Apr 17, 2010

we join the 21st century, now in progress

Back when the National Forensic League was considering the use of computers in Debate, I wrote:
In a 5-3-1 vote, the Council decided to allow a one-year trial where laptop computers may be used within Policy Debate rounds, with District competitions to have the option. There are provisions forbidding the use of wireless networks, but really--are judges going to have to check in between every speech to make sure no one's cheating? I hope and pray computers never become a fixture in Lincoln-Douglas.
Looking back, it was only a matter of time before the NFL's trial policy evolved and expanded into standard procedure.

This morning, the Washington State Forensics Association voted to allow computers in Cross-Examination and Lincoln Douglas Debate, while forming a committee to investigate adding them in Congress and Public Forum. (On a related note, they're now allowed in Extemporaneous prep as well.)

And I voted yes.

In three and a half years, what changed my mind?

1. Computers are far more affordable.
2. More and more resources are available online.
3. I tried flowing on a laptop once, and really liked it.
4. Quality coaching matters more than anything when it comes to quality debate. And computers seem to help more than they hinder.
5. Let's waste less paper. My team extensively uses blogs, Google Docs, Gmail chat, and Facebook to collaborate when preparing. The less we have to print, the better.
6. The Internet allows instant fact-checking. During rounds, I've heard too much obviously bad information that could have been easily shot down by a thirty second Google search.

The WSFA's new rule requires that evidence on the computer be available for the other team's investigation, whether printed out or on a second laptop. It also requires equity in Internet use--a team may use the Internet in-round only if their competitors have access as well. That's an interesting and reasonable concession, I think. The likelihood of cheating is still there--but that's what coaches are for. We're supposed to train our charges to be ethical. Especially if we're debating ethics.

Thanks to foot-dragging people like me, it took the WSFA only 10 years to join the 21st century. And now: "We're gonna see a brave new world where they run everybody a wire and hook us all up to a grid. Yes, sir, a veritable age of reason. Like the one they had in France. Not a moment too soon..."

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