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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.

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