However, last week, I organized a formal debate in my moral philosophy course and it went well. I'm trying to diagnose why it went well so that I can replicate the experience — but I'm also interested in what techniques others have found helpful in organizing such debates.So here are few things I did this which may (or may not have) contributed to the debate's success:
- The debate was 'Utilitarianism: pro or con?" I began the class by having students indicate which of four statements about utilitarianism they agreed with (basically, the statements amounted to strongly favor the theory, favor with reservations, oppose with reservations, strongly oppose). I then had the students organize into three groups: strong proponents, strong opponents, and everyone else. The pro and con groups had 4-5 students each.
- I gave them about 25 minutes to prepare for the debate. The 'everyone else' group I designated as inquisitors, responsible for directing questions at the pro- and con- sides. I asked the inquisitors to think beforehand about some questions they might ask each side.
- The format was for the pro side to present for about 7 minutes (any of the students could speak for their side), followed by 2 minutes for their opponents to prepare a 5 minute responses, followed by questions — directed at either side — from the inquisitors. The teams then switched roles.
The students left the class discussing utilitarianism in an animated way, so I think the debate succeeding in engaging them. But again, this has been exceptional in my experience, so I'm interested to know if I can attribute this to luck or design. It was a valuable enough learning experience to make me think that if I can replicate it, I should. So how have you succeeded in organizing debates in your courses?