Sample UNIV Paper

UNIV 2009 “UNIVERSITAS: KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT BORDERS”

———-

What Are Debate Societies Good For?

A Descriptive Survey of Filipino Collegiate Debaters

Authors:

Tabitha Herrera (UP Diliman)

Patricia Ann Rodriguez (UP Diliman)

Debating in the University is perennial. It has been known to foster reasoned intellectual development in many a student, thus aiding in their quest for knowledge and truth. This study delves into Philippine student debaters’ perceptions of the benefits of debating. It was hypothesized that, like debaters in other countries, foremost among their responses would be critical thinking, knowledge gain and communication skills. Members of the Philippine Debate Circuit were surveyed and the results were subjected to a chi square test. It was found that while the data affirming knowledge gain and communication skills as primary associated benefits are statistically significant, the same, surprisingly, cannot necessarily be said for critical thinking.

Introduction

The University undoubtedly has presented many a student over the past centuries with opportunities for self-discovery and self-reformation.  Nowhere better than in the University has he come to an intimate encounter with many diverse fields of knowledge, people, places, ideas, and beliefs.  In fact, one might say that it is in the University where he can achieve, if he wanted to, the highest levels of culture, a term which indicates “everything whereby man develops and perfects his many bodily and spiritual qualities, and strives by his knowledge and his labor to bring the world itself under his control” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 53).  Thus, the attainment of truth being the common end of the Sciences and the Arts, the University student ought to strive hard to ensure that the various fields of knowledge complete, correct and balance each other, and in the process, to take dominion of himself and of the world around him (Newman, 1873).

As educational institutions attempted over time to achieve the above objectives, many pedagogical means have emerged and waned, and some of these have remained perennial.  One of these means, among others, is debating, which presumably helps foster reasoned intellectual development (Roy and Macchiette, 2005).  It has been found that university debates, whether in the classroom or as an extra-curricular activity, have had great potential for promoting critical thinking skills, active learning, and in-depth knowledge of substantive course topics.  Because of this, debating can be said to be consequently helpful in achieving the all-important educational objective of the attainment of knowledge and of the truth.  Whether these effects are true for specific regions or academic institutions should be the subject matter of empirical studies.  Most studies have, instead, focused on students’ perceptions of the benefits and disadvantages of debating and of their own participation in debates. This is what this paper sets out to do.

The World of Filipino Collegiate Debating

There are over 40 debate institutions scattered across the archipelago, with the highest concentration of them in the Metro Manila area, where many of the country’s most well-known universities are located.  Members of these institutions who compete at tournaments number at around 350-400, but it is estimated that the actual population of Filipino collegiate debaters is easily at double that number, as not all members of debate clubs get to compete due to limited slots and cost barriers.

There are two national debate tournaments in one year—the National Debate Championship, also known as the NDC, which is now on its 12th year, and the Philippine Intercollegiate Debate Championship (PIDC), which is now on its 7th year.  Different universities bid to host the NDC every year, while the PIDC is hosted by the University of the Philippines Diliman Debate Society.  Both tournaments have participation rates of roughly 350-400 students from all over the country.

A Brief Introduction to Philippine Debate Formats

The NDC is in the British Parliamentary Debate format, the same format used in the World Universities Debating Championship.

There are four teams of two members each.  The four teams are the Opening Government (OG) and Closing Government (CG), and the Opening Opposition (OO) and Closing Opposition (CO).  The two teams on the government bench argue for the motion, while the two teams on the opposition bench argue against the motion to be debated.

The motion, or topic of the debate, is given only 15 minutes before the round starts.  The debaters have 15 minutes to prepare their arguments and each member must come up with a 7-minute speech, with room for rebuttals for their opponents’ arguments and counter-arguments.

1st Speaker: Prime Minister 2nd Speaker: Leader of Opposition
3rd Speaker: Deputy Prime Minister 4th Speaker: Deputy Leader of Opposition
5th Speaker: Member of Government 6th Speaker: Member of Opposition
7th Speaker: Government Whip 8th Speaker: Opposition Whip

The OG has two speakers, the Prime Minister (PM) and the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM).  The PM is in charge of defining the terms given in the motion, giving a background on the issue, setting the scope and parameters of the debate, and setting the standards and values which will be focused on in a given debate.  The PM also defines the team split, or what he will talk about, and what his partner will talk about.  The DPM serves to further the case of the OG and rebut the arguments coming from the opposition.

The OO has two speakers, the Leader of the Opposition (LO) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (DLO).  The LO must come up with a clash, which is a one to two sentence summary of why precisely they oppose the stance of the government side.  The clash is normally something along the lines of “We disagree because the status quo is better than the proposed change”, or “We disagree because there is a better way to do things, and it is …”  If the LO does not agree with the way the parameters or values were set by the PM, he must say so in his speech, and expand or correct the parameters or values.  The DLO, like the DPM, must support their team’s case by providing more arguments, and by rebutting the arguments and rebuttals of their opponents.

There must be a clear distinction between the arguments of the two speakers, and their speeches must be able to stand on their own, with each speech acting as a supplement to the partner’s speech.  For example, given a motion on globalization and the merits of economic protectionism, one speaker may choose to discuss the heavily economic side of things, while the other speaker may choose to talk about the political and sociological issues of opening up markets.

The Members of Government and Opposition, on the other hand, must provide an elevation, or a fresh perspective on the debate and the issues being discussed.  The Whips, on the other hand, must summarize the debates, the arguments coming from each side, and must analyze the issues, the deadlocks in the argumentation, and must show why their side was superior to the other.

The PIDC is in the Asians Debate format, with two teams of three speakers each.  The Asians format is the same format used in the Asian Universities Debate Championship.  The topic is announced 30 minutes before the round begins, and in that time, all the speakers must come up with a 7-minute speech, with no overlapping arguments from each member.

The speakers are the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Whip, for the government side, and the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and Whip, for the opposition side.  They perform the same functions as in the British Parliamentary Debate format.

The scoring in both formats is based on the team’s contribution to the debate, mastery of the topic, analysis of issues, responsiveness and dynamism, as well as the fulfillment of their different speaker roles.

The topic is usually based on current events, and typically covers topics from the fields of economics and business, world politics, local politics, environmentalism and sustainability, human rights (including the issues of poverty and health), democracy, freedom of speech and religion, media responsibilities, different cultures and globalization, and education, although different topics may also be included.  Given the many possibilities for a topic, debaters must be well-read and up-to-date on what is happening around them.

Research Question

This study presents the results of a survey of student debaters’ perceptions of the knowledge benefits of debating and of debate societies.  The sample is limited to members of debate societies affiliated with the Philippine Debate Union.

Literature Review

Evidence of the benefits of student debating is well-documented.  The promotion of critical thinking skills as well as active engagement in and in-depth knowledge of course content stand out among these advantages.

In fact, numerous studies have shown that there is indeed a strong link between debating and proficiency in critical thinking. Colbert (1987) and Shinn (1995), among others, have found that students involved in debating for a certain period of time showed a larger pretest to posttest gain on critical thinking tests than a nondebating control group.

The debate process is indeed one of the best techniques for applying the principles of critical thinking.  Debating facilitates complex and sophisticated forms of learning such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  Critical thinking, in turn, contributes to the achievement of one of the important goals of education which is to foster reasoned intellectual development. It enables students to reach beyond a single perspective, to challenge assumptions and to better analyze a wide range of challenges and problems. Students are elevated from rote learning, passive absorption of information and knowing “what to think,” to a higher level of learning in which they intelligently evaluate information and ideas and are taught “how to think” (Roy and Macchiette, 2005).

In addition, debating provides a good educational experience for students.  Structured student debates have great potential for promoting competence in in-depth knowledge of substantive course-work topics.  Like other interactive assignments designed to more closely resemble ‘real-world’ activities, issue-oriented debates actively engage students in course content (Keller, Whittaker, and Burke, 2001).  In “matter loading” (i.e. research before a debate), students are introduced to bodies of knowledge spanning contemporary social issues, philosophical theories and both current and historical events. The knowledge they gain about the subject of a debate topic has been compared to masters research, dissertation research and even the knowledge of experts themselves. It is a common research goal before a serious debate competition to examine every piece of published material in existence on a given topic. Students study a debate question from every conceivable angle (Parcher, 1998).

Studies on perceptions of the advantages and downside of debates and debating highlight the following as the more important effects: improvement of speaking and communication skills; enhancement of analytical and critical thinking. Thus, it is clear that the development of communication skills and critical thinking abilities has been and continues to be highly and consistently valued by intercollegiate debaters (Williams, McGee, and Worth, 2001).

Methodology

In this descriptive study, a convenience sample of 35 University of the Philippines (U.P.) Debate Society members was surveyed, using a survey instrument partly adapted from Williams, McGee, and Worth (2001), consisting of two questions that asked the respondents to list three advantages and three disadvantages of their participation in debate and an open-ended question asking for overall thoughts on student debates and debating (see Appendix I).  The frequencies of the responses were tabulated, and subjected to chi-square tests, to determine if the references to critical thinking, heightened awareness, and improved communication skills could be representative of the chief benefits of debating in general.  Through the results of the survey, this paper hopes to relate student debates and debating to the perceived benefits, namely: the development of critical thinking and analytical skills; knowledge gain and greater awareness of issues; and improvement of communication skills.

Results and Discussion

a.   Results

Survey results are shown on Appendix II.  Results for 35 University of the Philippines (U.P.) Debate Society members show that increased knowledge gain and awareness of issues as well as improved communication skills are two of the most salient benefits of debating for our respondents.  These results are not so surprising, as debating involves a lot of public speaking and discourse on current local and global affairs.  Social aspects, such as more friends, and greater self-confidence were also mentioned fairly frequently.  Critical thinking and analytical skills came up, but not as frequently as the other factors.

When subjected to chi-square tests, the tabulated frequencies reveal that survey responses referring to communication skills, heightened awareness and knowledge gain, and social relations as chief benefits of debating turn out to be statistically significant, which means the sample data could be relied upon to make inferences on the population of debaters as a whole.  On the other hand, results for greater self-confidence and for the development of critical thinking and analytical abilities are not statistically significant.  Implications of these findings are discussed later in this paper.

b.   Discussion

Given the literature review on the subject matter, the expectation was that student debates and debating would have, as a primary associated benefit, the improvement of speaking and communication skills, as well as the enhancement of critical thinking and analytical skills.  As stated in the results section above, the survey responses from the sample are significant for the association between debating and improvement of communication skills; however, they are not supportive of conclusions about debating being associated with the development of analytical and critical thinking.

c. Conclusion and Implications

The results of this study show that issue awareness and improved communication are the two biggest reported benefits of debating.  Critical thinking was reported only by an insignificant number of people in the sample. This finding seems to show that the communication skills aspect of debating, while strong among the Filipino collegiate debaters, may not be as directly contributory to the intellectual development and active learning aspects expected from debating.  As shown in the literature, university debates, theoretically speaking, are expected to have potential for promoting critical thinking skills, active learning, and in-depth knowledge of substantive course topics.

A possible implication of this result is that the demographics of Filipino collegiate debaters —in terms of their views and perceptions of debating— may be different from those of their Western counterparts.  The specifics of this can be the subject of future research.  Suggestions can likewise be made to make debating among Filipino collegiate debaters produce the expected knowledge, intellectual and analytical benefits as shown in the literature of student debating among University debate societies in the West.

Bibliography

Colbert, K. R. (1987). The effects of CEDA and NDT debate training on critical thinking ability. Journal of the American Forensic Association, Vol. 21, pp. 194-201.

Keller, Thomas E., James K. Whittaker, and Tracey K. Burke (2001), “Student Debates in Policy Courses: Promoting Policy Practice Skills and Knowledge through Active Learning,” Journal of Social Work Education, Vol. 37, No. 2.  pp. 343-355.

Newman, John Henry (1873), The idea of a University. http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/ [Accessed 8 December 2008]

Parcher, Jeffrey. (1998), The value of debate, http://www.debateleaders.org/The%20Value%20of%20Debate.htm [Accessed 5 January 2009]

Roy, Abhijit and Bart Macchiette (2005), “Debating the issues: A tool for augmenting critical thinking skills of marketing students,” Journal of Marketing Education, Vol. 27, No. 3. pp. 264-276.

Shinn, S.B. (1995), Effects of high school debating on critical thinking ability, Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Washinton, Seattle.

Vatican Council II.  Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, nos. 53 – 62.

Williams, D. E., B. R. McGee, and D. S. Worth (2001), “University students’ perceptions of the efficacy of debate participation: An empirical investigation,” Argumentation and Advocacy, Vol. 37.  pp. 198-209.


APPENDIX I

SURVEY QUESTIONNAIRE

Greetings!  We would like to ask you to kindly fill out this questionnaire for a research paper entitled “Students’ Contribution to Knowledge Generation and Dissemination: The Role of Debate Societies in Schools”.  This is in line with the UNIV 2009 International Student Congress, whose theme is: Universitas, Knowledge without Borders”.

Your responses will be greatly appreciated and will be dealt with in strict confidentiality.  For those who wish, we can provide a summary of the results of this survey. Thank you!

Tabitha ‘Tinka’ Herrera                      Patricia Ann ‘Trixie’ Rodriguez

Student Debates and Debating*

1.   Identify three benefits to your participation in debate:

2.   Identify three disadvantages to your participation in debate:

3.   Please state whatever other thoughts you may have regarding debating, student debates, debate societies/clubs, your own participation in this Debate Society, etc.:

T H A N K    Y O U   !

* Adapted from: Williams, D. E., B. R. McGee, and D. S. Worth (2001), “University Students’ Perceptions of the Efficacy of Debate Participation: An Empirical Investigation,” Argumentation and Advocacy, Vol. 37.  pp. 198-209.



APPENDIX II

Table of Survey Results


Knowledge Gain, Awareness of  Issues
Mentioned

19

54%

Not Mentioned

16

46%

35

100%

Communication Skills
Mentioned

18

51%

Not Mentioned

17

49%

35

100%

Social aspect (friends)
Mentioned

15

43%

Not Mentioned

20

57%

35

100%

Critical thinking, analytical skills
Mentioned

13

37%

Not Mentioned

22

63%

35

100%

Confidence
Mentioned

12

34%

Not Mentioned

23

66%

35

100%

Concerns over time
Mentioned

26

74%

Not Mentioned

9

26%

35

100%

Expense/Monetary cost
Mentioned

13

37%

Not Mentioned

22

63%

35

100%

Stress/pressure/frustration
Mentioned

13

37%

Not Mentioned

22

63%

35

100%

Dealing with stereotypes of debaters
Mentioned

7

20%

Not Mentioned

28

80%

35

100%

“Over-analyzing”
Mentioned

6

17%

Not Mentioned

29

83%

35

100%

APPENDIX III

Chi-square test results

Communic

%

Awareness

%

Social

%

Critical

%

Confidence

%

15

0.51

19

0.54

15

0.43

13

0.37

12

0.34

14

0.49

16

0.46

20

0.57

22

0.63

23

0.66

1.00

1.00

1.00

1.00

1.00

Chi-sqr Stat:
(using %)

4E-04

0.006

0.02

0.068

0.102

(using nos.)

0.034

1.552

2.103

4.034

5.414

Critical value:

3.84

3.84

3.84

3.84

3.84

Decision: Statis- Statis- Statis-

Not

Not

tically

tically

tically

signi-

signi-

signi-

signi-

signi-

ficant ficant
ficant ficant ficant