A theory-centered model of debate assessment: the rhetorical judging paradigm

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University of Alabama Libraries

This study investigated collegiate debate and the ways in which it is judged. Debate has long been considered an academic process used to advance argumentation theory and critical thinking skills in its participants. However, over the last half-century, many scholars have determined that, as it is practiced, has become exclusionary to those outside of the debate community and no longer provides educational benefit (Guerin et al., 2005). A review of scholarship on the historical background of argumentation, rhetorical theory and collegiate debate over the last century, provides a foundation for examining extant debate judging paradigms and their impact on participant behavior. Specifically, the 2014 CEDA National Championship final round was used as a case study to confirm two problems discovered within the review of literature: the impact of shifting judging paradigms on competition and the dominance of gamesmanship. The case study revealed how the judging paradigms have a direct effect on the way competitors prepare for the round. In addition, the case study illustrated how feedback reinforced technical debate, jargon, spreading, and speed. Through synthesis of traditional rhetorical concepts, a new judging model was developed, the rhetorical judging paradigm (RJP), and was discussed as a tool for use in a debate round. Once the model was created, it was used to examine the 2014 CEDA National Championship round. This was done to show how the theory could positively impact the debate community. The primary conclusion of the study is that the RJP be applied more broadly and researched in a quantitative methodology.

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