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Debate as a Pathway to Innovation: Timeless Techniques for the New Information Environment. Christian Lundberg Department of Communication Studies UNC Chapel Hill. Overview. Models for Innovation Agential Contextual Capacities that Produce Innovation

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debate as a pathway to innovation timeless techniques for the new information environment

Debate as a Pathway to Innovation: Timeless Techniques for the New Information Environment

Christian Lundberg

Department of Communication Studies

UNC Chapel Hill

  • Models for Innovation
    • Agential
    • Contextual
  • Capacities that Produce Innovation
  • Debate as a pedagogical best practice for innovation
the agential model of innovation
The Agential Model of Innovation
  • The agential model of innovation holds that the primary question is “how can we create incentives to encourage individual creativity so that individuals will innovate more.”
  • Individual genius drives innovation, and the challenge is to reduce the barriers to it.
  • This is a heroic model of innovation: great thinkers produce ideas that change the world.
what is wrong with this model
What is wrong with this model?

The agential model ignores:

  • the history of innovation, including the institutions, ideas, and practices that produce innovation.
  • the social quality of innovation—great ideas are the product of give and take between people and not simply individual inspiration
  • the competitive incentives that drive innovation
institutions and practices henry ford
Institutions and Practices– Henry Ford
  • ”The provision of a whole new system of electric generation emancipated industry from the leather belt …it eventually became possible to provide each tool with its own electric motor…modern industry could not be carried out with the belt and line shaft for a number of reasons. The motor enabled machinery to be arranged in the order of the work, and that alone has probably doubled the efficiency of industry…Without high speed tools and the finer steels which they brought about, there could be nothing of what we call modern industry.” – Henry Ford
give and take albert einstein
Give and Take—Albert Einstein
  • When Einstein reflected on the moments in his career that pushed him to think more incisively about quantum mechanics, he pointed to a series of debates with Niels Bohr
  • He said of the experience “It is better to debate an important issue without settling it than it is to settle it without debating it”
competition gates and jobs
Competition—Gates and Jobs
  • Said Gates of Jobs: “We’ll compete, and that’s a great thing.”
  • Some of the best innovations in the hardware and software have come out of attempts by Microsoft and Apple to outdo each other, and to take more of the market share.
in conclusion
In Conclusion…

Even the individuals that we see as heroic individual innovators required an environment where they could:

  • Borrow, refine, and argue about ideas
  • Engage in exchange and dialogue in a “knowledge network”
  • Required a set of social and institutional practices supporting their innovation

The relevant questions are: how do we create a model of innovation that takes all this into account, and what practices would it entail?


Johnson’s main contribution is to reframe the question of innovation away from individuals towards environments and practices

  • So the main question is not how can we encourage individuals to innovate, but rather how can we create environments where innovation is possible.
  • To do this we need a contextual model of innovation

As the New York Times put it last week:

“Johnson argues for environments — networks, physical spaces, cultivated behaviors — that “compulsively connect and remix that most valuable of resources: information.” These spaces encompass both order and chaos, the presence of which allows ideas to emerge, collide, recombine and, above all, be broadly shared.

a contextual model of innovation requires according to johnson
A Contextual Model of Innovation Requires (according to Johnson)
  • “The Slow Hunch” or attention to ideas over time
  • Capacity for “Collision” which means that new ideas need to come into contact with other ideas, often in the form of controversy
  • “Liquid Networks” or possibilities for flexible and sustained interaction
  • “Access” to information and ideas
but there is more
But there is more…
  • If we really want to spur innovation, we have to think about all the different kinds of skilled labor that are required to make broad scale innovation work
  • This means cultivating a broader social capacity for organizational innovation, so that all the members of an organization can contribute to the goal of advancing innovation
two important social goals for educators
Two important social goals for educators
  • First, we need to develop innovation capacities for the sake of creating more social, economic and technological innovation
  • But innovation often entails social and economic dislocation (especially in the age of globalization), so…
  • Second, we need to provide our students with the capacities to adjust to a rapidly globalizing world
what capacities
What Capacities?
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
  • Information Access, Processing and Media Literacy
  • The Ability to Adjust to the New Knowledge Environment
  • Communication Skills
what is it
What is it?

Everyone has some sense of debate, but I would like to define a few of the relevant characteristics, because debate has gotten a bad rap:

  • Debate is purpose directed—it is not just banter or heated exchange. Debate is organized around a QUESTION or a TOPIC.
  • Debate is not an “argument” in the conventional sense. It is a research based, organized, competitively driven, but cooperative exchange of ARGUMENTS around two sides of a question.
what is it1
What is it?

The three practices that distinguish academic debate from the other practices of “debate”

  • Organized Structure—without this debate becomes just “heated conversation”
  • Refutation across speeches—without the obligation to refute the other side, academic debate becomes “dueling speeches,” much like political debate
  • Research/Argument—no claim can be made without support
what is it practical elements
What is it—Practical Elements
  • Pick one resolution that both bears on the curriculum and interests the students
  • Form teams of two to six students, each of which must debate both sides of the resolution at least once
  • Follow a disciplined format for the debate, including time limits, alternating speeches, and that integrates argument architecture…
  • Every student in the class that is not debating has to judge, take notes, and make a decision, accompanied by a justification.
argument architecture
Argument Architecture?

Three elements that make it debate work:

  • Micro Structure of the Arguments
  • Macro Structure of the Debate
  • Structured Refutation
micro structure of the arguments
Micro Structure of the Arguments
  • Every argument in a debate needs three things for it to “count” on this model: a claim, a warrant and data (that is, researched evidence that supports their assertions).
  • The goal of this taxonomy is to help students think critically and communicate effectively by moving from this…
macro structure of a debate
Macro Structure of a Debate
  • If individual arguments are the building blocks of a debate, the “Macro Structure” is the scaffolding that gives them form.
  • I don’t want to be too detailed on this, but the general form should look something like this:
what holds it all together structured refutation
What holds it all together?Structured Refutation
  • If individual arguments are the building blocks, and the larger structure is the scaffolding, structured refutation is the mortar
  • I suggest that my students begin by developing a “script”

So what is the script?

Step 1: “They say…”

Step 2: “But…”

Step 3: “Because…”

Step 4: “Therefore…”


An example (with a tip on note-taking). Imagine the 1st affirmative speaker makes three points for pulling out of Afghanistan.


The 1st Negative speaker would say (if they are following the script):

“They say in point one that the war in Afghanistan is a losing battle, but the United States is making progress on the ground because recent evidence indicates that stability is increasing—CBS news reported on August 19 that “Well we're making progress, but got to make a lot more obviously,’ Gen. Petraeus said…we're taking away sanctuaries and safe havens that mean a great deal to the enemy.” . Therefore, pulling out now would sacrifice significant gains.”


To answer this, the 2nd Affirmative speaker would say:

They say we are making progress on the ground, but history is not on our side because even though they made small gains, both the British and the Soviets eventually lost wars in Afghanistan Therefore, even if the US makes momentary gains, we will probably eventually lose the war

so what
So What?
  • There is great evidence that if teachers integrate this practice into their classroom pedagogy, or that if colleges support extra curricular debate, that their students will not only thrive as measured by traditional learning goals, but that they will develop the capacities that are crucial for innovation
debate is the best method for maximizing existing curricular goals
Debate is the Best Method for Maximizing Existing Curricular Goals
  • Kennedy: “Instructional strategies such as debate …are better suited to the development of students’ higher order thinking skills than traditional instructional strategies such as lecture…debates extend students’ critical thinking and argumentation skills more than essays.”
  • Goodwin: “The great majority of students (79%), however, focused on how the debates had encouraged or indeed "forced" them to better learn course content …debate promoted a ‘personal connection’ to the course material by necessitating that students decide upon and articulate an individual opinion on the material.
critical thinking
Critical Thinking
  • Colbert and Biggers noted that “50 years of research correlates debate training with critical thinking skills”
  • Keefe, Harte and Norton reviewed the research and concluded that, "[m]any researchers over the past four decades have come to the same general conclusions. Critical thinking ability is significantly improved by courses in argumentation and debate and by debate experience.”
critical thinking1
Critical Thinking
  • Allen, Berkowitz, Hunt and Louden’s meta-analysis of 50 years of communication research concluded: “The most important outcome of the present meta-analysis is that regardless of the specific measure used to assess critical thinking, …participation in public communication skill building exercises consistently improved critical thinking. Participation in debate demonstrated the largest improvement in critical thinking scores whether considering longitudinal or cross-sectional designs.”
information processing
Information Processing
  • Debate better matches the model for knowledge production that characterizes the new media world. Duffin’s 2006 study found that debate fostered “multidimensional and heterogeneous transfer of learning… and a learning environment that was open, fluid, and democratic, as opposed to closed, rigid, and hierarchical… [promoting] a learner and knowledge centered environment.”
media literacy
Media Literacy
  • Larkin: “it did not matter which topic students had been assigned. … students in the debate group were significantly more confident in their ability to access information and less likely to feel that they needed help to do so… These results constitute strong support for the effectiveness of the project on students' self-efficacy for online searching in the academic databases. The…instructional group students also felt more confident than the other students in their ability to get good information from Yahoo and Google. It may be that the experience increased self-efficacy for any searching, not just in academic databases.”
in conclusion1
In Conclusion
  • The best evidence indicates that integrating debate into the curriculum can make a huge difference in our student’s lives—and I haven’t even talked about the ways that it promotes civic engagement and tolerance…
  • Let me know how I can help