Image by Johan Koolwaaij via Flickr
Sitting around waiting for confirmation that our registration wire transfer made it to Gaborone is not doing great things for my nerves. The combination of a wait-list full of teams pre-judged by the community at large as being “essential” to the World Championship combined with my institution’s incapability of finding someone who can execute a wire transfer when the wire transfer guy is on vacation means that registering quick on the keyboard last month was the easy part of ensuring attendance at Worlds this year.
Meanwhile, the CA for Botswana Worlds has announced a new initiative – which I am certain you’ve heard of by now: The World Debate Forum. This is where panels, discussions, and presentations on debate will occur, all from the community of participants in Worlds debating.
A great idea, to say the least. A very SXSW move for the debate community to make – and I think it’s going to take off. Originally, back when I was an undergraduate, South By Southwest (linked above) was just a bunch of bands playing a bunch of venues. A great party with some really talented performances going on. You could perform if you were talented, or you could watch if you were not. I think the original SXSW, held annually in Austin, Texas, is a pretty good metaphor for what Worlds debating is like: Talent on display, you can try to display your talent, and a great party is brewing all around.
Then South By Southwest decided to add in some panels, presentations, and other creative elements to the roster. Now SXSW is arguably the premiere national (USA) and international conference for Web 2.0, developers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, technology companies, and much more. All from introducing the element of panels, something very reflexive and with a flavor quite a bit different from the origin of the event.
I think WUDC has the same chance in the World Debate Forum. I think it’s going to change Worlds by giving it more relief, more texture, and more opportunity for synthesis and cooperation. We have some of the sharpest people in the world together for 9 days in some of the most interesting places in the world, and now we have a formal session for the sharing of ideas, the communication of desires, and the presentation of new ways to take debate to the next, or at least a different, level of performance.
Not sure if I am going to be able to attend these panels, but I am certain they are going to feature some really great ideas. Some rising stars of WUDC future leadership may be established during it. And I know many people will look at each other and say, “What a great idea!” a few times. I hope I am able to see a few. But, you know, wire transfer issues. Yea. So to distract myself from the crapshoot of my future, I have assembled a list of essential panels and presentations that I believe have to happen in order to take full advantage of the new dimension offered here.
1) The Purpose of WUDC: Articulating the Vision
What is the point of spending all this time and money and energy? To win a cup? To win a title? To network? To challenge yourself? To party? To travel the world while feeling like you are doing something intellectual? I bet the list could go on much longer than that. It would benefit the community to have a panel where three to five well thought out, well articulated and argued, and well defended visions of the point of WUDC were articulated, questioned each other, and then took questions from the audience. Nothing would be better for setting the tone of the new World Debate Forum in the spirit of a debating championship. Nothing could be more important for new initiates to see the differing visions of those who love and participate in this contest each year. And for the rest of us, maybe a new idea will pop out greater than any of us if we allowed ourselves to have the conversation brewing at the back of our minds at least once or twice during the week.
2) Registration: What Do We Value?
I can already predict that the Org Comm and the Botswana crew are going to get a ton of presentations on how to make registration more fair. I believe this is the most important question facing the future of WUDC debate, and the one that has the most potential to alter WUDC debate from what we know it as today. So the begged question must be addressed: What do we value having at the WUDC? This roundtable, panel, or open discussion could pave the way to the creation of a more permanent working group that could draw up the principles of WUDC competitive value, a document that should make the choosing of a registration process academic for any convener. The questions for framing could be: What, if any, is the value of reserving a slot for every country? What, if any, is allowing each country that has attended before have at least one slot? What, if any, is the value of basing registration on speed of entry? This will be a way of discussing registration through the boxcar of ideological baggage that tags along with the process that gets chosen. It might be a nice way of talking about registration without getting too angry about it!
3) Education: Why and What Do We Teach?
I am new to the WUDC community. I have made many great friends who are also great teachers. Whenever I am there, I suspect many great teachers are lurking about. I don’t really know how to strike up the sort of conversation I want to have with them. For this panel, I envision a room with many posters and presenters. I could walk around and see presentations on teaching activities, curriculum ideas, games, and programs for preparing debaters. I suspect that many in the debate world are great teachers, they just don’t call themselves that. I would like to see what everyone is up to, and why they are up to it. I would like to share ideas. And I would like to see what it takes in your mind to prepare the next generation of WUDC champs.
4) Outreach and Mission
There are many countries that we expect to see at WUDC, but some that we hardly ever see. What is the state of debate like in those countries? Is it possible, or even desireable, for WUDC to reach out to and encourage particular Institutions in those places to participate in WUDC? How does this dovetail at all with the mission and purpose of WUDC?
I suspect these issues will come up a bit since the competition is in Africa, and a lot of attention is focused in the debate world on Africa and African tournaments right now. I think the conversations will lean toward African debate, but this is just a start. I imagine a couple of panels that investigate and present on the state of debate in a certain region or country, and a few that interrogate the idea of debate promotion from and within the WUDC. In the end, the identity of WUDC is definitely at play here – is it a club for gamers, a public intellectual championship, or an educational institution? Or some combination of the three?
5) Technology’s Promise and Threat
WUDC is popular, and somewhat overcrowded at times. The capacity is outstripped by the demand during registration. The internet provides some promise of hope for a few, but threatens the way the championships traditionally run. What are some of the transitional models, hybrid models, and future structures of a championships that has more than 900 teams willing to enter? We are headed toward this future as more and more people wish to attend and participate in this great community. How can technology help us? What threats from web technologies are there that we need to be aware of? Early adopters, internet pioneers, and interested groups can show off, conduct, or theorize about the role of internet communication and the future of WUDC in these sessions. The payoff is one where we confront and start to talk about these sorts of changes before they are forced upon us.
So there’s my short list. I believe the World Debate Forum is a great and quite promising step toward a new type of WUDC. I hope someone proposes and some of you participate on panels such as these. I know there are a lot of pressing issues, but these five panel areas are ripe, timely, and essential to all of the other conversations that the World Debate Forum can have.
Now to check on that wire transfer. . .