• Researching a New Topic

    Author: Bruce Najor


    With the criminal justice reform topic coming to an end, debaters and coaches may find themselves eager to get a jump start on the new topic.  For many; however, that excitement can quickly fade when faced with the daunting task of researching an unfamiliar and broad topic.  In this blog post I want to take the intimidation out of researching a new topic.  Below are some tips and tricks on how to manage new topic research.

    Getting Started. Before you put cursor to search engine, there’s a few things you should have done:

    1) Set a schedule.  The most important step for any researcher is to schedule research times.  You will accomplish more with a scheduled commitment to research a few hours a day than with a vague commitment to “research all weekend.”  If you want to be a prolific and a steady evidence producer, establishing a routine is the first step.

    2) Pick a research topic.  Deciding what part of a new topic you want to research on any particular day is important to getting started.  Personally, I like to research “topicality” before I do anything else.  It gives me a sense of the resolution, case law, core aff areas that I can branch out from once I move on.  That said, not everyone starts with topicality, and that’s fine!  Some see a new topic and want to do aff research, or start cutting core disad links.  There is no right or wrong thing to start reading about, but rather it’s important to combine your schedule with a particular topic for the day’s research.

    Bulk Research. When starting a new topic, it’s important to do “bulk research,” which I define as reading, sorting and saving as many articles during your research block as you can, even if it’s not immediately clear how you are going to use those articles in a final argument construction.  Spending some early pre-season time reading will pay dividends in future precision research and article skimming (more on that below).  Here are a few tips I have for researching in bulk:

    1) Research the core cases.  Even if the idea of running the biggest aff on the topic doesn’t appeal to you, starting your reading with the heart of the topic can give you plenty rabbit holes to follow.  For the water topic, researching the pros and cons to strengthening the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Water Resources Development Act will provide you with a rich reading list.

    2) Get imaginative with your search terms.  Think of all the possible ways to express your topic. Brainstorm until you've exhausted all possibilities. Articles about global warming may not have the phrase "global warming" anywhere in it. Instead, you may find that the article uses the phrase "surface temperature records.”  Rotating search terms, deviating from “terms of art” in the resolution, and using “OR” as a Boolean operator can turn up articles you may miss if you start your research with too precise of search terms

    3) Be a detective.  As you start to find information, be on the lookout for names in your research area, like people and organizations. Notice experts who are quoted in stories, scholars and the universities who are doing research on the topic, activists working on a political or social issue, etc. Then, search for books and articles written by them. Check the bibliographies and footnotes in the books and articles you come across. 

    4) Read the topic paper.  For the 2021-2022 topic, it can be found here.  It often contains ideas for core aff and neg arguments. 

    5) Diversify your search engines.  Google is great, but other resources exist too!  If your school has access to databases that specialize in research journals, make sure you exhaust as much as you can.  You can search specific think tanks for materials.  Some of the think tanks I’ve been using to prepare the SDI packet are:

    Begin Processing. Once you’ve collected, saved and read a healthy number of articles, you should begin processing them for debate purposes.  If you were researching the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), for example, you may have collected a few dozen law reviews during the bulk researching phase, and now you want to turn those articles into cards.  Personally, I like to start with a single word doc, dividing aff/neg by pocket headers, and more specific areas with hat and block headers.  You are likely to find potential solvency mechanisms, harm areas, states CP advocates, disad and kritik links in the articles you've collected, and as you process, you'll want to move the cards to where they fit in an efficient process.

    Switch Off Between Bulk Research and Processing. Some days you won’t be able to wait to turn what you’ve found into evidence, but on some days you will simply lack the motivation to process articles.  A scheduled balance between research and processing helps maintain productivity and reduce frustration when creating arguments for a new topic.

    Transitioning From “Bulk” to Precision Research. Once you’ve produced enough evidence, a picture of a complete argument will come together into focus, and where there are holes in that argument.  This is the time to transition to what I call “precision research.”  In this phase of argument production, you know exactly what argument you’re looking for, and can therefore achieve greater success out of more selective search terms.  Once you find an article that looks promising, you can skim it for the particular part that you think will make the argument, and immediately process it into a card.  This is the type of evidence production you may exclusively be doing in the late fall and winter months, once you have an affirmative case and the core neg is known.  This process of research in the pre-season, however, is rarely as productive, and can become disappointing when the evidence isn’t jumping off the screen.

    Concluding Thoughts. Researching a new topic is fun, but can easily turn frustrating.  In my experience, the biggest mistakes I see students make are failing to set a schedule, and attempting precision research too early.  Starting with a broad area, following leads, and trading off between research time and processing time before you jump into specific argument research will vastly improve your early season topic knowledge, reduce research “burnout,” and make you a more productive and prolific researcher.  Good luck on an early start to next season’s research!

  • This Argument Ends the Process Counterplan

    Author: Carly Watson


    The season is coming to a close but the era of the process counterplan rages on. Whether it’s because the topics are too big, the counterplans are too good, or the negative ground is too bad, the process counterplan is running rampant in high school and college debate. In an SDI webinar, we predicted that the end of season tournaments would accelerate the process counterplan and y’all didn’t let us down. Some huge debates were decided on process counterplans and competition.

    I’m here today to tell you the one argument the affirmative needs to put an end to the era of the process counterplan. How do I know that it can work? I’ve seen it happen before.

    Process Counterplans

    Before deep diving through some random history and explaining the argument that destroys process counterplans, what do I even mean by process counterplans? There’s lots of different definitions and understandings but I liked the way Tyler Thur described it:

    “Process counterplans agree with the desirability of the affirmative’s outcome (e.g. ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia) but propose an alternative way of achieving that desired policy (e.g. asking NATO if they want the United States to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia before ending them).”

    There are a variety of examples but process counterplans result in implementation of the plan. Some other prominent examples:

    • The states should threaten to not enforce federal policies unless the federal government does the plan
    • The plan should only be done if a public referendum votes in favor of the plan
    • The plan should be proposed to a commission and only happen if the commission agrees that the plan is good
    • Congress should make it illegal for the president to not do the plan

    All of these counterplans ultimately say that the plan should/will be implemented through the process of the counterplan. There are a variety of net benefits but all of these examples include internal net benefits (advantages to the counterplan process as opposed to intrinsic disadvantages to the plan). If I’ve lost you on some of this, there’s a short counterplan seminar I did for the SDI here that explains a little more about net benefits and competition. If you’re with me so far, let’s talk about some debate history.

    A Brief History Lesson on the Consult Counterplan

    There are always trends in debate and argument popularity ebbs and flows. As arguments come and go, there is commonly a series of fights about them on the internet. Don’t believe me? There was once a time when there were hundreds of eDebate posts about ASPEC. I debated for MSU from 2006 to 2010 so the ASPEC fight was before my time (thankfully) but I was debating right at the tail end of the consult counterplan’s apex. I was watching college debates as a high schooler when the consult counterplan was dominating big debates but debating in college at a time when the success of the consult counterplan plummeted. What changed? The “lie perm.”

    Consult counterplans are a type of process counterplan that argue that before doing the plan, another entity should be given veto power over the plan. They’re more common on international topics but, for example, if the affirmative was a nuclear no first use (NFU) aff, the negative might read the consult Japan counterplan – before issuing an NFU, the US should consult with Japan over whether the plan should be done. The negative would argue that the process of the counterplan avoids disrupting assurance signaling toward Japan.

    To keep this article to a reasonable length, I’m not going to fully unpack every possible issue with the consult counterplan but Dr. Ryan Galloway has a great post here that really explains a lot about the competition debate that occurred over the consult counterplan if you’re interested in an immersive experience. Tl;dr the consult counterplan primarily competed based on two arguments:

    • Immediacy – The plan happens immediately but the counterplan initiates a process that takes time. Any permutation must include the plan immediately happening or it severs the immediacy of the plan.
    • Certainty – The plan must happen but the process of the counterplan has an uncertain outcome (e.g. Japan could reject the plan). Any permutation must include the plan’s definite implementation or it severs the certainty of the plan.

    I’ve not run a statistical analysis of the community sentiment here but I think, between the two arguments, judges were much more persuaded by the need for certainty rather than immediacy. Requiring that the plan happen is pretty foundational to negative ground and all the impacts that severance is built to protect. Immediacy is a little bit trickier. Competing only on certainty is….fraught. The delay counterplan genre (e.g. do the plan but only after the politics scenario passes) has been pretty roundly rejected by community. A series of debates where the affirmative’s sole offense against a counterplan is based on short-term implementation isn’t a road to fair or educational debates.

    In addition to severance arguments, the negative commonly made the argument that the permutations didn’t solve the net benefit to the counterplan because consultation must be “genuine.” The argument was that if the outcome of the consultation was known (e.g. the plan was certain) it wouldn’t generate the same upsides through consultation. In the Japan example, the negative would argue that, because the NFU was a guaranteed outcome, any permutation that didn’t sever certain/immediate implementation of an NFU wouldn’t successfully assure Japan because they would see that the US was going to do an NFU inevitably.

    What’s the argument that changed everything? The lie perm. The lie perm said, consult and do the plan no matter what. So, in the Japan/NFU example, the affirmative would say “consult Japan and do the plan no matter what.” It was dubbed the “lie perm” because essentially the perm would require lying to Japan about the process. The US would consult Japan and then, regardless of whether Japan said to do the plan, the plan would happen. Because the negative is (almost) always saying that Japan will “say yes” to the plan, Japan never knows that the perm outcome was certain.

    The lie perm avoids the most persuasive negative arguments about severance. Implementation of the plan is certain with the lie perm because the plan happens no matter what. The permutation still arguably severs “immediacy” but the affirmative can impact turn competing on immediacy alone. I wouldn’t want to be the negative defending an interpretation of competition that allowed for the “do the plan a day later” counterplan.

    In addition, there’s a strong counter-argument that, because the process of the plan’s implementation is begun immediately, it doesn’t sever immediacy any more than allowing for normal means implementation of the plan would. What do I mean by this? Having an interpretation of “immediate implementation” for the affirmative that is completely divorced from reality is also routinely dismissed as ridiculous by judges. For example, if a debate were to occur on the day of a presidential election, most judges don’t think that “immediate implementation” means that the Congress/the President/the government just stops everything they’re doing to pass the plan. That requirement for “immediacy” would be so radically divorced from reality that it would put the affirmative in too tough of a spot. “Normal means” is meant to have a certain amount of reasonableness to it. If the permutation’s process is initiated immediately and the announcement of full implementation occurs in a reasonable time, it’s hard to see much difference between that and other norms we’ve already accepted in debate (e.g. Court decisions are announced in June).

    The lie perm was devastating to the consult counterplan as it declined in popularity/success. The lie perm avoided the strongest competition arguments (certainty) and is designed to impact turn the weakest competition arguments (immediacy). The consult counterplan lives on – lots of you have probably debated it – but it’s gone the way of ASPEC. Most judged feel like if the affirmative makes the right answers, it’s not a good option for the 2NR. I think of these arguments in debate as “pass/fail tests.” Did the team make the right five arguments? They’re probably going to win in an evenly matched debate. Could the negative still roll someone on the consult counterplan or ASPEC? Of course. However, it’s the exception to the rule and it’s usually in debates with a large skill differential or just the right judge spot.

    Process Counterplans: The Consult Counterplan of 2021

    So where does that (not so) brief history of the consult counterplan leave us in a world of process counterplans? In need of a strong defense of the modern day “lie perm.” This is most commonly phrased in current debates as something like “do the plan as a result of the counterplan’s process” or “do the counterplan process and the plan no matter what.” I would argue that this permutation – the modern day lie perm – has the potential to accelerate the decline of the process counterplan the same way that the original lie perm eviscerated the consult counterplan’s win percentage.

    Process counterplans have all of the same markers for vulnerability as the consult counterplan – they compete on immediacy/certainty and many of the net benefits are entirely internal to the process of the counterplan. The “lie perm” against these process counterplans sets the affirmative up to do exactly what they were doing so successfully against the consult counterplan – avoid the strongest competition arguments, impact turn the weaker competition arguments, and win.

    Let’s play out some of a hypothetical debate round with this permutation:

    • 1AC: The USFG should regulate offshore wind to protect water resources.
    • 1NC: The USFG should establish a climate commission and submit the plan for review. If the commission determines that the plan doesn’t worsen climate change, the plan happens. The counterplan’s process establishes a precedent of commission review and authority to ensure action against climate change in environmental policy.
    • 2AC: Perm – do the plan as a result of the counterplan’s process (The USFG should establish a climate commission and submit the plan for review. The USFG should regulate offshore wind to protect water resources.)
    • 2NC:
      • Severs immediacy and certainty (defines should, resolved, substantial, etc.)
      • Doesn’t solve the net benefit – the perm doesn’t really give the commission power over the plan
    • 1AR:
      • Doesn’t sever certainty – the implementation of the plan is guaranteed
      • Doesn’t sever immediacy –
        • The process of implementation is immediate
        • Counterdefines “immediacy” words to not require immediacy
      • To the extent that the perm severs immediacy, we’re impact turning counterplan competition that is only contrived based on immediacy
      • It does solve the net benefit – 1) the neg read “say yes” evidence 2) the outcome of the perm’s process isn’t known 3) the net benefit is based on establishment and authority of the commission, the perm does that

    This debate isn’t going super well for the negative based on the history of the consult counterplan’s demise. Could the negative win? Absolutely. Could the affirmative drop important arguments due to coverage? For sure. In an evenly matched debate, does (recent-ish) history suggest that the negative is in the weeds? Also yes.


    I’m sure there are folks that will disagree with my historical take (“well actually, the Brad Hall card ended the consult counterplan…”) or my thoughts on competition. For example, one common refrain from the negative is that “all counterplans could result in the affirmative so allowing this perm destroys all counterplans with follow-on arguments.” I might do an entire second part with more backline defenses of the perm but this argument doesn’t apply to all counterplans with follow-on arguments. This perm is an argument specific to the way that the counterplan’s process engineers and modifies normal means.

    I’m sure it’s not actually a TKO but history can be informative on where to go with arguments from here. Despite its popularity (infamy?), the “intrinsic perm” (e.g. “do the plan and consult Japan on something else” or “do the plan and establish climate review on the infrastructure bill”) hasn’t met with much success. The “lie perm” has a history of eviscerating process counterplans. How do I know that it can work? I’ve seen it happen before.

  • 2021 NDT Arguments with Cross-Application Potential to High School

    Author: Carly Watson


    Every year at the end-of-season high school tournaments, a few arguments that were broken at the National Debate Tournament (NDT) pop up. Because of coaches who work in both high school and college and the public college caselist, there’s a lot of cross-pollination at the end of the year. If you’re preparing for an end-of-season high school tournament, I’ve collected a few arguments from the NDT that I think could make an appearance.

    Generic Counterplans

    It seems like the CJR topic is already swimming in generic and process counterplans but there were a few from the NDT that would make an easy crossover. These have mostly been around but are “updated” and back for 2021:

    Referendum Counterplan – Talk about a classic! The Referendum CP is a throwback to the deep debate past and says that instead of the normal means the plan uses, there should be a referendum to determine if the plan should be done. Read by Kentucky round five of the NDT, the CP had the USFG allow for national referenda over the plan and then the states initiate a binding referendum. If the public votes for the plan in the referenda, the plan happens. If the public votes against the plan in the referenda, the plan doesn’t happen. It argues it’s competitive by using the states and being uncertain/not immediate.

    The net benefit in the olden days used to be about the importance of participatory democracy and argued that using a referendum process for the CP would cause future decisions to be adopted via referendum. Kentucky had a new twist on the net benefit – they still made the argument that the CP’s process would be adopted in the future but their net benefit was about referendums being able to stop global populism. Politics and other short-term DAs are also probably net benefits if the neg wins that the CP’s implementation is delayed and the link is shielded in the interim

    It’s been floating around on the high school topic (heck, it’s been floating around since 1996) but it making it into a big debate at the NDT suggests there may be even more referendum debates on the horizon.

    Neg Cites:

    Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet The Populist Challenge – John J. Matsusaka

    Aff Cites:

    The United States as a Democratic Ideal? International Lessons in Referendum Democracy – K.K. DuVivier

    The Case Against Referendums: From Greece to California, They Always End Up Undermining Democracy – David A. Bell

    Harris Counterplan – The Harris CP is a twist on a counterplan that’s been floating around since the President Trump era. Stick with me here… The CP has the USFG declare that not doing the plan is grounds for presidential removal and then fiats that the 46th president (President Biden) doesn’t do the plan. They argue that the effect of the CP is President Biden being removed from office using the 25th Amendment and Vice President Harris becoming president. They argue that they solve the case (because future President Harris would do the plan) and then read internal net benefits about Harris as president relative to Biden. When Michigan read this CP round five of the NDT, their net benefit was that a future President Harris would legalize marijuana but it could be any number of potential net benefits. I’m not including cites here because (let’s be honest) none of the cards are really about the counterplan or the plan but it’s definitely something that could make its way to the CJR topic.

    Office of Legal Counsel Counterplan – The OLC CP (have the OLC issue a finding that binds the executive to do the plan) has been a classic since the college executive restraint topic. It’s a way for the negative to beef up solvency for a counterplan that uses the executive and provides another layer of defense against circumvention, non-compliance, or arguments that “external check are key.” The OLC provides binding legal advice to the president and executive branch and so the OLC CP says that it creates another check on the executive within the counterplan. The Executive Self Restraint (ESR) CP is already out there and folks have been reading the OLC CP in high school but it’s appearance at the NDT might signal a resurgence.

    Neg Cites:

    The Office of Legal Counsel and Secret Law – Jameel Jaffer

    The Unfulfilled Promise of the Constitution in Executive Hands – Corenelia Pillard

    Stare Decisis in the Office of Legal Counsel – Trevor W. Morrison

    Aff Cites:

    Deference To The Executive In The United States After September 11: Congress, The Courts, And The Office Of Legal Counsel – Eric A. Posner

    The Decline of OLC – Jack Goldsmith


    We get the questions a lot: “What’s the next politics scenario?” Using the NDT as a predictor, the most common politics scenario will be infrastructure by a landslide. There are different impacts (grid, climate, growth, non-linear extinction risks, etc.) but, across debates at the NDT, infrastructure was the dominate scenario. Wyoming read a Colin Kahl nomination DA first and several other teams read it over the course of the tournament. It’s not clear yet when the Senate vote on Kahl will happen so this could pop up at some high school tournaments. The other politics scenario floating around was an H.R. 1 DA (For the People Act) read by Minnesota.

    What about the “Custom CP” from the final round?

    In the final round of the NDT, Michigan read a counterplan first read by Kentucky round 7 about the intersection of treaty law (e.g. mutual defense pacts) and customary international law (e.g. the law of neutrality). The primary article the counterplan is based on is explicitly about defense-related treaties but you could see a creative negative team making a thematically similar argument about the intersection between CJR and customary international law. This isn’t a generic you could just cut and paste from NDT speech docs but it could be something people use as inspiration to write arguments for end-of-season high school tournaments.

    Concluding Thoughts

    We did a webinar with some high school students and Spartan Debate Institute instructors about end of season prep and I continue to think that preparing to be aff at end-of-season high school tournaments this year is all about being prepared to defeat process counterplans in the 2AR. It seems like there’s still not a generic disadvantage people have fallen in love with on the CJR topic so preparing to be neg could very well mean preparing to go for a process counterplan. This isn’t an exhaustive list of potential cross-applications from the NDT but hopefully it helps highlight a few arguments that I could see cropping up. Good luck to everyone preparing for the end of the season!

  • Midyear Online Debate Survey Results

    Author: Carly Watson


    It’s a trope that it’s difficult to get debaters to agree about anything but once the community is on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic we’re going to have to decide what the future of debate competitions looks like. Whether through inertia, deliberation, collaboration, or a series of individual decisions, the debate community is going to shape the future of debate. We don’t have to decide today what that looks like but I wanted to create a survey that would take a broader look at perspectives and experiences with online debate. Maybe I’m still a chemistry major at heart but I wanted some data that would help me think about the issues as we make decisions.

    I distributed a “Midyear Online Debate Survey” over seven days and gathered 176 responses. The survey asked respondents a variety of questions about their experiences with online debate before COVID-19, during COVID-19, and what they think debate tournaments should look like after COVID-19. The majority of respondents (76.9%) were primarily affiliated with policy debate.

    Where We Are

    The survey found strong support for the value of online debate. 87.9% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” when asked if they felt that online debate competitions were valuable options for the debate community. There were certainly concerns with online debate identified by the survey (and surely more than I even thought to include) but as a guiding issue, it does seem to be worth having a conversation about how we include online debate competitions going forward. The vast majority of survey respondents see value in offering online debate competitions as an option.

    The strongest support for online debate in the survey was based on online debate being beneficial for geographically isolated schools and schools with lower budgets. 83.7% of survey respondents said that they “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” that online debate competitions are importation for geographically isolated schools. 80.7% of survey respondents said that they “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” that online debate is important for schools with lower budgets. Neither of those results were shocking – eliminating the travel associated with attending tournaments is both more affordable and benefits geographically isolated schools.

    One of the primary drivers in conversations about preserving online debate competitions I’ve seen on social media is the concern that programs will face budget cuts in the wake of COVID-19. This survey wasn’t meant to be an in-depth look into this phenomenon but it did ask a question about the concern. 5.2% of respondents said that they have direct knowledge that the program they’re affiliated with will face budget cuts, 36.0% said that they have heard of other programs at risk of budget cuts, and 59.4% said that they have concerns about their budgets but they don’t know yet what will happen.

    In addition to affordability and reducing barriers to travel, there was also strong support for the broad statement that online debate competitions are important for creating access. 74.7% of respondents said that they “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” that online debate competitions increase access. In particular, the survey found that 50.0% respondents “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” that online debate competitions are important for Urban Debate League Schools (only 10.8% “Strongly Disagree” or “Somewhat Disagree” with that statement). Several respondents in the free field response areas of the survey point out that the benefits in access or for UDLs can only be actualized with community focus on bridging the digital divide.

    The survey found that the largest concern with online debate competitions was a loss of community. 83.1% of respondents said that they “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” that online debate competitions damage the community aspects of debate. If online debate competitions are here to stay, a conversation about preserving or creating community-building aspects seems important.

    Results Table

    Now What

    There is support from survey respondents for online debate competitions to continue after COVID-19. The survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement “Online debate competitions should be eliminated after travel restrictions are eased” and 59.4% selected “Strongly Disagree” or “Somewhat Disagree” with that statement (as opposed to 31.1% that “Somewhat Agree” or “Strongly Agree”). There’s also very little support for replacing all competitions with online tournaments.

    There have been some proposals for using online tournament for either regional tournaments or larger tournaments (e.g. all regional tournaments are online and larger tournament are held in person). There was weak support for either of those proposals from survey respondents. There does seem to be consensus around a “mix” of tournaments being online in this survey. 52.7% of survey respondents selected “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” that some regional tournaments and some larger tournaments should be held online and some should remain in person.

    The survey also asked about some of the “hybrid” models that people have suggested (e.g. letting judges or competitors participate remotely at “in-person” tournaments). There was some support for both options. 52.7% of survey respondents said that they “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” that judges should be able to participate at in-person tournaments online and 49.1% said that they “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” that competitors should be able to compete at in-person tournaments online. This survey didn’t ask whether those competitors should be in a separate division, which would be worth investigating if we consider this option.

     Results Table

    My goal in writing this summary isn’t to advance an agenda about online debate competitions. This survey is certainly not a simple answer to a complex problem. I’m even torn about the benefits of making these decisions using strict egalitarianism. So why do it? I do have a small agenda and it’s about process. We’re all going to be asked to make decisions about the future of debate whether we want to or not. We can avoid the problem and make a series of individualized decisions or we can deliberate, collaborate, and design the future of debate.


    [Update - 5/15/21] The results of this survey were discussed at the 2021 NDCA Professional Development conference. The accompanying Power Point can be downloaded here.

  • In Defense of Using Zoom to Host Online Debate Tournaments

    Author: Carly Watson

    We’re now several tournaments into the 2020 season of debate. In the past three weekends, I’ve participated in tournaments using three of the main platforms available for hosting online tournaments – Classrooms.Cloud, NSDA Campus, and the Zoom Room Method (ZRM). For the latter two, I was involved in assisting on the administrative side of things. For all three, I’ve experienced the tournament from the user side. It’s time to consider using Zoom to host more tournaments.

    From the start of the transition to online debate, we’ve been stressing the importance of rethinking how tournaments are spending their money. I’ve been in meetings with leaders in both high school and college debate as they consider the implications that coronavirus will have on their budgets. Schools are tightening their belts but families are also struggling. This is the time to crater the costs of participating in tournaments to any extent possible.

    One of the primary advantages of online debate is reducing participation costs to increase access. When tournaments choose to use a paid platform, they are choosing to pass those costs on to the participants. Having tournament fees that are the same (or somehow higher?) for online tournaments does a disservice to the opportunities of online debate and is insensitive to the moment that we find ourselves in.

    How can we crater the costs of hosting a tournament? Use. Zoom.

    An advanced Zoom account allows the tournament host to set up breakout rooms for each of the rounds on the pairings. Tournament participants simply join the Zoom call and then join the breakout room that is for their specific debate. The Zoom host can clearly see who has entered rooms, who’s still missing, and see if anyone drops off the call.

    There are some user-end benefits of ZRM’ing too. On other platforms, participants have to fully leave one room in order to join another. Using this method, the participant could easily switch between breakout rooms on the same Zoom call.

    It works. We’ve been doing it. All of the Spartan Debate Institute tournaments and practices used the ZRM method. Following some technical glitches on a different platform, the Marist Ivy Street Invitation used ZRMs. Why are we still acting as if this is an unproven and makeshift approach to hosting tournaments?

    Some of the issues I’ve heard raised from people about using ZRMs:

    Security – Clearly, this is a very important part of hosting online – especially at high school tournaments where youth safety should be the paramount goal. ZRM’ing allows the host to set up a waiting room – ensuring access-control to the tournament in general. The meeting can also be password protected providing an additional layer of security. Zoom also makes it incredibly easy to see who is inside any breakout room. If there was an instance of someone inappropriately joining, they would be easily identified and removed.

    Human Resources – Running a tournament is never easy – it’s all thanks to the work of tons of people behind the scenes. When we initially suggested using ZRMs, people were aghast and suggested you would need one ZRM for every three debates. I’m not sure where that number came from but that’s not been our experience. At all. The Marist tournament used four Zoom managers for over 100 debates. There’s no way tournaments of comparable size hosted on other platforms have had fewer than four people assisting in monitoring the platform.

    In some ways, Zoom reduces the human resources involved. Because the debates all occur in a single Zoom room, you can easily see who is coming and going from the breakout rooms. You can also easily broadcast messages to all the breakout rooms simultaneously (e.g. warnings about start times).

    The new Zoom update also makes hosting on Zoom easier than ever. Instead of having to manually sort debaters, judges, coaches etc. into breakout rooms, participants can now self-select breakout rooms to enter. The host only has to name the breakout rooms whatever room naming convention the pairing uses and then participants can join the correct room.

    Tech Support – As a subset to the concern about human resources, there’s the argument that the other platforms provide tech support. To be honest, they both do and they don’t. The pay-for platforms can help people get into the rooms or if they’re having issues with Zoom but, as our aptitude for online debate quickly skyrockets, that will be a diminishing number of the tech issues. We’re quickly reaching a point where joining a Zoom call and troubleshooting issues in Zoom will be second nature to debaters and coaches alike. The trickier tech issues – hardware malfunctions, participant internet – are bound to be the more plaguing tech issues and no platform tech support is helping with those.

    Single Point of Failure – This is one I’ve worried about too – if one person is hosting a Zoom room for the whole tournament, and they lose internet, does the whole tournament implode? Nope. If the host assigns a co-host, there’s a back-up option that will stop the meeting from crashing. There also tons of potential for pay-for platforms to crash (and they have).

    Zoom Costs Money – OK, you got me there. If you don’t have an advanced Zoom account through your affiliated institution, you’d have to pay for access. A few things. First, many, many, many, many people have fancy Zoom accounts through their institutions. Most colleges and many high schools provide advanced Zoom accounts to their students and employees. Second, the cost of paying for Zoom is still less than most of the pay-for platforms available and there are special offers for educational use.

    If people were being honest, I think the biggest reason they aren’t using Zoom is because if feels like it might be harder. I promise, it’s not. Please consider giving a cost-free platform a chance when you’re hosting your next tournament. Reduce your entry fees and pass those cost savings on to the teams and families that need it.

  • Statement on the Passing of Father Jake Foglio

    Author: Will Repko

    On Monday, we learned of the passing of Father John “Jake” Foglio.

    Whether you knew him as “Assistant Professor”, “Chaplain”, or simply “Jake,” Father Foglio was a selfless and warm presence that served our campus community in many capacities for more than 50 years.

    Perhaps less known was the astonishing access and counsel Father Jake extended to athletic and academic programs across the University. The Debate Team was no exception.

    The classic stereotype of Religious leadership is one of pristine orderliness. Jake, however, rarely shied from a good old-fashioned disagreement. That may explain the love and support he extended to the MSU Debate program.

    More likely, however, is that we were one of many stops on his daily tours of our campus. Jake found a way to check-in with students from across so many disciplines.

    Father Jake baptized me. He officiated my wedding.

    That surprisingly loud voice yelling from the stands at my high school sporting events – it was indeed Father Jake. In time, he was my doubles partner in the Faculty tennis league.

    I – like many – have quite literally known Jake my entire life.

    It is fair to say that Father Jake did not require a religious ceremony to offer one of his memorable sermons. That said, my favorite was on my wedding day. In it, he encouraged the audience to journey through life with “abbondanza” (an Italian word that translates to “abundance”, but means much more). His sermon ended with an audience cheerfully chanting: ““abbondanza !!!, “abbondanza” !!!

    It’s not how I anticipated my wedding ceremony would end. I’m honestly not sure it’s how Jake intended the ceremony to end. But it landed with enthusiasm and joy – just like everything Father Jake touched.

    More than anything, his smile stands out. For me, it tempers the sorrow of the moment.

    He patted you on the back when you were down. He cheered when you succeeded. In every way that matters, Father Jake lived a life of abundant warmth.

    This week I will do two things. I will root for some Italian – any Italian – to win the French Open Tennis Tournament. Along the way, I remember that I am blessed – blessed to have lived in a community with one of the finest people one could ever encounter.

    Thank you, Jake. Thanks for the kindest that you showed my students. Thank you for the kindness you extended to this community.


  • Debate Camp Tournaments: We're Talking About Practice

    Author: Carly Watson

    With debate camps moving online this summer in response to coronavirus, it’s provided an opportunity to think through why we do things the way we do. Lectures are an hour? Is that because there’s an hour worth of content or because we’d reserved the lecture hall for an hour and that was the time to fill? Tournaments are on the weekends? Is that best for students learning virtually or is it a relic of being able to get more classroom space? In rethinking a lot of the whys about how debate camp works it got me thinking about something that I think should be a widely adopted change at summer debate camps: practice tournaments shouldn’t be run like a “competitive” tournament

    I’m sure you’re already outraged and thinking, “competition is the point  stick with me for a second. What do I mean when I say it shouldn’t be competitive? Institute tournaments should reduce the competitive pressure to any extent possible by reiterating to students that the tournaments are for practice, tournaments should be paired to allow parity in competition over power-matching, and camps should consider not announcing winners and losers. In line with this, debate coaches need to move past the idea that camp tournaments are a valuable marker of students’ ability for the upcoming season. I’ll explain each of these ideas in more detail in a moment.

    Let’s think about why institutes have camp tournaments. They allow students to:

    (1)    Practice having more debates in a day similar to a “tournament day” during the season

    (2)    Work on receiving constructive criticism

    (3)    Get iterations against opponents to practice in full debates

    There’s absolutely no argument that in order to fulfill objective (1) that the tournament needs to be “competitive” or announce winners and losers. You can build tournament-stamina with iterations alone.

    As it relates to objectives (2) and (3) there is an argument that traditional power-matching and “competition” is counterproductive to the goals. Students learn more from rounds where there is near parity between competitors. In a six round tournament, if a team receives presets with a large skill disparity, it’s a disservice to both teams. The more experienced team has lost the opportunity to practice advanced skills they’ve learned at camp and the less experienced team has likely gotten blown out of the water without being able to practice much of what they’ve been working on at camp. That subsequently erodes the objective for constructive criticism because they’re much more likely to get feedback like “the 2AC shouldn’t drop a disad” or “make sure the neg block answers the straight turned disad correctly” instead of targeted feedback based on where they are based on experience. There’s also an argument that students who are overly focused on wins and losses will be less able to listen to the debate-specific feedback that they’re getting from judges in order to improve. In time-limited post-rounds, spending 5 minutes talking about the decision is 5 minutes those students aren’t getting specific feedback about how to improve their skills.

    So let’s take each of the recommendations one at a time:

    Reduce competitive pressure – No debate camp to my knowledge thinks that files should be allowed in the tournament without opposing answers. That already cedes the premise that these rounds are for practice – they’re intended to allow students to practice what they’ve learned at camp. In line with this, camps should encourage students to engage in debates with clash, create disclosure practices that maximize parity, and continue to emphasize to students that these tournaments are meant for practice.

    Tournaments should be paired for parity – The rationale for this was discussed in detail earlier but it’s strongly suggested that tournaments should abandon traditional power-matching and pair pre-sets to allow parity.

    Don’t announce winners and losers – There’s clearly an upside in announcing winners and losers – after all, being able to win and lose is also a skill that students at summer camps are learning. That said, there are also downsides. As mentioned, it creates distractions for students when they could otherwise be practicing. There’s also potentially a middle ground; for example, at the SDI we do one practice “tournament” without decisions and one tournament with decisions announced.

    There are additional benefits to reducing competitive pressure at camp tournaments. It takes stress off of students from needing to perform, it makes it more likely to encourage “good” debates with clash instead of students flocking to files with poor responses, it creates an environment that is more likely to build community, and allows students to focus on skills development. If you’ve always wanted to practice going for conditionality, there’s no better time than at camp. That’s only true if the students feel like it’s truly for practice.

    Over the years, people have reacted angrily when the SDI hasn’t announced decisions or said that the tournaments are only for practice. The four primary objections are:

    First, students need to practice “true” tournament settings. I’m mildly persuaded by the goal here – obviously we want students to feel like what it will feel like at an in-season tournament. That said, students are competitive in debates even when it’s only for practice. Some of the most intense (in a good way) debates that I’ve judged over the years are intra-lab practice debates where there was no decision announced.

    There’s also a large inconsistency here with how camp tournaments are run in other ways. We all agree evidence should be balanced if it’s going to be used in camp tournaments – that’s to create good clash and parity. There’s no one saying, “well you should practice how it feels at a tournament to be unprepared so…good luck without answers.” Once we agree that there are some things we can do to make debate camp tournaments better, we should be willing to consider also making them less competitive.

    Second, there is value in receiving a “decision” in order to see how judges evaluate debates. I’m optimistic that judges can give good, big-picture feedback without saying this specific team won.

    Third, students need speaker points. Do they? This is obviously a discussion for another day but there is so little valuable information gleaned from speaker points. Individual judges’ variability and the context of a single debate can all drastically influence speaker point. At an in-season tournament, speaker points allow judges to provide some individual metric for students. At camp tournaments, when individual feedback is the norm, there’s less of a rationale for needing speaker points.

    Fourth, coaches have expressed frustration in not being able to see if their students are “truly improving” or to see students’ results to create plans for the upcoming season. Wow am I underwhelmed by this argument. A good instructional team who’s worked with students for a month or more would always be a better resource to give perspective on student improvement than a single tournament. I honestly don’t even understand how coaches can use camp tournaments to make decisions like that. Typically a student is paired with someone from another school and surely we all understand that there’s tremendous variability in student performance on any single day.

    Rather than taking a small sample set, in imperfect conditions and making sweeping extrapolations about the upcoming season, let’s normalize other metrics of improvement. Instructor feedback, benchmarks in the online learning management system, or watching students give practice speeches after camp would all work better to assess student improvement. In the online systems at the SDI, student have recorded a lot of their own speeches for submission. Students could submit that to their coaches to demonstrate improvement instead of the largely arbitrary 4-2 record at the camp tournament.

    I’d encourage other camps to use this summer to rethink the whys of debate camp. There should be a curriculum-based argument in favor of including different activities and metrics. Camp tournaments are an opportunity to make simple changes that drastically improve student experience and outcomes. Controversially, this should mean reducing the “competition” at tournaments in favor of increasing the practical value for students.

  • Juding Debates Online

    Author: Bruce Najor

    As E-Debate becomes more popular, judges will be asked to make the transition as well.  Some of us have already been asked to become familiar with the virtual classroom setting, but judging a debate is a unique task.  I’ve judged online scrimmages using Zoom and have some tips!

    Show up early to test audio & visuals

    I would recommend entering your debate within 10 minutes of getting the link to test the AV.  Once you can see and hear everyone else, debaters can put themselves on mute and prep, and you can go coach your teams.  This confirmation shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds, but if there is a problem, identifying it early is better than 3 minutes before the round is supposed to start.

    Put yourself in a distraction free environment

    Theoretically you could judge a debate with dinner in the oven, from Starbucks, or from your couch with the football game on mute.  Even with headphones on, the visual distractions, or just having other things on your mind, are different than in a classroom setting.  Personally, I found judging a debate from the squad room to be a great distraction free environment, but if that’s not possible for you, I recommend judging from the same spot you do debate research.  Additionally, block out the time for yourself, so you’re not multitasking, and let others in your home know you are unavailable for the next 2:30 hours.

    Lock the speaker on the screen

    On Zoom, this is done by using “speaker view”.   If you don’t select it, the focus on the screen will change between all people in the room (including yourself, which is super weird lol).  In addition, keeping the speaker on your screen (as opposed to the speech doc) allows you to watch their mouth as they speak, which improves comprehension.

    Test “Zoom files”

    Zoom lets you send files directly within their app.  This lets everyone in the room have access to the same speech doc instantly, and it’s in the same window, so you don’t have to do a split screen.  Some may prefer this, but some prefer to use a third-party device for speech docs.  It’s up to you, and you can certainly do both, but I would recommend testing out Zoom files to see if you prefer it.

    Let the debaters know if you can’t understand them

    “CLEAR!” is something we’ve all said, and online debate is no different.  While the reasons for clarity issues may be different (lag, poor microphone placement, etc.), the solution is the same; speak up, enunciate, slow down.

    Take some time after the RFD

    Judging a debate takes a lot of energy.  Online debates are no different.  In a classroom setting, we generally decompress for at least a little bit after the round ends.  Even between pre-set rounds, we still move from room to room. In-between your online debates, make a snack, get some fresh air, watch a YouTube video, do the dishes, etc. Ideally tournaments will work down time into their schedules, but if not, you have to make it for yourself.

    Online debate offers a lot of opportunities for judges of all ages and experience levels.  For instance, it provides an opportunity for former policy debate coaches without current policy teams to offer hired rounds. It also allows those with responsibilities at home, where travel is prohibitive, to remain in the judging community. The more judges we can encourage to participate and the more we can practice with the system, the better the experience will be for the debaters.  I highly encourage all judges to try out one of the free online beta tests.  Also, please leaves comments with any tips you have for online judging!

    My best wishes to you and your families.  Stay safe!

  • Attending Debate Camp Online: Strategies for Success

    Author: Carly Watson

    Set Goals – Before camp starts, create goals for yourself. What are you looking to get out of your camp experience? Try to keep them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based). Spending weeks of your summer with a goal to “win more” won’t help you when it comes time to making the most out of your camp experience. A better goal would be “increase familiarity with five Ks I haven’t heard of in the first two weeks of camp” or “do a rebuttal redo for over half of my debates within 24 hours of the debate occurring.” Having concrete and discrete goals will help you get the most out of your time at debate camp.

    Engage – You get out of debate camp what you put into it – whether online or in person. Challenging yourself to stay engaged is even more important in remote learning. Participate in the discussion forums, watch recorded Q and As that you weren’t able to see live, ask your instructors and peers questions as you have them. Engagement is important for long-term content retention and maximizing your resources.

    Establish a Routine – Carving our five minutes randomly, here and there throughout the day might work for your learning but most people learn best if they have a routine. Set aside a dedicated time each day for each of your debate camp activities. Set a schedule for yourself that plans for what you want and need to accomplish each day and then do your best to stick to it. It’s OK to have some flexibility but planning can help you manage debate camp and simultaneously being home. Brick and mortar debate camp had a rigorous routine (attendance every day at 9am…oof) and you should try to have some of that same time management when attending remotely.

    Schedule Breaks – You need both mental and physical breaks to learn best. At a brick and mortar camp that meant your instructor creating a time to walk around and get a break. You should do the same for yourself when you’re at home. Going for a walk, playing a video game, or just talking with a friend is important for being able to focus on all of the content you’re trying to absorb.

    Limit Distractions – I realize that at brick and mortar debate camp Tetris et al. is 75% of what everyone is doing at any given time anyway but the temptation to zone out, multi-task, or not focus is even larger at home. Set yourself up for success by creating a dedicated space where you focus on debate camp and try to stay attentive to the online content. Include in that “space” closing extra windows on your computer that could be distracting (e.g. Tetris). Again, you get out of debate camp what you put into it. If you fire up Animal Crossing mid-lecture, you’re technically “at” debate camp but what are you really getting out of that experience?

    Interact – I think there’s a lot of concern that the community aspect of camp will be lost in the transition online. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think I’ll miss that too. That said, there are ways to interact with your peers and instructors even remotely. Try to find ways to create small groups with different people in the lab where you work on tasks together. Even though the team-building activities and icebreakers can feel cheesy, maintaining interaction is an important facet of online debate camp.

  • Coaching Online Debates

    Author: Marge Strong

    With the rise in e-debate, so comes the rise of e-coaching. As a Luddite, this terrifies me - how do I keep the same enthusiasm I have in person? How can I tell if my debaters understand what I’m saying without seeing their faces? How do I know where their files are/how do I get them to know where their files are? How do I deal with the influx of chats? It’s a lot. Luckily, I’ve had some practice after missing a few tournaments for chronic illness.

    1. How do I keep that same energy?

    Put yourself in a productive setting. This can be at home in a workspace, at your office, or if this pandemic ever ends, maybe a coffee shop. The energy of a debate tournament is so different than the energy outside of one. Can you do your homework while watching TV? Maybe. Can you engage in high-level coaching that will win an elim round? I sure can’t. Getting yourself as close to the mindset of a tournament as possible will ensure you have close to the same output as usual. Hole yourself in a “war room” and avoid the outside world.

    2. How do I know if my kids understand me?

    Body language is a huge part of coaching for me. Some kids are too embarrassed/proud/nervous to admit they don’t understand, so they just nod unconfidently. The problem is there is no “unconfident nod” button on any keyboard I have seen. You need to talk to students ahead of time about the need for explicit communication to fill in. One way of checking for students’ understanding is making them re-explain things back to you. If all else fails, you can Zoom each other during pre-round prep time.

    3. How do I show my kids where their files are?

    Prep your prep session! You no longer have the option to say “here let me see your laptop, I’ll find it” Take some extra time before you talk to the kids to locate the files you need. You can copy and paste file pathways for them over Dropbox to quickly move on from the file location portion of prep. Slacking kids’ files directly is also an option. I guess screen sharing is a thing if your super desperate.

    4. I don’t know where my kids’ files are?

    The same advice applies. Take some time before tournaments to get familiar with each team’s Dropbox if you aren’t. Make sure they know they need to have an organization system, and not a single folder with every file ever in it. Or ten folders called “top-shelf impact turns,” “must-reads,” “neg goodies FINAL FINAL FINAL,” “werk moo”, etc.

    5. How should we communicate?

    You should pick one platform. I suggest Slack because you can group message, channel communicate, attach files to messages, and a bunch of other cool features. If your school has a specific platform that they would like you to use, then go with that one. The point is that you pick one medium – getting gchats, texts, slacks, Facebook messages, and whatever else is going to lead to you missing something. Keep the conversation in one place to streamline everything.

    I don’t think e-debate is going anywhere anytime soon. The sooner we get used to it as coaches, the better the experience for the students. I highly encourage y’all to throw out any other tips you’ve thought of in the comment section!

  • NDT Online Beta-Test Round the First: 6 Quick Takeways

    Author: Carly Watson

    In a different world, we would have been spending today at the National Debate Tournament. Instead, today was the first online beta-testing round as part of the NDT’s preparation for the possibility of future online debates. Six quick takeaways:

    1. Audio Quality - Internal microphones or headsets continue to work best. Body microphones are hard to capture sound with because of movement and speed. MSU Debate bought and has liked these headsets but there are many gamer headsets options. If you’re going to use your laptop’s internal microphone, spend some time figuring out where your laptop’s microphones are. This article is a good start on where to find internal microphones but a quick Google search can help you make sure you’re not obscuring your microphone with your hands, water, etc. No matter what microphone you're using, have your mouth in the video frame - it helps with following the speech.

    2. Lag - Lag was an issue for some people on this test. There was a significant improvement and reduction in lag if you use an ethernet cable to hook up to your router. It also helps for the speaker to slow down a touch and be cognizant of recommendations in #1.

    3. Partners Prepping - Students in this debate experimented with FaceTiming or calling each other during prep time. They used chat options throughout the debate. From today's test, we found it’s important that you end any side calls before the speech starts to eliminate feedback in the Zoom room.

    4. Email Chain vs. Zoom Files - Preference was split on which option worked better. The Zoom file transfer option is instant, in the same window and everyone in the room has access. Conversely, we had some error messages when people tried to use it and some people were using secondary devices to open speech docs so they preferred it go to the email chain.

    5. Live Video - We tested having only the debaters on video and the debaters with all the judges (in this case seven judges). It helps for instant feedback both before and during speeches to have all the judges on camera. In this trial, there didn’t appear to be a significant increase in lag with more videos going but there is potential that it would affect computers with slower GPUs or use too much bandwidth.

    6. Familiarity - Many parts of debate that we all love translate. A bunch of people got together in a “room” on a Saturday morning to debate. There was still cross-ex cross talk. There was still someone who needed the order a few too many times. There was still Adrienne making sure that the debate started on time. Some things are and will be different but some things about it are still awesome.

    No doubt, there’s still work to do and we’ll keep testing different options over the next weekends but progress is happening. Thank you to everyone that participated in today’s test debate as a judge, coach, observer, or debater – it was great to spend a Saturday morning with you!