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Monday, April 27, 2020

Debating in lockdown #2 - how to run an online debating tournament

This week we have a guest post from Neil Singh, a student at Hackley School in New York, with a very practical walk through of how to run an online tournament using the platform Zoom. In future posts we will be looking at the practicalities of running an online debating club in school, and hearing from a teacher on his experience of online debating.

Directing and judging any debate tournament is a complicated process that combines organisation, communication, and data skills. As the Tournament Director for the English Speaking Union’s Middle School and Upper School Public Debate Programme in New York throughout the last four years, I have seen numerous strategies, some successful and others not, for directing and judging tournaments. As the debate world switches into a virtual environment, here are my suggestions on the most successful way to run a virtual tournament. 

To start with, having a high capacity and secure Zoom account is key so all tournament participants (students, judges, coaches, observers) can all gather in one space. This Zoom meeting should serve as the Tournament Director’s main forum for general announcements throughout the tournament.

Regardless of whether the debate tournament is virtual or in person, it always starts with a registration process to ensure all participants are present. The most efficient mechanism to conduct a virtual registration is by assigning staggered check in times for schools. For example, say school “X” is assigned to register at 8:30, school “Y” at 8:40, school “Z” at 8:50, and so on. At the school’s scheduled time, all participants affiliated would be expected to log onto the Zoom meeting to prove their presence and the functionality of their camera and microphone. During the registration of each school, there are a few key things for the Tournament Director to do. First, they must ensure that the intended teams the school intends to divide into are aligned with the teams entered for the tournament. Second, I highly recommend renaming each individual on Zoom to reflect their role in the tournament. For example, if a team of two from school “X” has debaters named John Smith and Sarah Cooper, John’s Zoom name should be renamed to “School X Team SC- Smith” and Sarah’s should be renamed to “School X Team SC- Cooper.” All judges should be renamed so the word “Judge” appears before their full name. These changes will ease the process of assigning breakout rooms later in the tournament, and will keep everything more organized. Finally, after a school is registered, they should be transferred into their own breakout room where they can prepare and have a team meeting. The general Zoom meeting should only be used for those who are in the process of registering.

Once all schools and judges have been accurately registered and named through the process described above, everyone should be brought back to the general Zoom room. First, the Tournament Director should pre-assign Zoom breakout rooms. Each debate should have their own Zoom breakout room ready to go before rooms, positions and motions are released. At this point, as would be done at a normal tournament, the Tournament Director should announce motions, rooms and positions for the first round of the competition. I strongly recommend using the screen sharing function on Zoom to project the rooms, positions and motions to the entire tournament. 

If you have more than one judge per room, you can assign each room a judges' breakout room for them to conduct their deliberations.
The final difference from an in person tournament is the submission of positions and scores by judges. While there do exist tabulation platforms with the option for judges to complete online ballots (great if judges are technologically savvy), I believe the safest balloting option is for judges to submit their results directly to the Tournament Director via email.

While some aspects of running a tournament are different, virtual debate tournaments are certainly doable and quite successful. Obviously, every country and every tournament has their own traditions and practices, but I thought it would be helpful to share some practices that have worked in the U.S. Feel free to reach out to me on with any questions.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Debating in lockdown #1 - solo debating

We’re all missing a lot of things in lockdown. Seeing our friends; getting out of the house (and away from our families …); maybe even the opportunity to take our GCSEs and A-Levels.

Debaters will be missing the lively, stimulating, face to face interaction that school debating clubs used to give them. And yet, while the strange time we are living through brings many losses, it also offers opportunities for debaters. 

Online trainers like Joe Wicks have been offering virtual exercise sessions to ensure the nation’s muscles don’t waste away in lockdown. It’s no less important for debaters to keep their debating muscles exercised. This week we’re going to be looking at ways in which you can keep your debating skills in trim with some activities you can undertake by yourself.

Solo debating might seem like a contradiction in terms. The whole point of debating is that it is interactive. However, here are some exercises you can undertake on your own which will keep you at peak fitness for when you’re able to return to face to face debating.

1. Practise your preparation

Pick a motion, and take either proposition or opposition. See our earlier post on choosing a motion for ideas for good motions. Give yourself 15 minutes (or longer if you want to practise long prep). Prepare a speech for or against it. See our earlier post here on how to prepare for a debate.

2. Analyse your own performance

Once you’ve prepared a speech, perform it and record it on your own device (NB just as in a real debate DO NOT write it out; give it spontaneously, with as few notes as possible). Then play it back, pausing the video, taking notes. Don’t be embarrassed; no one else is going to see it. Notice how you use tone of voice; pace; timing. See if you can pick holes in your arguments; how could you have phrased them better? When you’ve done all that, record it again. Compare the second version with the first, seeing what improvements you’ve made. Repeat as often as you want, or move on to a new motion.

3. Debate against yourself

Prepare and record a proposition speech as above. Play it back, this time pausing from time to time to give yourself points of information. Respond to your own points of information. 

Then prepare and record a speech for the opposition, and repeat the above procedure.

Practise being a judge by deciding which side won the debate and why.

Next week we’ll be looking at ways in which you can use technology to keep interactive debating going in lockdown. Until then, stay well!