As March draws to a close, I realize I have been remiss in my blogger of the month duties. I hope to make up for it in a series of blog posts about how to get the most out of your computer to help you improve your debate and argumentation skills. This week is perfect as we are preparing to host the Irish Times debating champions from Ireland. They will be on campus for four days, visiting with students, giving some seminars, and of course, debating against the home team. We hope you will be able to join us on Monday night in the Moot Courtroom to see them demonstrate their debate prowess.

Why do these skills matter? For years, we’ve known that the best companies in the world want to hire individuals who can communicate effectively. My sense is that in the current economic environment, people who can clearly, quickly, and adaptively advocate their ideas will be in a better position to get or keep the jobs they want. Advancement goes to quick movers and thinkers in a down economy.

Additionally, the current political climate in the United States stresses the need for thoughtful articulation of ideas and ideals. The recent debate over health care in this country serves as an index as to how weak, unthoughtful, and uninformed public debate over important issues has become. Shouting others down, relying on overwrought and unexplained labeling (eg. “Socialist”) do not help advance the quality of political discourse for society. It is up to those who care about the quality of public discourse to prepare themselves to engage in the conversation at the level they would like.

So in order to be this positive influence on public discourse, might I suggest a starter list of websites that are essential for starting your journey toward excellent debating prowess:

Debatewise – This website is a user generated, yet highly quality controlled website produced by competitive debaters and former competitive debaters. It is organized by topic and issue, and presents the best arguments for each issue in a side-by-side format for ease of viewing. It’s an essential resource to mapping out the key arguments on any given controversial issue. This should be a first stop to preparing a debate, or to brush up on what the opposition might say to an issue you feel is strongly weighted one way or another.

Debate Video Blog – This site is an amazing collection of actual competitive debates that have been recorded and collected from real tournament rounds. This is obviously interesting to the practicing competitive debater, but why would you care otherwise? The reason is that these competitive debaters must practice the same skills that will make you appealing in your rhetorical environment – word economy, directness, succinctness, and clarity. All of these things are essential to getting your point across and furthermore, they make you sound like an advocate and convey your position in a persuasive manner. Watch these videos to pick up some nuggets of rhetorical wisdom from some of the top college debaters in the world.

Last but not least is Debate Central, hosted by the University of Vermont. This is truly “one stop shopping” for debate education resources. Multiple handouts, books, videos, lectures, audio recordings and other resources are available for you to hone your debate skills. Of particular interest is the video series designed to teach individuals the advocacy skills they need to become more effective advocates for positive change in their communities.

These are the three most frequent debating sites I visit. They are free and easy to access. They also don’t require a lot of specific or technical knowledge to get something good out of them. I encourage you to try them out and see if they help you improve your argumentation abilities in your daily encounters.

In my next post, I will take you through the most vital digital resources for preparing for a debate or argumentative assignment in a course. There are a number of really great ones that I have no idea how I lived without for so long.