Debates are used to examine issues from opposing perspectives, with one team presenting ideas in favour of a motion and the other against it. Those listening to the arguments have an opportunity to participate after formal statements have been made, both for and against the motion. At the end of a debate a vote is taken, involving all those involved, which shows whether the motion is carried or not. Debates are often used in in political workplaces – local and national councils and governments. They are ideal for testing speakers’ abilities to think under pressure, to form salient arguments, to communicate effectively.
Traditionally debates are carried out F2F in which context no specific tools are required, although personal response systems and software used in conjunction with personal devices – such as Mentimeter – may be found useful.
Debates may also be carried out entirely online, synchronously or asynchronously and there are various bespoke tools available for this such as Debate Map and Argunet.
VLE discussion tools, blogs or online conferencing tools such as Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate Ultra may also be used for debates.
This method is useful for thinking through and discussing different aspects of complex issues. There are various formal methods of debating, but in essence the lecturer provides a statement to be debated, upon which opposing opinions are held. Examples: ‘Tax cuts for the rich are good for the economy’, ‘Reality television exploits its participants and should be banned’, ‘Climate change requires immediate drastic action’. The class are split into two teams, one ‘for’ the statement, the other ‘against’. Each side undertakes some research around the topic and instates a speaker and seconder, each of whom will in turn present their arguments – for or against – to the full class. Time will be allowed for class members to question the speakers and to refute their arguments. At the end of the alloted time (depending on the topic under debate and the number of participants, this will vary but would average around an hour), the speakers give short closing speeches and then a vote is taken (either by a show of hands or electronically by Mentimeter for example), ‘for’ or ‘against’ the debated statement, with one side thereby winning the argument.
Debates are excellent for formative assessment, giving lecturers the opportunity to check learners’ knowledge and understanding and abilities in the range of soft skills as listed above.
This excellent wiki lists a range of online debating tools: Less wrong wiki – debate tools
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