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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!

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