidence on the wiki on a page with their name on it.  This allowed me to collect evidence without having to carry around a bunch of papers, make corrections to the materials electronically, and be sure that they were doing the evidence assignments electronically.  In addition, the students could search through all of the evidence from the class using the “search” function on the wiki.  So, when they were constructing affirmatives and negatives, they could easily do word searches on the topic they were working on and get all the different evidence found by their classmates.

I am also starting a wiki for our team.  This will be a clearinghouse of information, where I can post tournament invitations, articles for debate or speech topic ideas, results from tournaments, pictures from tournaments, etc.  Individuals on the team can have access to add things themselves.  It makes it so much easier than having a file cabinet in my office or an in-basket as everyone has immediate access from wherever they are. I think this will make things much easier on me and the students.

FACEBOOK

I was late coming to Facebook.  In all honesty, I avoided it like the plague for the past few years.  But, I am a convert.  I am convinced that this is the new email.  The listservs of the 90s changed the face of forensics, with national participants able to communicate with everyone else in the nation in one message and with quick response.  Facebook allows that same level of communication, but adds so much more of a personalized exchange and a way to access those who don’t even know you exist.  I am going to focus on using facebook as a recruiting and PR tool, because that has been my experience with it so far.

Facebook is one of the most popular social networking programs in the world.  If someone isn’t on Facebook at this point, they probably will be in the next five years.  One of the first things I did when I got on Facebook was form a group for “Past and Present Members of CSU Chico Forensics” and invite everyone I knew who was on or had been on the team in the past.  From there, they informed their friends and others requested membership.  Now, I have a single location to post information and requests for alumni whenever I have something.  In addition, I have been contacted by incoming freshman who found the group and are interested in joining the team when they get here in September.  Its an easy way to get the information out that used to require a ton of posters and flyers and visits to classrooms, etc.  I look forward to using Facebook as a PR tool next year as well.

DEL.ICIO.US

If you have not used del.icio.us, you probably have seen it on the bottom of an article or blog you have read.  It is a tool that appears across the web and allows you and your students easy access to collecting information.  It is a “social bookmarking” program, that allows one person to bookmark articles and then make those bookmarked articles available to a group of people.  The program uses “tags” to identify the important information in the article (answers the “why did you bookmark this article?”) so you can search by tags an find all the pertinent articles on that subject.  Using del.icio.us you and your students can create a “webliography” of speech topics or debate topic articles that can then be easily accessible by everyone on the team.

I have to admit I have not used del.icio.us much, but I just read a blog on using it as a learning tool and it inspired me to consider using it for the team this semester.

There are a TON of different tools out there for incorporating web 2.0 into education and therefore forensics.  I think the key is to consider a few things before starting to use any of these tools:

(1)  What is this going to SAVE me having to do in the future?  If the answer is nothing, than it may not be worth it.  After all, we all have way too much to do to be adding things on to that list.  But, if its going to save you some time and effort in the future (e.g. using the wiki to post invitations saves printing, copying, etc. of schedules for the students – they can just log on and get it themselves whenever they want – all I have to do is post a link) than its worthwhile to learn a new skill or introduce a new routine.

(2)  How difficult is this going to be to use?  Is this something you or your students are already using for other purposes.  So, Facebook makes sense to me versus finding another social networking program because most of my students are already there, most of my recruits will be on there and many of my colleagues are/will be on there.  So, why use a different program that requires an additional logon, an additional post, and learning new methods of posting, groups, etc.?

(3)  Is this really adding value?  Sometimes I tend to use tech for tech’s sake.  I’m just fascinated by new things and since I can remember a time when most people didn’t own a computer, I am amazed at the access to information and different gadgets/programs we now have.  But, I often have to ask myself whether what I’m doing is really adding value to my life/academic experience or whether it is just something that is catching my eye.  I guess this is kind of the same as #1, but I think of it more as asking if it adds something of value to my life.  So, even if it doesn’t save me having to do something, if its something I find enjoyable or attractive or fun, I am more likely to continue doing it in the future.  If it doesn’t do any of that for me, than I’m probably going to spend a bunch of time learning how to use it, etc. and then not come back to it often enough to make it worth my while.

Look for Part II, where I’ll go googly over Google – docs, reader and calendar!

December 11, 2007

Economist online debates

Filed under: Academics,Debate,Instructional Ideas — bk2nocal @ 11:44 am

Looking for a way to get your debaters and/or argumentation students involved in a debate outside the walls of the classroom or tournament setting?  The Economist is hosting a series of online debates between experts and inviting online readers to participate in the debates as well as the evaluations of those debates.  The current debate is whether governments and universities should compete to attract qualified students, regardless of nationality or residence.  The reason I really like these debates is they offer a “real-time” results report, with comments from contributors and online readers.

I think this type of online debate offers students some insight into the way that experts put their arguments together and present them.  It also offers them a way of applying some of the evaluation skills that they have been learning through the participation in debate, without having to actually “judge” at a debate tournament. 

Another thing this is great for is seeing how more “lay” audiences evaluate the debates.  One of the complaints I often hear about our activity is its lack of availability to the lay audience.  This is a way of getting students used to some of the responses that more lay audiences may have and can function as an inspiration for a follow-up on-campus debate.  The information resources are all there, as well as some of the issues that professionals think are important, which provides a relatively easy way of constructing an on-campus debate.  Something I often struggle with when designing on-campus debates is taking the time to find the information about the arguments on both sides and getting the students to think about what issues may arise.  All of that is done for them through these Economist debates.

Finally, I think it is a good thing to see that a publication with the respect that the Economist garners thinks that public debate and deliberation on key issues is not only important, but also can be interesting and entertaining.  It provides our activity with some real-world applications, albeit online instead of in-person.  Because of this, I would like to encourage you to support the Economist’s efforts and get your students involved in the online debates!

The next debate will be on the topic of social network sites and education and will begin in early 2008.  This is the final debate scheduled in this series, but hopefully with interest, they will continue to have sponsor these types of activities.

If you know of other online debate resources, please post a comment with the url information!

December 4, 2007

Importance of research on forensics – A DOF Perspective

Filed under: Academics,Communication Studies,Forensics - General,Research — bk2nocal @ 1:02 pm

A few posts ago, I posted the link to an article discussing the importance of research to the graduate student assistants who work with forensics teams.  In that same issue of the National Forensic Journal, an article discussed the importance of research from a Director of Forensics perspective.  Robert C. Aden, former Director at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire included the following reasons that research in speech and debate is valuable for reasons other than just achieving tenure:

  • “…forensics research assists coaches by offering perspectives for approaching the various events.”   I think this is of particular importance to someone like me.  I have competed at least a few times in every type of event, but I have obviously invested much more time in debate than any of the individual events.  This puts me at a disadvantage when coaching IE competitors in the same way that having a primarily IE background puts someone at a disadvantage when coaching debate, even if they have a limited debate background.  I think that there are some great panels at conferences and coach’s workshops on much of this, but I would love to have access to that same material in print or online via video.  Although many do not think of this as “research” – doing a comprehensive examination of judge’s preferences for certain arguments or speech structures would produce really valuable information.  We make a lot of assumptions about what judges want from our competitors, but in the end, they are just that – assumptions.  And we all know what assumptions make us.
  • “…forensics research provides a valuable resource for students.”   Although this particular point is not as important in the age of internet and listservs, I do think that a more formal outlet for some of the discussions that take place in online forums would be helpful.  For example, there are some really valuable conversations (some might say arguments) that take place about debate theory on both edebate and netbenefits, but many of those discussions seem to fade away without offering anyone but the most avid and dedicated reader any conclusive advice on argumetnative choices.  Someone who was able to take those discussions and structure them into a useful article would be providing an invaluable service to the community.  Even better, someone who could take those discussions and pull out key areas for exploration via a more structured research effort could have a lasting effect on our community. 
  • “…forensics research enhances student and coach understanding of the connection between theory and practice.”  As the author points out, this was particularly important for debate at that time, although some individual events did include this type of discussion.  There is much grumbling about forensics having “lost its way” from some administrations across the country.  Some programs are having to do “hard sells” to continue funding or bring back funding that has been lost in the past.  Being able to provide quality, up-to-date research tied to other areas of the Communication field can not hurt in these discussions.  Through a demonstration of current forensics and the way that current theory is being applied in the activity, one may have an easier time justifying Communication departments handing over some of those difficult-to-come-by dollars. 

These are pretty general ideas, but they are good reminders of WHY we should continue our efforts at research in the different areas of forensics. 

November 21, 2007

Research on forensics – a little inspiration

Filed under: Academics,Communication Studies,Debate,Forensics - General,Research — bk2nocal @ 11:39 pm

A few days ago, I posted an article from the National Forensic Journal on how to effectively do research on forensics.  Although the article was from 1990, I thought much of it was still valuable information.  Another article in that same issue of the Journal also has some valuable insights into doing research on forensics, so I thought I would include it here as well.  Written by The Head Jayhawk, Donn Parson, this article updates information that came out of a conference from the 1970s, “The Sedalia Conference”.  The article, “On publishing and perishing: Some approaches in forensic research,” does an excellent job of recognizing and identifying what Parson refers to as, “non-traditional circumstances” that are experienced by forensic coaches and adminstrators (and often not at all understood by academic peers).  The next time someone says, “I just don’t get what you do,” it might be good to excerpt this article.

The other thing I liked about the article is that it is written by someone in charge of a very respected graduate studies program in Communication (University of Kansas) and very clearly identifies the benefits and importance of debate in both the careers of undergraduates and graduates.  If nothing else, perhaps this article can serve as an inspiration to someone who is teetering on the edge of a debate position in graduate school or a debate career in academia.  I will certainly be putting it in my files under “inspiration” to remind me why I do the things I do and what makes it worthwhile!

November 17, 2007

Forensics Research – What NOT to do (and some things you should do)

Research is important.  It is important to our activities, it is important to our professional positions and it is particularly important to our graduate students.  Many students who devote a significant amount of time to this activity look to include the activity in their graduate research projects.  After all, it offers them an easy audience from whom to collect data, it is something that interests them and sometimes they even see some value to others in having answers to the questions that have been rattling around in their heads.  I definitely think research on our activity is important.  Many of us make assumptions about what “we know to be true” without having any real data to back those assumptions up.  In my argument class, as well as the debates I judge most weekends, this would not pass muster.  So, we need studies to be done.  But, I think its important that we consider those studies and make sure that academic research within our area are just as (or even more) legitimate as that being done in other areas.  I came across this (somewhat old) article and thought it might be useful in guiding research for both graduate students and professionals in debate. 

The four areas for focusing research:  (1) real world application, (2) argumentation theory, (3) forensics pedagogy, and (4) tournament practice.  It seems to me that many edebate discussions are rife with information to spur some research in these areas.  Using the archives, perhaps one can find something that interests them and use it as a jumping off point to create a study and complete that study in such a way that it has real world and meaningful application theory, pedagogy and/or practice.

November 15, 2007

Online Resource – PBS Point of View series

Filed under: Academics,Debate,Instructional Ideas — bk2nocal @ 8:58 pm

I am searching for interesting material to use in my Argumentation and Debate class next semester and came across the PBS website for their Point of View series.  I’ve used Frontline material in my classes before and thought it was great, but I haven’t used any of the POV stuff.  But, it seems perfect for both debate classes and parliamentary debate teams for background information on a bevy of issues.  The topics seem what would be interesting to students and PBS supplies suggestions for using the materials in classes.  They even refer to using the forensics coach on campus to access “ballots” for evaluating in-class debates.  There are a number of shows on varying subject matter, both domestic and international.

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