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Affirmed: New Website Is a Hit With Debaters

Open Society Funds Innovative Website for School and College Debate Tournaments

Feb. 13, 2013

Brown-haired man wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

Jon C. Bruschke

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The Open Society Foundation Youth Initiative is committed to promoting democracy by training students around the globe to debate. The International Debate Education Association (IDEA) has scores of programs to do just that. But nowhere was it easy to find out how many people are debating or where those debates are happening, and without that basic data it's hard for each organization to know the best way to allocate resources or track the success of their projects.

That's where Jon C. Bruschke and his colleague Chris Palmer come in.

This was data that Bruschke, professor of human communication studies and a long-time debate coach at Cal State Fullerton, also wanted to see clarified. So he set out to create a central tracking system that would record participation and results.

Apparently, he wasn't the only person interested. He and Chris Palmer, a Harvard graduate who has worked for Harvard Engineering School and in the biotech industry, and is currently a debate coach at Lexington High School in Massachusetts, recently received a $131,000 grant from the Open Society Youth Initiative for the development of a one-stop website where such information can be found.

"Previously, it was almost impossible to track participation trends, so this made documentation and assessment difficult," Bruschke said. "I like to use the analogy of a baseball team. For baseball junkies, even though teams compete in different leagues — majors, minors, college, independent, foreign — there is a way to check on players' and teams' statistics by going to one site — baseball-reference.com. I want to create the same kind of site for debate teams.

"Right now, there are four major college tournaments, three high school competitions and numerous other tournaments throughout Asia and Europe — really throughout the world," he explained. "But the data is fragmented and different tournaments have different rules. In America, our debaters lug tons of notes with them and spend months on grueling research. That's not the case in Europe. So how do you compare them?"

So Bruschke and Palmer began the painstaking work of trying to make all the numbers make sense. They pulled together a site that has the ability to channel all the debate tournaments worldwide.

They took two sites, debateresults.com — which focuses on college tournament — and tabroom.com with its emphasis on high school competitions, and combined them to form iDebate tabroom.com. They rolled out the new iDebate tabroom.com site last fall, and within the first nine days, 25 tournaments had signed on. Currently, about 422 tournaments are listed.

The goal of the new site is to provide a free & open source tournament management system for debate and speech tournaments worldwide, for as many formats of debate as possible.  The software that runs iDebate is open source, and its free for anyone to use.  Hosting and support is provided by IDEA

The site assists with tournament entries, tournament tabulation and the collection of these tabulation results. It is located on idebate.org, a website run by the International Debate Education Association, a global network of organizations that believe that debate promotes mutual understanding and informed citizenship around the world. IDEA works internationally with schools and universities, debate organizations and community groups, providing resources, training and related events to thousands of educators and young people every month.

Bruschke points out that the site can help debaters prepare for a match. While judges may say they evaluate debate based on certain criteria, debaters can review past matches and see if certain judges are "walking the talk" when it comes to their records. They also can review their opponents' recent wins/losses and plan their debate strategies accordingly.

The site has brought the debate community closer together. Because it's an open system, debaters can communicate with each other and ask questions. The site even supports a platform where debaters can compete by video, making participation in debate teams even more inclusive.

"It's also interesting for us because we know many debaters tend to go into positions of leadership," Bruschke said. "We know President Richard Nixon and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito were debaters but we have no debate record for them. Who knows? Maybe we'll be able to provide this detail someday on a future president or Supreme Court justice."

By: Valerie Orleans, 657-278-4540

Tags:  Academics & Research