[eDebate] Problems with Paperless

joe leeson-schatz sailorferrets
Fri Jun 26 11:07:47 CDT 2009

While I like the idea of paperless debating and cutting down on
wasteful printing, there are at least two problems with it that have
yet to be addressed by the conversation going on.

The first is the debaters who chose to go paperless and their
willingness to clearly show to the opposing team what they actually
read. I have judged, and have had teams debate against others, who
decided it was okay to jump someone a 300 page file of which they read
6 cards from, didn't mark which cards they read, and wouldn't take
their own prep time to point out which of the cards they read either.
This happened even after requesting that the cards read be clearly
identified. This means that the team debating against the paperless
team had to either give up cross-x to figure it out, use their own
prep time, screw it and never look at the evidence, or has to be
amazing at quickly searching through a full file. When people read off
paper this is not the case. While there is a few cards that may be on
the same page that isn't read, generally people "x" em while reading,
or point it out quickly. I have not seen this same willingness on the
part of the paperless teams I have witnessed. There should be an
imperative that teams reading off a laptop copy-paste the cards they
PLAN on reading into a separate doc file and then jump that to the
other team and NOT the entire file of answers of which they plan to
read less than 25%. If people skip a card because of time it's easy
and quick to tell the other team. This, unfortunately, is not what
I've witnessed thus far.

The second problem is for novice debate. I have found that novices
have a harder time organizing, reading, and actually working with
their evidence when it's all electronic instead of on paper. We have
all our backfiles electronically that debaters can access and use but
require our novices at minimum to print those files they plan on
using. Comparing the work and knowledge done with paper files vs.
electronic files, novices do way more work on their paper files,
marking them with notes, going over them, and preparing them.
Electronically, I'm lucky to get stuff underlined. While this may be
an issue of the work ethic of the debater, it is not so entirely. The
ability to comprehend what's read off a monitor vs. paper drops
significantly after about 20-30 minutes of work and the ability to
correctly check over grammar and context drops as well. There are
several studies that show how concentration drops significantly when
work is done exclusively through a monitor. As someone who does 95+%
of their work on the computer I'm normally not an advocate of the
"reading off a monitor is tough" argument. However, I have seen a big
difference in the internalization of arguments within my novices based
upon whether they read the file on paper or on the computer. I have
also caught incredibly grammatically incorrect sentences of mine in
academic papers when proof reading on paper even after several
computer-based revisions. None of this precludes debating off the
computer. However, if everything went paperless it could hurt the
development of novices who could better get into the activity with
paper files to begin looking over.

The third problem is still access. While there's talk of getting a
third laptop or a printer for each team from the University it doesn't
solve the problem of people with no personal computer, which would
make it impossible to read off one and give one to another team. Even
if they still decided to stay on paper when debating people who are
not on paper they have to learn quickly on how to retrieve the needed
information, which is magnified by the first problem I identify.
People who use computers less are less apt to use them efficiently in
a debate round. The frustration of going from one laptop keyboard to
the next is enough for me since I'm sure when I want to hit the down
arrow I'll end up hitting page down or some other key in a different
place. I can fix that mistake. Most people can. But people without
much access to laptops will have a greater problem. Even if it's a not
a big one, debate is a game of seconds. We say "09" or just "9"
instead of "2009" to save seconds. If reading all the evidence off a
laptop causes the opponents to give up as much time as reducing "2009"
to "9" then it creates a further competitive disadvantage beyond the
already existing inequalities in debate ESPECIALLY when the other team
doesn't clearly mark the cards they've read.

In short, I think moving in a paperless direction is a good idea.
However, it needs to be done in a way that doesn't further the
competitive gaps that already exist in debate as well as in a way that
doesn't make it harder for new debaters to enter into the community.
The middle ground people are talking about some of these problems but
not all because it still enables team to jump their entire heg file
read Khalizad and think they've met their burden of giving the other
team the evidence they read. This is clearly not the case.

joe leeson-schatz
director of debate at binghamton university
campaigns coordinator of the binghamton/vestal vegan association

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