Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thoughts: Class Debate Rules

This idea was started under the “Next” post but I thought I would give it its own little space for critique or approval. Several have chimed in about how the class debate should be structured and I thought I would offer my two cents as well as including what I thought were good ideas from others that were noted in their comments.

Most everyone in class is making an effort to be courteous polite but there seems to be a bit of uncertainty or confusion in the air about how and when to speak. Hopefully this post and following comments will invite some clarification to that matter.

First, I think we definitely need a moderator. This format seems to work well in professional political debates, courtrooms, and jury rooms so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The moderator should be Dr. Oliver and, when he is speaking, we should focus our attention on him. I would consider speaking amongst ourselves during lecture or during moderating points rude behavior.

Secondly, as Steven pointed out, hand-raising does seem disrupt the flow during debate but it does allow some structure to new issues. Sometimes, blurting out a quick quip or comment (i.e., calling bullshit as bullshit is being presented) adds to the debate and really forces someone to clarify their thought. I think we could split the difference here though so here’s my idea. Those making major points or new arguments should raise their hand and wait to be chosen by the moderator. Then, as David noted, roughly 60 seconds will be given to make the point (subject to summarization by the moderator). From there we should take Steven’s cue and let the floor be open to everyone (no hand raising necessary) and let the usual social rules of conversation apply. Dr. Oliver can interject here as well (as a debater) under the same social rules.

Then, when the conversation is exhausted or is off track (to be determined by the moderator) the cue could be “OK, let’s move on or let’s wrap this up.” At that point Dr. Oliver could make a wrap up comment and then choose another student with their hand raised for a new debate point (we should all stop debating at this point and pay attention). Then we could start the process all over again on a new point or argument.

So here’s how it would go.

1.     Dr. Oliver—opening lecture or comments then cue to open the floor.
2.     Hands up for first argument. Dr. Oliver chooses first student.
3.     Student makes first argument in 60 seconds.
4.     Floor is open to civil debate until exhausted or derailing occurs.
5.     “OK, lets move on.” Dr. Oliver offers final thoughts or introduces another subject then chooses another student.
6.     Repeat.

This is roughly how it sort of goes now but I think this would clarify the structure a bit more so everyone would be clear on when to jump in.

Any critique, improvements or comments are always invited and encouraged. 


  1. I like this idea Dean.

    Its like taming a wild horse. With just enough discipline, we can channel his energy into something useful.

    I think the topics we're discussing are important to everyone in the class. And, I think we can all agree there are still many debates to be had!
    Lets make sure all the willing voices are heard.

  2. My parliamentary skills are not according to Hoyle, and I've never read Robert's Rules. But sure, I can say "Let's move on" more frequently, I'm happy more than happy not to be expected to notice a sequence of hands, and I don't want us to get so caught up in procedure that we lose spontaneity. Let's all just continue to be courteous and as concise as possible, recognizing that we may not be able to make our points as promptly as in the smaller discussion setting (so maybe jot a note to yourself when points occur to you), and keeping it all in perspective: we're not going to "settle the universe's hash" even if we do all get to speak when we want to.

    Increasingly I think WJ was right: the desire to state truths in public can come to feel like an affliction. It should be fun.

    Dean, thanks for trying to impose order on our chaos. Everybody, thanks for your patience and perseverance. I think this is a wonderful "problem" to have.