Paperless Discussion: How Does Your Squad Manage Its Files?

With the exception of a few early adopters, many high school debate teams have completed or will soon complete their first season of paperless debating. From a coaching perspective, one of the most difficult parts of the transition has been managing the distribution and organization of our squad’s files. Looking forward to next year, improving file management is at the top of my “to do” list. If you’ve made the paperless transition, how have you managed your squad’s files? What worked well? What didn’t work so well? Specifically:

  1. How do you organize the team’s file set? Is there a master or shared tub? Does each team have a private tub? What happens when students switch partnerships?
  2. Who is responsible for downfiling new updates? Are assignments completed before a tournament distributed as update files (like they would have been in the days of paper) or is the person completing the assignment responsible for updating the master file?
  3. How are highlighting responsibilities shared? Does each team highlight their “copy” of each file? Or are highlighted files shared between teams?
  4. How do you distribute new files? Via a dropbox? Via email? How do you prevent students from altering/deleting “master” files?
  5. How do you organize “core” (topic-agnostic) files like impact defense and critique answers? Does each team receive a “copy” of these files to highlight and organize? Or are they shared between all teams?

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments—they are greatly appreciated.

7 thoughts on “Paperless Discussion: How Does Your Squad Manage Its Files?

  1. Lincon Garrett

    Liberty's debate team uses gmail to distribute files. All the members of the debate team join agoogle group and when files are done they are sent to the google group (and thus every member). To aid with organizing the files, each email has a subject template. The email subjects say FILE: Name of the file-tournament it was produced for-the date-and the initials of the person who cut it. By placing FILE in the subject line debaters can use filters and it helps when people are searching their gmail.

    The google group serves as the master back up. A limited amount of people have access to the actual google group screen name and thus can not tamper with the files and it has a copy of every file. Most people if they have lost a file either get the author to re-send it or find someone else who has downloaded it. We really haven't had to use it as a backup, but it is there.

    After the file's are sent to the google group it usually works on a partnership by partnership basis how the files get from gmail to tubs. We do make each partner carry a copy of other person's tubs as a backup. The individual partnerships are responsible for compiling files and not the person who continually cut KORUS updates.

    We don't have a set policy about highlighting. Sometimes when files get highlighted before distribution they get set out highlighted. Most are not highlighted when they are emailed. If a team wanted everyone to highlight their own stuff control-A + remove highlighting before a file is emailed is an easy remedy.

    We have back files that are on a molly drive (where topic specific files are stored). For backfiles like generic impact defense or K answers we just send out updated and compiled versions at the beginning when new novices and stuff show up. So it is a small update for returning debaters and the novices get the backfiles.

  2. timalderete

    We switched to paperless this year. We are by no means experts, but here are a few things we did / tried:

    First – don't be deterred even if you cannot make full use of it to start with. We by no means took full advantage of Synergy or Dropbox or Paperless etc, but even if it takes a few years to get the hang of it, better to start sooner rather than later. That doesn't mean let half of your team opt out – we banned that, and it was our best decision. So many of the benefits require uniformity (team highlighting, rental cars, avoiding checked luggage, pre round prep, etc.) Some will complain, but what are they gonna do?

    We did not make full use of Synergy, because we did not use the Tub or Expando functions extensively. Some teams did, others did not, some shared, and I am not familiar with what that part is capable of. That is something we are going to work on next year.

    Dropbox is absolutely essential for the way we did things. It made highlighting a group effort, it made updating rewrites much easier, and it made the flow sharing possible. We dealt with the "Altering/Deleting files" issue with Ruthless Persecution and Vigilant Surveillance – we checked on it daily for deletions and restored them, and quickly booted people (temporarily, but with lots of Public Admonition).

    A much bigger issue was "Conflicted Copies" – if two different people have the same file open, and each makes different changes to them, harmonizing is difficult, because they save as "Conflicted Copies." So, for example, if the 1A and 2A both have the Korea Affirmative open for the whole round, and one changes the 2AC bloc for Consult, and the 1A adds a couple of 1AR blocs for Consult, and they both save them at the end of the debate, one of them might be saved as "2010 Korea Aff – Michael Wang's Conflicted Copy". And there is no quick way to say which parts of the Conflicted copy need to be added to the Master file. I don't know if Tubs solve this – we muddled through, but ended up with just assigning one person to be the gatekeeper for changes made to the Affirmative, and dealing with other conflicted copies on a case by case basis. Would love others' recommendations on this.

    At the end of the summer, we spend a lot of time downloading and sorting camp files – putting all the camp Korea Aff's in one folder, all the camp Afghanistan Negs in one file, etc. This makes it easier for the person who is rewriting the Afghanistan Negative – they have most of the files that they need, and it makes it easier for the files that don't get rewritten (we didn't rewrite the Kuwait neg, for instance, or the Schmitt K, or the Consult China CP) Files that do get rewritten got put in a separate folder marked as TMS files. We end up using both the Camp Files and the TMS files all the way through the end of the year. It would help A Tonne if camps would A. Separate the Aff and Neg files for Aff cases and separate the Neg positions from the Aff Responses to those positions. and B. More coherently and Clearly title their files, mostly by putting the Argument before the Lab Name/Initials or Camp Name. That would make it Substantially easier to sort.

    We started, but did not completely follow through on, sorting and organizing our Speech Documents in a shared fashion. In Dropbox, we made a folder for each tournament, and a subfolder for each team that attended that tournament, and each team was required to save their speech documents within their folder. This meant (in theory) that we had a copy of every speech from the year. This makes scouting, rewriting, preround prep and disclosure a lot easier. In practice, we did not do a very good job with this, and are going to focus on this next year. Aside from the "Make sure to Do it" procrastination problem, we had Naming problems – the speech document needs the following information in the Title – Tournament, Round Number, Team, Side, Case and Speech and Person. Very Awkward, and non-uniform. But thinking about it, I can see how each of those pieces of information is important.

    A question: It seems that there is a norm for "Erase our Speech Document at the end of the Round." Why? In theory, most of that is on the wiki, or is supposed to be, and we could just ask for cites anyway – this just makes the cite collection process easier. Its not really "Stealing" evidence – you've read it in a round, people have a right to examine it in the round, and we have the norm that if it is read, we should have access to the cites. It is not much more a step to just say "Do you mind if we keep a copy of your speech document?" I've asked that a couple of times when I judged debates, and we haven't done it without asking so far, because of the Norm. But what is the warrant for the Norm? Serious question.

    A technology question: If most of the team uses Synergy, and one or two debaters want to use Whitman (they have old enough macs that Bootcamp/Parallels slows it down significantly) is this viable? Will files that are written in Synergy, with Synergy Title Macros, function the same way in Whitman?

    1. RyanCMarcus

      In response to the technology question:

      The most propagated version of the Whitman template will NOT work with Synergy headers. Synergy will work with Whitman headers, however. The most-recently released "Hoja" template claims to support all heading types.

      From what I've gathered from my limited time with debate, it seems like a very good idea to just use the Whitman template. It works on Mac (with Word 2011) and it appears to evolving faster than Synergy.

      It is also a lot easier to "customize" the Whitman template. For example, I've modified mine to open in files in "reading mode" and added a button to mimic Synergy's "read speech" functionality.

          1. dherm

            what's kind of awesome is that hoja means paper/page in spanish. pretty decent name for a debate template if you ask me.

  3. Scottyp4313nr Post author

    Some random comments before answering bills quesstions

    -Using different templates/having a mac is not really that big of a deal- I have very little experience (only done about 10 paperless debates) and even without using any fancy macros like send to speech paperless is still 100X better than paper. The parts I like the most about synergy are the parts that make cutting cards faster/more efficient- when actually constructing a speech ctrl c ctrl v works fine for me
    -it really is ridiculous to take longer than 15 seconds to jump someone a speech-the only possible reasons are failure to prepare (not having working jump drive) or user error. Though I have been pretty lax in never counting any of this as prep, it probably should
    -one under discussed pedagogical benefit of paperless is the number of assembled speeches younger debaters can look at and see (almost word for word) what was said in a speech by a more experienced debater. They can see where they thought cards needed to be read, how many etc in addition to which cards were selected and why

    Should there be a master file?

    Definitively yes. Not having one just makes 20 people have to do the same 5 minute job instead of 1 person doing it. The only rationale for not doing it is that it forces debaters to familiarize themselves with the files- but taken to its extreme this would mean you never organize or index files because those just dissuade kids from learning the files. Making files more organized and prepared helps everyone on the team. I have worked with roughly 5 different squads in some form of paperless over the last 3 years, only 1 had a master copy of things that was updated by the student doing the research. All groups of debaters never had any idea what files they had/what was in them, so having the debaters themselves update things certainly didn't seem to prevent that.


    I'll admit my position on this is somewhat contradictory with my take on master files, but I generally think highlighting is more of an individual responsibility. Different debaters speak at different rates, and debate differently in terms of do they read one long card or several shorter cards. That means people want different things from highlighting. As a debater, I rarely wanted other people highlighting my evidence because I was afraid they would miss important parts or do a generally shoddy job. This probably stemmed from my being a control freak but also from the fact that I am generally the worlds greatest highlighter of evidence bar none. There are certainly benefits of group highlighting- for example if you debate a new aff and it happens to be similar to a case another team ran earlier in the year, the fact that another one of your teams highlighted the neg will give you some more prep time to spend elsewhere. Highlighting on the computer means its easy to undue highlighting or just use a different color to re-highlight, so there really is no reason not to share highlighted files, but I think if you object to centralized management, encouraging individual highlighting is a better way to achieve those goals.

    How do you distribute new files? Via a dropbox? Via email? How do you prevent students from altering/deleting “master” files?

    Kids who are gonna be on top of their stuff are going to be on top of their stuff.That being said, working with teams who use both dropbox and gmail there will be kids in both groups who are unaware that the team has produced XYZ file, at least with dropbox if the internet is shoddy at a tournament ( a much bigger problem for HS than college) they will already have the file whereas with gmail if they didn't download it they may be screwed. One thing a master file does is eliminate 400 little 2-3 page update files getting turned out the day before a tournament which is a large contributor to clutter/people not knowing whats going on. The team I worked with that did a master file had the following procedure:

    1. In dropbox there was a debate folder that contained the master files
    2. For a master file, only the person working on it could modify it. So if I did politics, no one even opened the politics folder on dropbox other than me
    3. individual debaters before a tournamennt would copy the master file to their computer after a certain cutoff date for when assignemnts had to be done, this copied version to their desktop they could modify in anyway they wanted
    4. After a tournament if someone made substantial improvements to a file (in their desktop version) they were to communicate to the files master what those were/discuss integration for the next tournament version

    There are many problems with this approach mainly related to people getting things done on time and people breaking the rules, but in terms of efficiency it is hard to top.

    Re: Erasing speech docs
    Personally I am in favor of after you have read something it should be available a la the wake open source project. However, there is a difference between keeping it for cites and keeping it and then reading the evidence in your own debates (possibly at the same tournament) and I can see how people would be against the latter. There does seem to be an age gap divide- younger students now a days seem to have no qualms about sending out speeches/entire files to friends/people who request cites and I think that is a great trend/makes debate better.

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