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!


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 13, 2007

Rookie Tournaments for Recruitment

As we wind down our first semester of competition (one more tournament), we are also getting ready for our big Rookie Tournament on campus.  CSU Chico has had a large rookie tournament that invites all of the public speaking classes and argumentation and debate classes to compete in a tournament towards the end of the semester.  This has been THE major recruiting device for the team, especially on the debate side of things.  If you are not already holding a Rookie Tournament on your campus, and you’re looking for a way to increase numbers and understanding of what it is you do every weekend, I strongly encourage you to try it.  I have been at a number of different universities over the past decade, and each had their own special take on the Rookie.  I thought I might share some of those options, with some costs and benefits of each.  If you have specific questions on running a Rookie Tournament, please feel free to contact me or to put your questions in the Comments area as I’m sure there are a number of people who run these types of tournaments, and each might have a slightly different take.  For those of you who do run Rookie Tournaments, please feel free to add your 2 cents in the comments!  The more information, the merrier the Rookie Tournament!

CHICO MODEL:  CSU Chico, Kathy Waste and others who were in the department spent a considerable amount of time formulating the best possible strategy for hosting a rookie tournament.  The original goals were to (1) help out department FTE, (2) recruit new team members by sparking an interest in them through competition, and (3) giving the campus a small taste of what we do on almost a weekly basis.  It has grown now to support over 200 students each semester on the speech side and debate that usually has 25-30 participants.  Much of the team growth each year comes from this activity and it provides students with a great way to showcase what they have done in their classes all semester.  The tournament at Chico runs two debate rounds on Friday afternoon, and then two more and Semis and Finals on Saturday.  It also runs an IE tournament on Saturday with two prelims in Informative, Persuasive and Impromptu speaking and a Semis and Finals on Saturday. In the past we have recycled plaques to use for awards and provided certificates.

LONG BEACH/CSUN/CSUF/DVC/SFCC MODEL:  While at Fullerton, I participated in a joint effort with Long Beach and Northridge to provide one tournament for all of our classes each semester.  Modeling this, I believe that Becky Opsata at DVC and Kristina Whalen at SFCC is now doing a similar event each semester.  This is a great way to get those who “are sort of interested but not sure” about joining the team out to a tournament without a huge cost or time commitment.  The students get to “travel” without an overnight stay and they get a chance to meet students from other schools, both as competitors and judges and see that this is something that people are excited about.

PEPPERDINE MODEL:  At Pepperdine, we simplified the event to only include speech and it was run one evening using an elimination model of competition.  We had one round that everyone competed in, a second round that the top half went on to compete in, than a final round from the top competitors through the two rounds.  This was a small event – usually 70 or so people, so it was easier to find the final round doing it this way.  We did Informative, Persuasive and Impromptu following the Chico model.  It was a pretty simple event and we gave leftover t-shirts and sweatshirts from our tournaments as awards. 

There are tons of other models out there, I’m sure.  Chico actually had a student write their thesis on the Rookie Tournament and she put together a wonderful handbook to help the Director out with running the tournament.  I would love to provide that to any of those who would be interested in getting a Rookie Tournament started at their campus.

 Go rookies!  Their enthusiasm and joy at winning awards is truly inspiring.  It always reminds me of why I wanted to go into coaching in the first place!

Blog at