Conference to introduce results from the 100-School Networking Project (Phase II)
Senior high school meeting

Inter-school Exchange through Online Debate -2-

Yukio Nakoshi, Tohokugakuin High School

1. Introduction

In "Online debate," the entire debate process is carried out over a network. In the future, debating skills will have be taught in a course devoted exclusively to debate, but currently they are taught in several existing subjects. Debate is taught primarily in Japanese, social studies, English, and sometimes in science and morals, at the teacher's discretion. In our debating program, we wanted to provide students the actual experience of debate, rather than simply with lessons in how to debate, as is currently done in Japanese lessons. In conducting debates in writing, as opposed to oral debating, participants generally have a greater sense of responsibility both in presenting arguments and in responding to arguments. Conducting debates in writing also levels the playing field for handicapped students, and creates a lower-anxiety environment that permits beginning students to debate with more experienced students.

Two debate sessions between students, and one between teachers and an expert were held in FY 1997. In this report, I would like to discuss the results of the project and difficulties encountered during its course, including our experience with the Internet and the opinions of those who participated in our online debate forum.

2. The idea behind "Online Debate," taken from the "Debate using communications equipment" held in FY 1996

The "Debate using communications equipment" program was conducted in FY 1996 as part of the 100-School Networking Project. Students from five schools participated in the program, including students with muscular dystrophy from Division of Senior High School in Nishitaga Prefecture School for the Health Impaired. In this program, debaters were supported by students using a networking system to conduct research, through the use of a retrieval system and mailing lists, as well as advice sent via Internet Relay Chat (IRC). For the actual debate, however, students met and debated orally, in the traditional manner. Thus, students from Division of Senior High School in Nishitaga Prefecture School for the Health Impaired were unable to participate in the actual debate.

We achieved two goals in this effort to promote communication between schools:

(1) The debate was conducted in a way that differed from the traditional school-versus-school debate style, with debate as a means of communicating, rather than merely a forum for competition.

(2) Successful use of mailing lists as a method of sharing ideas and opinions on a common theme.

We also found it effective to carry out the debate process with e-mail, as it allowed each school to participate at its own timetable, and permitted handicapped students to participate as equals. In replacing the "Debate using communications equipment" program, the "Online debate" program should improve on the former program's weak points.

3. Teach students through debate—Characteristics of "Online debate" and our goals

Formal debate is characterized by affirmative and negative sides, with both sides advocating their side of a proposition according to fixed rules. The winner is decided by a panel of judges at the end of the debate. In contrast to a discussion at a meeting, both sides have equal opportunity to state their arguments, and both must conform to the same rules. In pages 31 to 33 of his book, *Basic Debate* (published by Chukei Publishing Company), Michihiro Matsumoto sets out the following benefits deriving from the practice of debate. Debate

(1) cultivates the ability of dispassionate analysis;

(2) cultivates skills in logical reasoning;

(3) polishes skills in presenting an argument;

(4) improves the ability to listen acutely;

(5) and cultivates skills in research and marshalling the results of research.

These are also the goals of our "Online debate" program. Carried out on the Internet, the electronic format of "Online debate" enables students to exchange opinions with students from other classrooms and other schools, without regard for distance. Conducting a debate through e-mail permits even handicapped students and awkward speakers to express their opinions fully. This style of debate also raises the quality of communication between participants, since all statements are recorded, and each participant held to a higher degree of responsibility for his or her statements. Winning a debate held in this format requires reading ability sufficient to understand opposing arguments correctly. As a result, this style of debate improves students' comprehensive Japanese skills, in addition to reading and writing skills.

4. Conducting an "Online debate"

In FY 1997, we conducted three debates:

First online debate: 6 teams comprised of students from 3 schools
Tuesday July 8–Thursday July 17
Theme: Fashion statements such as dyed hair, ear piercings, and loose socks are appropriate for high school students: right or wrong.
The team arguing the negative case won.

Online debate between teachers and an expert: 8 teams comprised of teachers from 5 schools and one expert
Tuesday Nov. 11–Thursday Nov. 27
Theme: Japan's educational system should allow students to skip grades, and should advance students as they see fit: right or wrong.
No judgment

Second online debate: 18 teams comprised of students from 5 schools and an one other person
Monday December 16–Thursday February 5
Theme: Abortion vs. delivering the baby
No judgment

5. Using the Internet

We used networking systems for "Online debate" in the following ways:

(1) Exchange e-mail

Most statements were exchanged by e-mail, which proved to be an especially remarkable experience for students at Fukushima Prefectural School for the Blind. (See the report presented by Fukushima Prefectural School for the Blind.)

(2) Using mailing lists

A mailing list was established for the operating group, students and teachers, those on both the affirmative and negative sides, and the experts. The mailing lists for the affirmative side and the negative side were used to check on the progress of the debates and to resolve stalemates.

(3) Use of IRC (Internet Relay Chat)

We used IRC for real-time question-and-answer sessions during a debate. For the second online debate, in an effort to eliminate differences in typing speed, we tried out a format in which one participant debated against two participants. We provided opportunities to allow students to chat regularly before the sessions during the first online debate, and during these sessions students tended to talk freely, building ties and practicing their typing.

(4) Creating a home page for the debates

Creating a home page was easy, since all debate statements were already in text form.

In the online debate between teachers and the expert, the debate was linked to material evidence on the Internet. In the second online debate, a debater created an image incorporating material evidence, to which the refuting side established a link.

6. Participants' opinions

7. Conclusion

A foundation for "Online debate" was established as a result of three debates held in FY 1997. The number of participating schools increased to five, including Fukushima Prefectural School for the Blind. Other schools expressed interest in joining, and one high school student participated as an individual. Students got to experience the fun of exchanging e-mail, and created an HTML image incorporating material evidence. They were quicker to learn to use a network system than their teachers.

On the other hand, as might be expected when a number of schools participate in a program, scheduling tended to be a problem. The debates weren't always held as scheduled, and this diminished the tension that characterizes a good debate. We need more input to create a program that can bring students closer together—omething like a team competition, in which teams consist of students from different schools.

We plan to continue this program next year. Please contact us if you are interested.

CEC HomePageConference to introduce results from the 100-School Networking Project (Phase II)