[eDebate] Fwd: Twitter: The Digital Dallas Perkins

Duane Hyland privethedge
Fri Aug 14 07:15:29 CDT 2009

This reminds me of something that was done at the Towson fall tournament back in '89. At that tournament, in the ADA policy division, judges were able to spend four minutes prior to the 1NR telling the debaters what they really wanted them to focus on for the rebuttals - what arguments they were paying attention to, etc. It was very effective (I think Dr. Logue was doing some research on this, although I cannot be sure) for focusing the rebuttal arguments. Using twitter to do the same in novice and JV rounds may help novice and JV debaters improve their debating skills..it should certainly be experimented with.

"You may be whatever you resolve to be." Thomas J. Jackson"
"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that person that he, if he had the power, would be in silencing mankind? If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by??its collision with error." John S. Mill
President Barack Obama: "So explain to me exactly what this National Geospatial...uh..." (Politico5/29/09)? Boy..do I feel safe......

--- On Thu, 8/13/09, Abers <catspathat at gmail.com> wrote:

From: Abers <catspathat at gmail.com>
Subject: [eDebate] Fwd: Twitter: The Digital Dallas Perkins
To: edebate at ndtceda.com
Date: Thursday, August 13, 2009, 2:56 PM

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 evidence"). 

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 participants. 

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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