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!


January 13, 2009

Happy Belated New Year – Getting Ready for Spring Season…

How the heck are we already in 2009?  Time flies when you are having fun, I guess.  And, I have to admit, I am still having fun coaching speech and debate and teaching and living in Chico.  I really wish I was posting more regularly on this blog…and I’m really going to try to commit to it in the new year.

I just got back from the Southern California Swing debate tournaments at USC and Fullerton.  That is a brutal eight or nine days with travel, but such a valuable experience for debaters.  I remember how much I learned the first year at those two tournaments – it was like a crash course in a whole new level of debate and I feel like that same experience happened to my students this past Swings.  Sometimes it was a bit painful (after all, it is called “crash” course for a reason), but overall I think my students came out with a renewed commitment to debate and a new understanding of what it takes to be successful in debate at the Open level.

I wish that there was a similar tournament experience for IEers during the break, when all they have to think about is speech, but I’m hoping that our early tournaments at Southwestern and Pt Loma will prove fruitful for them.  The Spring semester is such a short one competitively speaking, so we really need to get out to a fast and well-prepared jump.

I’m interested to hear what some of you do to keep students active during the holiday break – especially those like us at Chico who have an extended break (five or six weeks).  Some students stay on top of it and communicate well, but others seem to fade out into their non-school/non-forensics lives and come back even less prepared than they left in December because they haven’t looked at a file/speech in five weeks and have not competed in almost three months.  I would also be interested in hearing how you get new novices up and running quickly in the Spring semester’s short season.  It seems like they have to get ready to compete in a VERY SHORT amount of time and then they have a VERY limited competitive experience before the season is over and they lose the competitive drive.

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


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.


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.


If you have not used, 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 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 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!

June 23, 2008

Orbitz Price Guarantee

Filed under: Forensics - General,Organizing and planning,Travel — bk2nocal @ 11:26 am

With the additional costs of flying nowadays, it seems pretty important to be getting the cheapest price possible.  I previously posted on this blog about Yapta (read about it here) which allows you to request a refund if a cheaper ticket on your same flight comes available.  But, according to Go Green Travel, Orbitz has taken it one further.  They will now refund the difference, without you having to request it, if ANYONE books a cheaper ticket on your same flight at a later date.  The Go Green Travel post about it includes the small print for you.  Orbitz does have a booking fee, but if you know you’ll get the cheapest possible ticket, it seems worth it.

June 11, 2008

Back from the hiatus

Filed under: Debate,Organizing and planning — bk2nocal @ 7:20 pm

Well, I’ve been on an unplanned hiatus from posting here at Its Debatable for a couple of months.  Sorry to those of you who come here expecting a post every once in a while.  It is my hope that I will be able to start back posting on a regular basis.  I’m going to aim for three posts a week, since the every day posting seems to be a little tough.  If I have something to say more than three times a week, I’ll post it!

I am currently working on a wiki that will coordinate with this blog and provide a location for housing resources, contacts, templates, etc. for all of you coaches out there.  It is not anywhere close to be functional at this point, but my goal is to roll it out publicly in early July.  So, keep your eye out for that!

The possible topics are out for next year’s intercollegiate policy debate community.  They are available at the CEDA Topic Blog if you would like to look them over.  I am looking forward to learning something of both agriculture and subsidies.  It seems particularly poignant in this age of rising food prices, drought in California and problems with food safety.

I look forward to getting back into the blogging thing and I think the wiki will really help with the interactivity and resource availability to my readers!

Thanks to those who continue to tune in!

December 13, 2007

Directors of Forensics – Making it all look easy

Filed under: Forensics - General,Organizing and planning — bk2nocal @ 10:43 pm

I just want to take this opportunity to give a “I’m not worthy” bow down to all the DOFs out there who make it look easy.  It is months like these that make me realize how difficult this job is.  There is so much to do just in managing a team, but the DOF has to function as a Public Relations person, a development officer, a grant writer, and an event planner all at the same time as teaching classes, grading papers and serving on department and university committees.  This all has to be done while working most weekends and don’t forget that most DOFs have homes and families that need to be cared for. 

I’ve definitely made some mistakes this semester.  First off, not putting things like our Speech Night and holiday party on the calendar early enough in the semester.  We had poor attendance at Speech Night because it was during dead week and we didn’t settle on a date until really late in the process.  The performances were great and I’m impressed with my students, but I was disappointed we didn’t have more people there to appreciate their work.

Second, not doing enough PR during the season.  This is a major weakness of mine.  I just have not been in touch with the on-campus PR people enough to get any substantive coverage.  We had a nice article in our campus newspaper The Orion (and thanks to Tuna it made it onto the Global Debate Blog) and we had an article in our COMM newsletter for the Communication majors and alumni, but with our semester we really should have got more press.  It is just one of those things that tends to fall through the cracks for me.

Finally, I realize that I need to balance my time better between debate and IEs.  I also need to have more focused goals and practice with the IEers.  I sometimes think of myself as a “debate coach,” so I’m tempted to stay out of the IE side of things.  But, I realize that I have a lot to offer the IEers as well and I just need to step in and be willing to voice my opinion.  I think I have valuable coaching advice, but I sometimes lay back more with the IEs than I do debate.  I need to step up and actively coach them as well next semester.

So, for those of you who have found a way to do it all and make it look easy – kudos to you.  Enjoy your holiday break because you truly have earned it.  Being a college Director of Forensics is truly one of the hardest jobs in academia, and definitely probably the most underpaid for the amount of work that is required.  I salute you DOFs!

December 5, 2007

End of semester stuff for DOFs…

Filed under: Forensics - General,Organizing and planning,Recruiting — bk2nocal @ 12:07 pm

Once tournaments end in the fall (usually around early December), it may seem like a time to coast, but resist the temptation!  This is a good time to do a few housekeeping chores that you probably won’t want to deal with (won’t have time to deal with) once you return in the Spring.  Here is a list off the top of my head, but there may be stuff to add – please feel free to in the comments:

1)  Go back and review all costs for the fall semester and see where your budget is sitting.  This is the time to adjust the travel schedule if necessary as students should be notified ahead of time if tournaments are being added or removed from the schedule.  I always try to have about 2/3 of my budget left for the Spring semester.  With the cost of the national tournaments and a little heavier travel in the Spring, that seems about right.  But, you may have a different type of schedule – just try to do some forward planning.

2)  Get trip requests in for any tournaments happening over the break or early in the Spring semester.  Its better to have this stuff done now and our campus literally shuts down over the break for about a week, so there will be no other chance to get requests in for the Swing tournaments and any other early January tournaments.  Do it now!

3)  Make reservations for as many Spring tournaments as possible now.  This does two things – (1) saves you time and effort over the break or upon returning for the Spring and (2) insures that you will have rooms at tournaments that may run out of space due to holiday travel, spring break travel, etc.  Start watching for airfare wars for those national tournaments as well.  If you are lucky enough to already know who is going, buying them now can save you 100s of dollars in ticket costs.  And even if you have to do a name change or two, that may be cheaper (usually $100 a piece) than missing out on a big sale.

4)  Do a end-of-semester “press release” on any stand-out results from the Fall semester and some information about Spring tournaments. 

5)  Do some recruiting.  Get flyers and letters out to all of the public speaking and argumentation classes on your campus.  If you wait until the Spring semester begins, many students already have class conflicts and other obligations.  But, if you can get them hooked in now, you can have them planning their work and school schedules around forensics.  Consider having an “open house” during dead week, when you have some snacks and sodas and allow students from these classes to drop by and talk to students on the team and coaches about what it is like to be on the forensics team. 

Again, this is not an exhaustive list by any means, but hopefully it will spur some thought on what you can be doing during this tournament downtime!

Enjoy these last few weeks of the semester without tournaments on the weekends (hopefully)!

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!

September 21, 2007

Building Team Cohesiveness

Filed under: Forensics - General,Organizing and planning — bk2nocal @ 9:50 am

Today’s post is on an aspect of forensics we often take for granted (if we’re lucky).  Team cohesiveness often happens naturally on forensics squads.  After all, they have a common interest built in and they are forced to spend long hours together in vans, hotel rooms and small classrooms.  But, it never hurts to insure that your team has cohesiveness by fostering it a few different ways.  I think this is especially important in full-service programs where you have the “two sides” of forensics, IEs and Debate, who may come to view themselves as competing for resources/attention if you don’t take the time to build cohesiveness and respect between them.

I was (un?)lucky enough to start my forensics experience at a junior college when most tournaments were full-service and the schedule allowed competitors to do both IEs and debate.  So, my first year competing, I not only did policy debate, but also competed in impromptu, extemp, duo interp (yeah, that’s right – I did duo interp), and POI (yeah, another interp event, what can I say?).  I will admit that I was more or less forced into doing the latter two because in order to go to Phi Rho Pi we had to have five events (debate was two, with both team and LD being options).  This fostered in me an appreciation of the IE competition and a respect for what it took to write a good, competitive speech (notice I had no platform speeches in there).  While at Chico as an undergrad, our director often made us do impromptu at tournaments along with debate because she felt it made us better at rebuttals (and it helped toward winning those sweepstakes trophies that impressed the administration).  And the one semester I took off for eligibility, I competed in a Communication Analysis and another Duo Interp (love the duo interp) and Impromptu all semester.  I came close to qualifying for AFA in impromptu and CA that semester.  So, I never had the feeling that IEers “had it easy” or “didn’t do any work” or other such myths that I often here promulgated amongst debaters.  And I never heard the IEers complain about the amount of coaching attention the debaters got (we often had more TAs assigned to us than they did) or the amount of copying we did (which came out of the team’s travel budget).  So, I was lucky.  I hope to build the same kind of respect on my current squad.  I don’t want there to be a “great divide” between the IE and debate competitors.  I want us to be one team.  But, how do you foster that?

Well, I have taken a few lessons from my director while I was here at Chico, Kathy Waste.  First, make sure everyone knows everyone else on the team.  We split up each meeting to work on our own stuff, but we always meet as a group first to go over general information, here Kudos for team members, etc.  Second, and this is something I took from Kathy – have your IEers do their speeches/performances for the whole team.  This gives the debaters an understanding of what the IEers have been working on, etc.  It also gives the IEers “fresh eyes/ears” to get feedback from someone who hasn’t heard/seen the speech a million and a half times during revisions.  And it often makes the debaters feel useful as peer coaches.  Although it is more difficult to have IEers watch a debate and give feedback, they can certainly help with argument ideas (especially those doing extemp), argument construction (after all, if they do persuasive, they are familiar with logical argument construction), etc.  Peer coaching is a great way to get people together on things that are of interest to them both.  Don’t force it, but be open to it.

In addition to the coaching help, have social activities that get them out of the forensics state-of-mind and gives them time to talk, get to know one another, etc.  For instance, have a game night.  Or go ice skating/roller skating as a group.  Have team dinners at tournaments.  Do a service project together (always a nice, feel-good way to spend an afternoon/evening).  There are numerous things you can do, and that time will provide the interactions necessary for inside jokes, nicknames, and other such team culture-building activities to occur.

Finally, go to as many full-service tournaments as you possibly can.  Luckily, California offers a number of these, so my team can get those invaluable, relationship-building van-rides at least a couple of times a semester.  Full-service tournaments are obviously harder on coaches.  Your time and effort and focus is split and your judging commitment swells, but its worth this cost if your team starts to bond.  Your job gets that much easier when retention goes up, peer coaching is established as a norm and students recruit others so you don’t have to.  It may cost a little time and energy in the short-term, but in the long-term it will make your job as director/coach much, much easier.

If you have ideas that have worked particularly well for building team cohesiveness, please put them in the comments section here.  I know that Long Beach used to do a big scavenger hunt at the beginning of each year with IEers paired with debaters (if the numbers worked out to enable that).  I would love to hear other’s ideas/memories of these types of activities!

June 5, 2007

Short note – Southwest Airlines College Traveler Program

Filed under: Academics,Debate,Organizing and planning,Travel — bk2nocal @ 7:49 am

I just saw this and thought I would post it, as it may save students some money and for teams with tight budgets, may mean another flying tournament you can attend.  Southwest is currently running a special for 18-23 year old college students that allows them to get four free flight credits plus the typical double credits for booking flights online – which means three round trips and they get a free roundtrip voucher.  I tried looking to see if you had to be new to Rapid Rewards to get the benefit, but I could not find anything to indicate that.  So, if you plan to fly your students to three tournaments during the year, they would then have a voucher they could use for a fourth tournament.  Not a bad deal…especially with Southwest’s vouchers as their pretty liberal about usage compared with other airlines’ points plans.

Students can sign up here

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