Overall verdict: pretty good!
I will freely admit that I did not go into this experiment with the highest of expectations; I had never done anything like this before and had very little idea about how to debate with someone who was miles away from me. I will also freely admit that I did not go into this experiment very prepared; I forgot to charge my headphones overnight, did a single speaking drill the night before (when I timed Kevin’s ambitious 1AC), and only half an hour before the debate did I think to myself “what were you planning on flowing the debate on?”
Nevertheless, the debate went smoothly, much more so than I expected! We sent files via email (though sending files via Zoom may be simpler, especially if your email has a delay or if you have an embarrassing email address). Everyone stayed muted during every speech, and for the most part we all un-muted ourselves during cross-x (though Kevin occasionally forgot to). There were a few hiccups here and there, mostly involving forgetting to time ourselves, but few (if any at all) involving the Zoom tech itself.
A few follow up thoughts I had:
- In-round communication. There are a few different options for this:
- Simplicity: The simplest is just Google Hangouts; this was what Kevin and I did predominantly. It’s easy, but requires a lot of attention to your browser; I’d recommend using a pop-out window or desktop version of the chat if possible, and set up audio and/or pop-up notifications.
- Zoom: Zoom has some built-in features which can be helpful to varying degrees. I mentioned that you can use it to share speech docs; you can send stuff between just your partner and yourself as well. You can also chat with your partner privately, but it has a character limit and won’t save any text past the limit (or even warn you where the limit is, I think), so that’s not the most reliable. One trick that I think could be pretty useful is the “Share Screen” function; you can show your screen to everyone on the call, and they’ll only see what you see, so people can check the speech doc if they can’t hear well. That can also be useful for cross-x if you need to show a card. Some may worry that this could give away strategy or display analytics that you didn’t want to send out; I’d heavily encourage you to disregard those fears at least in the context of camp, as every round is a practice round in the long run, so sharing that stuff is actually helpful for everyone.
- Dropbox: We sort of used this during this debate; I set up a folder, but we didn’t use it a ton, and it seems kind of inefficient for a single debate. That said, you should obviously have a Dropbox or similar file-sharing service set up with your partner, and you should absolutely share resources and speech docs with each other using it.
- Separate audio calls: I’ve seen some other people discuss being on a separate Skype/Discord/whatever call with your partner; this could maybe work if you have the internet bandwidth, but you need to be diligent about muting the group call when you’re talking on the partner call (and vice versa as well—this is important because if you don’t mute your partner when talking with the group you can run into feedback issues).
- Best for last: The last thing I’ll recommend is my personal favorite; Google Docs. I think this is invaluable in the age of online debating (and in offline debating as well; I did this with my partner towards the end of my career and have coached many debaters who have used it very successfully). You and your partner can both edit the doc in real time, so you can constantly communicate (even during speeches—you can type stuff out for your partner to say without verbally interrupting, which is off-putting normally and even weirder in virtual debates), and it takes up less internet than a separate voice call. Seriously, can’t recommend using Google Docs highly enough.
- Cross-x can go awry easily. I think it’s pretty important that early on into this process people agree to be respectful in cross-x; give concise and direct answers and avoid filibustering and interrupting as much as possible. If you have a tendency to interrupt or add on to things in cross-x, you will need to be conscious of that and scale it back, as it could easily throw off the whole cross-x.
- Close out of stuff that sucks up bandwidth before you get on a call. Game clients (Steam, Epic, Blizzard, League of Legends), tons of tabs (especially YouTube/Twitch/Netflix/other streaming services), etc; if you have a VPN, you should consider turning it off, as it’ll make things faster.
- Things that could make virtual debates easier:
- Digital timer: Maybe one person can share a screen with a timer or something? Optimally everyone would time themselves but obvi that will never happen, so a virtual backup would be helpful.
- Collaborative flow template: I’m coming around to computer flowing while debating (I had to in this debate, and I’ve been doing it while judging for a while now, plus I’ve seen more and more successful debaters do it), but you need a good flow template. I’ve been toying with the idea of learning how to create a Google Sheets flow template with some macros, if that’s even possible (I am honestly not very tech literate so I have no idea); that way, you and your partner could operate off of the same flow, and fill stuff in for each other (or at least have access to each others’ flows). Like I said, I’ve been thinking about trying to make this, but I have basically no experience; if that’s something you think you could do, by all means give it a try.