Gary Morrison, Vice President, International Division at Turning Technologies

Whether it’s jam before cream on your scone, or which wild-haired politician would make the cut as America’s next president, us Brits love a good debate. And so we should, as the anecdotal evidence that good debater skills turn out successful professionals and leaders is overwhelming.

As educated professionals, (with a few too many years’ of experience under our belts!), our ability to play out a factual argument against our opponent may come as second nature. However, for our undergraduates, the skills and confidence not only to present a strong case, but also to accurately identify hard fact from ‘white, are skills we must help nurture.

Employability in the information age

According to British businesses, postgraduate employability skills are lacking. CareerBuilder, the online job search site, surveying UK graduates, found that 40% were most lacking in problem-solving skills, creative thinking (39%) and interpersonal skills (49%). Critical thinking is also a desired competency for graduates and many businesses have highlighted concern about students’ inability to think critically. Whilst placement years and internships go some way to resolving this issue, teaching core debating skills in university is fundamental. By transforming our students into debaters whilst in education, we are equipping them with the vital skills to make informed judgments about crucial issues and deal with complex ideas and competing advocacy in their learning.

We are living in an age of information like never before. In a world where senior political figures are personally turning to Twitter to promote propaganda and political biases, it is now vital that young people in our universities are taught to apply critical thinking and interpret this barrage of ‘white noise’. This is particularly the case with Twitter, where your point of view is shared with potentially millions of people round the globe in a matter of seconds. Type in ‘debate on Twitter’ and Google throws up a stunning 29,100,000 results!

Driving technology in learning

Many of the universities we work with have a strong commitment to technological innovation which naturally extends to a passion for the latest learning technologies. Combined with amount of time spent and pleasure gained by students’ use of mobile devices, many universities and colleges are now using Audience Response Systems (ARS) to help facilitate debate sessions. This technology which enable lecturers to pose questions to groups of students to drive two-way feedback and discussion. A great example of this is at the University of Surrey, where lecturers are using ARS to redefine the roles of students in lectures. Their head of e-learning, Vicki Simpson says she saw ARS as “an opportunity to facilitate a shift to student-centred instruction, with lecture theatres becoming spaces for students to think, engage and learn”.

Technologies such as mobile devices and ARS are also great for empowering reluctant participators. Whilst you will naturally have students in your sessions that are less keen to speak up, technology now enables them to share their opinions anonymously as part of a collective. Using a combination of anonymous polls and open debate sessions will ensure all students can participate confidently. A whole study has been conducted into ‘Empowering or compelling reluctant participators using audience response systems’ if you’re keen to read more!

To take debate to the next level, many universities now partner up with other lecturers in institutions round the world, running debates through Skype or Google Hangout.

Utilising debate in your classroom or lecture theatre will enable you to integrate critical thinking with other competencies like teamwork and communication, all of which will help produce our next generation of politicians, leaders and entrepreneurs.