Closed Adjudication and the Ballance of Learning

Things are ramping up toward the white party tonight and the grand final round of WUDC 2010. Great tournament and great people.

Been thinking a bit about the final closed rounds. Closed adjudication is something we rarely, if ever do in the Northeast BP region of the United States. I have usually been against it, only supporting it as a cultural norm from IONA, or the global BP community tradition.

Closed adjudication seems to be a terrible overvaluing of the competitive elements of debate over the pedagogical. Its function seems to be to keep debaters puzzled and hanging on to hope while their chances to learn something from their judges quickly bleed away as the time at the tournaament diminishes into socials and other important things.

This is my standard view of closed adjudication, but here at Koc Worlds I have been presented with some of the reasons for it, and I find them convincing.

First, closed adjudication ensures that teams don't give up and leave. Here we are in a great, exotic locale, why bother debating on if there's no chance to clear? Many teams would simply withdraw from the tab and be running around the city. Seems a bit far fetched to me, but I think that there would be some teams who might just decide to hang out at the bar once it was statistically impossible for them to break. The tournament certainly cannot provide enough swing teams to cover all of these possibilities.

An additional concern is that some teams might be bitter about their non-breaking status and deliberately ruin the debates that they are in. This of course destroys the chances of the teams left in the rooms to break and hurts their ability to enjoy the challenge of the round.

Finally, there is the element of surprise, where they want to make sure that the teams are very excited and thrilled to know that they broke. The emotional tension and excitement should be high on break night and everyone should be screaming and jumping around.

These are the most convincing arguments I've heard for it, and I agree partially. I think that these reasons are important, however, they are all in the service of “sportifying” debate instead of keeping debate on the educational and critical keel that is important long term.

I know that many people don't particularly care to get feedback from closed rounds. It's hard when the chairs have little to no memory of the round by the time the break is released, and additionally when the moment of decision is hours old. This is of course if you can find the people judging you at the party and talk to them coherently due to the noise or other things.

These rounds are closed because they are important: They are the rounds that can decide the break and are some of the closest rounds held at any tournament. This is also a reason they should be open: They are close adjudications, and the teams involved could learn a lot from the feedback they could get about their performance in a tight room.

I don't think closed adjudication is going away anytime soon but here are a couple of fixes that should be implimented so the educational elements are not trumped by these competitive elements.

First idea: chairs should have to provide written decisions that then could be emailed and kept by the tab. These decisions then could be downloaded on demand or emailed to the teams involved in the round. Not suggesting this as a DCA job, but more of a chair job perhaps. The decision and comments should be written out with the chairs present.

Second idea: With the cheapness of digital video, the decision should be filmed and recorded immediately after the round by a runner or some other tournament official. These can then be saved and accessed via internet after the break. This preserves the immediacy and freshness of the comments and allows teams to relax a bit and not have to chase down the judges before they forget or leave the tournament.

Final Idea: A room set aside that is quiet and comfortable for those judges and debaters who want to discuss the closed rooms during the party. I doubt many would use it, but the option would be available for those who wanted to get feedback right after the break.

I think these are nice ways of preserving closed adjudication for its minor benefits of creating excitement and its major benefit of preserving interest for teams that would actively or passively ruin the debating experience for teams that still care about doing their best. The current system sits too far over on the side of sport and not enough on the side of learning.