This year I’m very enthused to be serving as a parent volunteer assisting our school debate team at Classen SAS in Oklahoma City Public Schools. This is the first year ClassenSAS will have cross-examination (CX) debate teams. My son has participated and competed in Lincoln-Douglas (LD) debate the past two years, and went to CX debate camp this summer at Cameron University in Lawton. Londa Madron, our school debate coach, is a FANTASTIC teacher and has contagious enthusiasm for competitive speech. (I identified her as one of my personal teacher-heroes in my November 2010 post, “Speech Tournament Naps, iPod Policies, Laptop Lockdowns and Student Inspiration.”) My son and I have been brainstorming ways we might be able to digitally organize and utilize CX evidence this year, and in this post I want to share our thinking about using a pro account on Evernote as a team evidence database. Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are welcome!

'01.10.06' photo (c) 2006, Mychal Stanley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Competitive debate, like many other school activities, is being challenged and changed by digital technologies. I will not pretend to be an expert on the ways technologies can be leveraged to good, constructive effect in speech and debate YET, but it’s one of my goals this year to learn more about this topic. I was delighted to learn, last week in Missoula, Montana, from Jason Neiffer, about The National Debate Coaches’ Open Evidence Project. Jason also shared the PFDebate site and his own Big Sky Debate site, which I’ve added (as blog feeds) to my small but growing Google Reader bundle for debate-related information. If you have suggestions for other high school debate-related feeds to add here (preferably CX-focused) please share them as comments.

When I debated in college in the late 1980s / early 1990s, computer technologies were just starting to have an impact in academia. My class at the Air Force Academy was the first one to receive computers with 3.5″ floppy disks. The Internet was not a public phenomenon yet, although we did have a campus-wide INTRAnet and email system. We used our computers to word process debate cases and arguments, but didn’t have any type of team database for digitally sharing evidence.

'Balancing floppies' photo (c) 2006, Austin Marshall - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

At Alexander’s debate camp this summer in Lawton, I was delighted the camp organizers provided each participant with a CD-ROM of all the cases, DAs, counter-plans, etc. which were created at camp both during his session and during the previous session. This spirit of sharing was and is both impressive and exemplary. It reflects the ethic of evidence sharing operationalized in The National Debate Coaches’ Open Evidence Project. With access to digital technologies today, competitive debate seems to be even LESS about having access to evidence as UNDERSTANDING the evidence and arguments and then USING them effectively in rounds. Just talking and writing about this tonight gets me very enthused for the coming year, in which students will debate a space policy resolution:

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

In Oklahoma, students competing in debate are allowed to use computers in rounds but those computers CANNOT be actually connected to the Internet during the round. Basically, debaters have to turn OFF their wifi cards on laptops, iPads, or other wireless devices at the start of a round. This rule makes a Chromebook an illogical choice for a debate team, but it still leaves open a wide range of digital possibilities for sharing and using evidence on a team and in rounds.

Here’s what Alexander and I are thinking we’ll try, and I’d love to get your thoughts. We need a digital database which is accessible on multiple devices (laptops as well as iPads) and can be ENTIRELY “synced” offline so evidence is accessible without an Internet connection. Ideally, we’d like to use an off-the-shelf software solution which won’t require lots of customization and tweaking. This summer I considered using WordPress (since I work with it quite a bit) and before tournaments downloading an offline copy of the MySQL database to run using MAMP (or another AMP solution) to use it “offline” in the rounds. This would just provide access to the database on a single laptop, however, and would be pretty cumbersome to configure on a regular basis.

Instead of a custom solution, I think we can use a pro/premium account on EverNote.

'Quick Tip: Use Evernote to back up your blog in real time' photo (c) 2011, Joe Ross - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Evernote will let us save individual “pieces” of debate evidence as separate, searchable files. We can categorize these into “notebooks” in the program, but even more powerfully add a variety of “tags” to each piece of evidence aiding in the search utility of the system. Using a shared account for the team, we can sync the Evernote evidence database across student laptops, iPads and iPhones, and (with a premium account) have access to ALL the evidence even when wifi is turned off during rounds and devices are offline. This offline functionality is provided on the laptop/desktop version (computer version) of Evernote on FREE accounts, but you have to upgrade to a premium account (currently $45 per year) to enjoy offline note access on iOS devices.

Alexander and I are thinking we need to setup a “tag taxonomy” for the evidence we save to EverNote, which is used consistently as evidence is added to the database. Some general tags we thought of tonight include:

aff
neg
da
block
top
case
counterplan
authorqual (author qualifications)

I also think we might use a master “index note” to keep a chronological list of evidence notes added to the database, and use a five digit number as a prefix. This can serve as a “key field” for each piece of evidence and permit rapid searching in rounds when someone wants to see a specific card. I’m thinking it makes sense for Alexander and his partner to each use their own laptops during the round, and have at least 1 iPad available which they can provide to the other team when evidence is needed. It might not be ideal to provide another team with direct access to the ENTIRE EverNote file, however, so we’ll have to consider how this could work. When they ask for evidence, one of our Classen team members could search for the evidence by key field number and take an iPad screenshot (holding down the home and power buttons simultaneously) and then show the evidence to the other team as a saved camera roll picture. That would be cumbersome, but perhaps better than giving them unfettered access to the entire team Evernote database. We need to do more thinking along these lines, but we really like the idea of Evernote providing:

  1. A way to share a web-based database of evidence
  2. A way to fully sync offline with both computers and mobile devices
  3. Ways to tag, label and organize evidence
  4. Ways to quickly look up and share evidence as needed in rounds

This is a MAJOR “digital investment” decision. If we decide to go with EverNote, a LOT of time is going to go into the creation and development of this database. Of course it could be exported and migrated to another system, if needed, so work won’t be wasted, but if there are better options out there we certainly want to know about them. Please share your ideas and suggestions.

Since our school only has a few CX debate teams at this point (two for sure and possibly another) I’m also interested in setting up practice CX rounds over videoconference connections. These could be via H.323 or Skype, especially now that Skype has gone HD on the Mac. If your debate team (most likely located OUTSIDE Oklahoma / our ‘normal’ competitive district area) might be interested in participating in some videoconference-based CX practice rounds this fall, please contact me. Also, if you know of websites or blog posts giving info about recommended ways to “flow” debate rounds on a laptop, please share those. I learned a bit about this last year from an OU debate team member when I judged at our state debate tournament, but I need more details.

It’s going to be a GREAT semester of learning about communication skills and space policy for debate team members at Classen SAS and elsewhere around the United States!

Flows of Alexander's first debate

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  • http://www.facebook.com/misterbeef David Williams

    Seems like a cool idea. We are using debate synergy along with Dropbox. Dropbox is syncable and stored on computers and a “copy” online but all the information is available on each laptop/ipad/or other mobile device. We have downloaded many of the free sharing project files and have access to Cameron’s files as well. I was on staff this summer at Cameron (just like the last 15 years). In which division of camp did your son participate? Debate synergy has an indexing system in a “virtual tub” but it is a little slow. Synergy has a search function that is really fast for finding files and folders. Dropbox is free for the first 2 gig’s of storage and you get more as you get more people to sign up. SO the system uses two different tools. Download synergye http://georgetowndebateseminar.wikispaces.com/Hoya+Template here. It is free. Dropbox is here http://www.dropbox.com/ Also there is another great resource http://paperlessdebate.wikispaces.com/

  • Ronald Toledo

    Hello Wesley This is Ron from Evernote. I came across your post and just wanted to drop by and say hello. This sounds like a great use of Evernote for all the reasons you detailed. I’m glad to hear you’re going to give Evernote a try. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback. 

    Best
    -ron 

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