New Instructional Videos About Summer Debate Institutes

I’ve published three new instructional videos about summer debate institutes on my YouTube channel:

  1. What’s A Summer Debate Institute And Why Should I Attend One?” — an explanation of the history and purpose of summer debate institutes, how they typically are structured, and why students might want to attend them. The intended audience for this video is students, parents, and coaches who are interested in summer debate institutes; it is not intended for students that have already attended a debate institute.
  2. How To Prepare For An Online Summer Debate Institute” — an overview of the similarities and differences between in-person and online debate institutes, seven suggestions for how to successfully prepare for an online summer debate institute, and six suggestions for what to do “at” your online debate institute after it begins. The intended audience for this video is anyone who will be attending an online debate institute this summer.
  3. Avoiding Eyewash At Summer Debate Institutes” — a short explanation of the concept of eyewash and how it can be applied to debate including a list of the five most common forms of eyewash I see from debaters during summer debate camps. The intended audience for this video is students who will be attending debate institutes this summer; instructors might also find it helpful.

The videos are also embedded below the fold.

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Debaters Have Been Criticized For Speaking Too Fast For Over 100 Years

That competitive debaters speak too quickly — and too monotonously, without clarity or persuasiveness — is a common criticism. I wrote about this a few months ago after reading a masterful description of “fast debate” in Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School. If you’ve been involved even tangentially in debate, you’re undoubtedly familiar with this criticism. I knew it had been common for many (many) years, but I didn’t realize until recently just how long ago it began.

In a 1918 article (“Delivery in Debate”) in the nascent Quarterly Journal of Speech Education (later renamed the Quarterly Journal of Speech), Chas F. Lindsley—a professor at the University of Minnesota—expressed many of the same gripes about debaters’ speaking that one still hears today. Think I’m exaggerating?

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A Brief History of Online Summer Debate Institutes (They’re Older Than You Thought)

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced summer debate institutes to shift from in-person to online instruction for the summer of 2020. In the coming months, more high school students will participate in programs providing online debate training than ever before.

As administrators, teachers, and students prepare to make this transition, I was curious about the history of online debate institutes. It turns out that they are much older than I had expected.

I think others might find this history surprising. With that in mind, this article briefly documents what I’ve learned. This is unlikely to be authoritative, but I think it’s still quite interesting.

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Why Do Debaters Speak So Fast? An Excerpt From The Topeka School

The most controversial characteristic of competitive academic debate as practiced in many “national circuit” formats is the speed at which speeches are delivered. For as long as there have been competitive debates with strict time limits, participants have attempted to make the most of their limited speech times by speaking as quickly as their audiences will tolerate. Attempts to restrain the speed of debaters’ deliveries have largely failed. Lincoln-Douglas debate, founded 40 years ago as a slower alternative to policy debate, is now often as fast as its older sibling. And Public Forum debate, founded almost 20 years ago as an even more aggressive reaction to “fast debate,” is following the same trajectory; many Public Forum debates are now just as fast as policy debates.

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The 3NR Podcast Archives Now Available

It has been almost nine-and-a-half years since the debut of The 3NR Podcast and more than seven years since the last episode was posted. Unfortunately, the podcast recordings have been unavailable since the site was hacked in early 2012, and many readers have reached out during that time to ask about acquiring them. I am happy to finally announce that they are once again available for download.

While some of the content is unlikely to be relevant to contemporary debates/debaters (and the audio quality varies from pretty good to almost unlistenably bad), there is still a lot of useful material in these episodes. The 2010 NDCA episode with Will Repko and Jonathan Paul holds up well, for example. If nothing else, The 3NR Podcast provides an accurate summary of the state of high school policy debate from 2009 to 2011 and its major controversies during that time period.

To download the archived podcast episodes, visit For descriptions of each episode, visit; I have updated the download links in each post. You can also use the Wayback Machine to access better episode-by-episode descriptions (including the list of participants on each episode).

An Updated Speaker Point Scale Based On 2015-2016 Results

Since it was changed from half-points to tenth-points (a process that began in the 2010-2011 season before becoming standardized in 2011-2012), the speaker point scale in high school policy debate has dramatically evolved. It is helpful to systematically review point distributions to ensure that students, coaches, and especially judges are aware of the actually-existing scale. To figure out what speaker points mean in today’s scale, I analyzed points from several major national tournaments held during the 2015-2016 school year: Greenhill, St. Mark’s, Michigan, Glenbrooks, Blake, MBA, and Emory. I confirmed that the results of this survey accurately reflected the speaker point scale at the recently-concluded NDCA National Championships. Below the fold, I will provide a summary of the results as well as a descriptive speaker point scale that judges might consider using to align their points with the evolving norms.

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How To Become A Citizen-Expert On NSA Surveillance: A Guide For Debaters

One of the most intriguing things about the surveillance topic is that there are a relatively small number of experts on this subject area. Because the Snowden revelations are only a few years old and new information about NSA programs continues to surface, diligent (and ongoing) research is required to stay up-to-date and well-informed. To understand these complicated issues also requires competency in a wide range of disciplines—including a background in information technology and the Internet, constitutional law, and security policy.

While preparing for this topic, debaters have the opportunity to become true subject area experts with wide-ranging and thorough knowledge of the NSA’s surveillance programs, the legal challenges being mounted against them, and the breadth of policy and legal arguments marshaled for and against them in Congress and the courts. To fully participate in an informed democratic debate about surveillance policy, citizens need deep content knowledge about the issues involved. Thankfully, the opportunity to become a citizen-expert in NSA surveillance policies is open to any debater willing to invest the time and effort to do so.

But how? Where should one start? Below the fold, a five-step guide is offered to help students dive in to the NSA surveillance debate. Working through this material won’t be easy, of course. But for the dedicated student, following this blueprint will provide the deep background knowledge needed to fully delve into the intimidatingly broad and complex surveillance policy literature base.

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Using Twitter To Research The Surveillance Topic

Like podcasts, Twitter is an excellent indirect research tool for debaters. While tweets should rarely if ever be directly quoted as evidence in contest rounds, Twitter can be used as an important part of a student’s overall research process. By finding the right accounts to follow, debaters can leverage experts to guide their research for them by drawing attention to important events (like court decisions or congressional hearings), linking to insightful content (books, articles, interviews, videos, podcasts, etc.), and engaging in a continuous, interactive commentary about topic-related issues. For the surveillance topic, there are many “must follow” accounts that will greatly aid students in their preparation. Below the fold is a list of fifteen Twitter users debaters should follow for surveillance-related content.

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Lesson Plan: Intelligence Squared Phone Surveillance Debate

Intelligence Squared hosted a debate about phone surveillance at the National Constitution Center on October 7, 2014. The topic for the debate was Resolved: Mass collection of U.S. phone records violates the Fourth Amendment. For students preparing for next season’s surveillance topic, this debate is an excellent introductory resource. This article outlines a lesson plan based on the debate that can be assigned to students regardless of their experience levels.

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Using Podcasts To Become A Better Debater

Debaters in the current generation have access to a staggering array of information. As preparation begins for next year’s surveillance topic, one underexploited resource available to debaters is the podcast. Because domestic surveillance has been part of the national conversation for several years, there are many useful podcast episodes dedicated to topics that students will be debating next fall. This article will offer suggestions for how to use podcasts as part of a student’s debate preparation. It will also provide an introductory list of links to helpful episodes about the surveillance topic.

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