Does Every Ed-Tech Meeting Need a 'Grand Debate'?

Community college distance education group has a feature at its annual meeting that assures diversity of opinion and a little humor.

February 6, 2017

Scan the program of the annual meeting of the Instructional Technology Council, which is taking place this month in Florida, and there are plenty of sessions you might expect of an organization focused on distance education at community colleges.

There are sessions on assessment, "virtual communities" for older students, open educational resources, accessibility and more. And of course, as is the norm at just about all meetings these days, there is a session on the changing federal environment.

But there is one session that leaders of the council say reflects their commitment to asking tough questions, while also not taking themselves too seriously. It's calls "The Grand Debate." Each year it features two speakers (and it may not even matter which side they are on) who take an issue on which many in ed-tech would probably say that there is middle ground and explore it as if there were only two extreme answers. The moderator for years has been been Michael Catchpole, professor of psychology at North Island College, in British Columbia.

This year's topic is: "Resolved: online faculty must be rooted and engaged in the traditional campus experience."

The two debaters will be Barry Dahl, senior community manager at Desire2Learn, and Jennifer Haber, a writing and English instructor at St. Petersburg College.

The debate is expected to be serious in part, but also is rumored to potentially feature alternative facts. The debaters are encouraged to go to the extreme ends of whatever position they represent -- not because the council believes in extreme positions, but because audience members enjoy challenging those positions and then debating how to find middle ground.

Last year's debate featured the topic: "Academic analytics: an exciting new tool for promoting student success or a nefarious and useless intrusion on students' privacy and self-determination." (You can see video here.)

Having attended more than our share of our meetings (ed-tech and otherwise in higher education) that lacked much in the way of sharp debate or wit, we wonder if other associations could benefit from to the ITC approach. Readers are welcome to suggest debate topics in comments.


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