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Most teams, at least at the college level, are using a paperless system with Microsoft Word as the core technology. And why not? The software is ubiquitous, it is very easy to format text, and the macros represent a way to create custom commands necessary to build and execute a debate speech.
There are problems with using Microsoft Word as the primary method for storing and presenting evidence in debates. In my opinion, these problems are significant enough that further developing a paperless system without replacing Word represents a waste of valuable resources.
As part of UGA’s continuing writing on technology and debate, I intent to briefly take stock of where we (Georgia and the broader debate community) are with regards to paperless debate, now that the experiment is roughly two and a half years old. These observations should not be read as a critique of paperless debate per say --- but as suggestions for improvement and predictions of where technology and debate will “evolve”. I’ve intentionally chosen to omit a discussion of open source because of its coverage elsewhere and the general complexity of the subject.
For those who haven't yet seen it, the Georgia Debate Union was recently featured in the New York Times for innovations related to paperless debate.
A full list of paperless resources is available after the jump.
In the debate community, we are starting to see a substantial transition to paperless debate. Unfortunately, many people in the community think paperless wastes time, delays debates, and gives an unfair advantage to the paperless team. However, teams that debate with paper can easily use the advantages paperless debate offers to maximize their ability to win more debates. Since the transition to paperless is occurring so rapidly, it is necessary that debaters utilize the advantages that paperless offers to the opposing teams.
One of the most significant problems we considered when Georgia went paperless was how to organize the sheer number of files produced over the course of a season. How would we integrate backfiles and updates to already existing files through the course of the year? It was hard enough to make sure everyone had the most recent Politics or Economy files when we could physically hand them a copy, and we thought it would be even harder when there were digital files being Dropboxed to multiple teams.
At the beginning of last summer, the Georgia Debate Union coaching staff made the decision to transition from traditional paper evidence to paperless debate. There are a variety of reason to make this change, and it is enough of a commitment that having clear reasons is important to keep the project on track. The purpose of this post is to outline our reasons for implementing paperless debate at UGA. If you are trying to decide whether paperless is right for you or the debate team you are responsible for, perhaps this will help you decide.
Going paperless changes a lot more about debate than just what materials you bring to the tournament. Almost every facet of the activity—from argument conceptualization to evidence production to in-round execution—will eventually be revamped to harness the advantages and minimizes the limitations of purely electronic debating.