1(4), August 1984, page 7

[conclusion of Kotker article at top of this page]

Computer Debating

Gary Stephens
New York Institute of Technology

If you have been teaching argumentation strategies, stimulate and reinforce the intelligent use of these strategies writing debates on word-processors. Here is how I have been organizing it.

1. I spend considerable time explaining the format and assumptions behind the traditional debate tournament and the kind of preparation that a debate team does.

2. I have the class do extensive research on a topic of general interest.

3. I divide the class up into two-person teams (I do not have quite enough word-processors for each student to work alone. During the debates I have the team members alternate typing).

4. I format a disk for each debate with the proposition written at the top, the names of the members of the two teams, and step-by-step instructions. These instructions are: a) State your position and give two supporting reasons for it. (The second team repeats each step in turn). b) Rebut the position and justifications of the opening team and introduce your third justification. c) Rebut the overall position of the opposing team, being sure to attack their third justification. d) Make a compelling closing statement which rehearses the strengths of your opponents. The computer-assisted debate is not carried on under the constraints of strictly observed time since typing speeds vary, and the debate does not necessarily have to be done within class time. But it is done under a constraint of space. In formatting the disk, I allow a space of 45, 80-column lines after each instruction. I find that providing an ample but fixed space helps my students focus and tighten their arguments, and it also helps control the time that each step takes.

5. Because, in a written debate, the waiting side does not like to sit and watch while the other side types out their statement and because I want to teach the basic argumentative skill of being able to argue on both sides of an issue, I have the teams compete in two debates at the same time. In one they are arguing a proposition from one side of the issue; in the other debate they argue a similar proposition but from the other side of the issue. This not only forces them to be fast on their feet and clear about two different lines of argument, but it also has them writing on the word processor all of the time with no waiting around.

COMPUTERS and COMPOSITION 1(4), August 1984, page 8

Additional features make the word-processed debate interesting. One, if there is any spare time, a team can continue to proofread and clean up a present or prior presentation, although not change its content. Two, the debaters are, after the first presentation, always writing in response to another piece of writing, enforcing critical reading. Three, at the end the whole disk can be printed off in hard copy and given to another part of the class to analyze who won and why.