[eDebate] Fwd: Twitter: The Digital Dallas Perkins

Abers catspathat
Thu Aug 13 13:56:23 CDT 2009

A forward from Edmund Zagorin

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Edmund Zagorin <multiplicit at gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Aug 11, 2009 at 8:11 AM
Subject: Twitter: A Digital Dallas Perkins
To: edebate at ndtceda.com

Against the backdrop of the debate community's increasing entanglement with
digital technology through paperless debate, I would like to share a recent
experience/experiment at the Arizona Debate Institute as food for thought
and play.

Those who work with novice and JV debaters probably are aware that the early
debate learning curve is very process-oriented, where information is less
important than skill/ability, and both are acquired incrementally, through
practice and repetition. In other words, knowing what to do is different
than being able to do it, and the former is more important than the latter.
Too often, debate jargon and "sports talk" commentary about arguments being
conceded, won or lost take the place of actual substantive discussion of
issues and true clash. Which is to say that sometimes knowing what to do
right ("we're totally winning this link debate, extend our links, they are
way better than the other teams links because they subsume them") can take
the place of actually doing it i.e. actually making the argument ("our NYT
evidence says that Senator Sessions opposes the plan because his
constituency relies on stockpile maintenance for a substantial portion of
their job market which means he's willing to go to the mat-- their evidence
just says that *some* Democrats are in favor of it but doesn't say who or
what their level of commitment is, which means you should prefer our link

Practice speeches, speaking drills, stop-start mini-debates are all ways to
work on different mechanical and conceptual elements of the debate round,
but ultimately there is no substitute for in-round experience. However, the
current format of in-round pedagogy is left entirely up to the debaters,
which means that particularly in novice and JV, the benefit is entirely
informational, rather than skill-based. By this I mean that after the debate
is over, judges tell the debaters what they did right, wrong, and how they
can improve. The debaters then internalize that information, and hopefully
succeed in translating into skill sets and thus do better the next time a
similar situation comes up, provided that the comments are beneficial.
However, there are many cases, as I observed at the ADI, where the value of
the actual debate itself in terms of being a motivating incentive is mooted
early on by simply missing the boat, i.e. not making arguments, reading
untagged cards for an entire speech, filling progressive rebuttals with
entirely different arguments then previous speeches, saying "extend my
argument" rather than re-explaining the argument and so on. While post-round
correction can certainly be valuable, I would like to suggest another
possible option that would make possible a more process-oriented in-round
pedagogy, that allows for the development of skills through immediate rather
than post hoc course correction.

I judged a debate at the ADI tournament where both teams had already lost
two rounds and were more interested in the educational than competitive
value of the round that was about to take place. I suggested the following
proposition: all four debaters create twitter accounts and follow my twitter
account prior to the debate starting. I would send general comments and
suggestions throughout the debate round that could be acted upon in and
during speeches. All four debaters agreed to try it. During the debate I
posted comments and suggestions that were simultaneously be visible to all
four debaters, ranging from "read fewer cards, give more explanation of the
argument" to "NB: Vietnam and North Korea were not nuclear countries when
the the US fought wars against them" to "give more historical examples" to
"The neg is only defending the status quo, so multiple worlds is not an
applicable theory argument". The debaters occasionally referred to the
twitter stream throughout the round at various intervals, to what extent I
am not entirely certain, although the Vietnam/Korea one did come up in
cross-ex when discussing the applicability of historical examples to the
Prolif=Peace hypothesis. The round was the best I judged all day, although
it is possible that this was only due to the skill level of the

Following the round, I asked for feedback on the experiment. All four
debaters agreed that it had been helpful, and that they had appreciated the
comments. They further added that they often found the silence and
inscrutability of judges difficult during debates as they tried to asses
whether or not they were doing a good job, and that post-round comments were
often too specific to be helpful in the following debate which might be
about entirely different issues, and on top of that, comments needed to be
remembered and internalized and then reproduced at the right moment to be
applicable for improvement, whereas the real-time comments of the twitter
stream allowed them to improve their execution as it was actually going on.

As many in the community know, my experiment is not particularly novel,
given that some judges have been verbally intervening in debates for
decades, and that such intervention is usually appreciated by the
participants for exactly the reasons that the debaters I judged voiced--
namely in-round course correction and a rough perception of the judges
reaction to arguments. Although there are probably a number of examples,
Dallas Perkins first comes to my mind, who will inject such helpful gems as
"Not buyin' it" from the adjudicatory peanut gallery into the speeches of
debaters who are, unbeknownst to themselves, having difficulty selling their
schtick. While Dallas is totally sweet, I'm not sure how I'd feel about a
community populated exclusively by Dallas-replicants, even if only in
interventionary style alone. Which is to say, I for one do not trust judges
to per se properly limit or be fair in their verbal interventions, plus no
one really likes being interrupted, even if the interruption contains
competitively valuable information. However, there may be a way to
technologically replicate the beneficial aspects of the pedagogical method
of Dallas Perkins without the attendant annoyances of giving birth to a
hydra-headed multi-Dallas. [Btw, am indebted to Abe Corrigan for the term
"digital dallas".]

Twitter provides a mechanism for non-verbal communication that is
simultaneously accessible to all participants and is limited in scope by the
number of characters per tweet. Particularly for novice and JV debaters, I
think that this could be a valuable pedagogical tool for each debater to get
more out of each round, and to re-focus novice debate pedagogy from the pure
"banking" retention and repetition of information, to the more
process-oriented acquisition of skill sets. This is particularly true if
comments are limited to suggestions for rhetorical presentation, form rather
than content of analysis and debate techne in general, rather than
ultra-specific to the argument being made. If teams lack a computer,
tournaments might consider providing a projector to make the twitter stream
viewable by all participants from a single location.

I would also like to suggest that this method might be doubly valuable for
squads with novice/JV programs that are going paperless. In all four debates
I judged, more time was spent on figuring out the paperless transfers of
speeches than was spent on prep time. This suggests that paperless presents
unique challenges to novices, as the technological execution provides yet
another diversion from focus that should be spent preparing speeches. This
is particularly true in the instance where the debaters are learning how to
flow and need to see the evidence in order to visualize the argument-- a
process that is massively slower for new users of paperless systems. Twitter
could prove valuable in novice programs as a system of keeping an "open
flow", where the debaters could refer to the judges actual flow of each
speech through Twitter to fill the holes they missed while waiting for
documents to load, screens to unfreeze, mice to gain traction and all of the
other one or two second process gap distractions that can easily make
debaters miss an argument or more. Once again, the flow could be projected
on the wall, avoiding possible Twitter-access problems.

Thoughts? I am currently traveling and will probably not be able to respond
for a few weeks, but feel free to email anyway.


Edmund Zagorin
University of Michigan
twitter @multiplicit
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