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Welcome to the Digital Debating blog

Welcome to digital debating! I am the lead author, Gordon Stables. I am the Director of Debate and Forensics at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. This blog is one aspect of a new collaboration between USC and the IDEA Network supported by a generous grant from the Open Society Institute’s Foundation to Promote Open Society.

Working together we will explore ways in which academic debate can flourish in our digital culture.  Our project involves both working with leading technology design firms to design online debate platforms and working with educators and students to promote conversations about the evolution of debate in this new era.

For my team at USC, this blog is an opportunity to discuss both projects with the larger communities that care about debating. It isn’t new to see experiments with online debating; however, it is far less common for debate educators and students to assess what debate ‘is’ before trying to consider how that can be translated to new mediums. This research project is generated from asking the provocative questions,

“If organized debate didn’t exist, would we create it today?”

“If we did design it without any prior model, what would it look like today?”

Answering these questions will require us to experiment with online debating and also keep in mind how debate can be informed by trends in digital media culture.

I realize that asking these questions can be unsettling. If you truly start from the premise of trying to consider what makes debate productive, you invite the possibility that you may consider its flaws. At a time when academic budgets, especially for extra-curricular programs that involve student travel, have been in steady decline, there is a prudent rationale for not asking these kinds of foundational questions right now.

To the credit of so many educators, there is an interest in asking these questions because we recognize there is a professional obligation to constantly strive to offer the best for our students. Debate’s constant struggle to define, redefine and create new formats is itself a reflection that debate professionals are rarely satisfied with an unchanging view of debating. Debate itself is a method of inquiry that wants to examine the best claims from competing perspectives - and only then does it attempt to draw conclusions.

I believe it is a false dilemma to think that our choice as debate educators is to improve ‘online’ or ‘offline’ debate. Today’s youth need to learn to think, reason, argue, speak and write in a variety of formats. Tomorrow’s debate education should reflect the best norms of teaching these skills regardless of if their debate are presented to classmates or to a global audience on a webcam. Embracing the potential of reimagining debate in a digital era is to consider how debate formats can best expose students to aspects of digital literacy, and how broadening the ‘places’ where debate takes place can also dramatically expand the opportunities for participation.

In the days ahead, we will be promoting a conversation that allows us to explore these challenges, opportunities and best practices from digital debating. We will be soliciting input from a wide range of perspectives and welcome you to take part in the discussion.

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