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What the Hecky is an Academy DA

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    • By ColinD
      2019 in debate is a far cry from what it used to be. Goodbye paper, expandos, and tubs. Goodbye photocopying and printing. Goodbye asking to look at a physical card to write down the citation. We exist digitally in word documents, virtual tubs, caselists with full speech documents, and repositories like the Open Evidence Project. Evidence has, in many respects, gone from a hoarded commodity to being a community resource. The ironic thing is, as we create more evidence solutions, we create new problems in how it works: poring through files to find a single card; spending an inordinate amount of time formatting files, structuring them, perfectly naming and organizing headers. Printing a single debater’s dropbox now would likely collapse a handcart. Evidence has become more readily available to all, but as the amount of accessible evidence has exponentially increased, the management and organization of this evidence has become a gigantic task.
       
      Arvind Balaji, a 16 year old Junior at Round Rock High School, may have the solution. Arvind is the mind behind debate.cards, an open source, flexible, and free to use evidence search engine. I reached out to Arvind over email to talk debate.cards with him to see where it came from, how it works, and where it can go.
       
      [Our emails have been lightly edited for readability in an article format. No content has been censored or changed in meaning.]

      ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Colin: How long have you been involved in debate? How did you get involved? 

      Arvind: Third year debating. I knew a few friends that debated in high school, figure I would a give it a shot.. and here I am three years later haha

      Colin: Where did you get your interest in coding and when did you start? 

      Arvind: I've had interest in computers since I was young, my parents are both software engineers which is suppose helped me to foster that interest. I kinda just taught my way  to code along the way, from starting out with simple website and working up to full fledged projects like debate.cards
       
      Colin: Wow, so you have a pretty deep history with software development.  I saw on your github (snooping) that you have developed a debatetimer and an openevidence download tool among other things. Have you done any large projects as sophisticated as debate.cards? 
       
      Arvind: I think debate.cards is definitely the most ambitious project I've taken on so far, but the smaller projects along the way helped me learn a lot.
       
      Colin: Is [software development] what you intend to pursue after you're done with school/is this partly an exercise in building your portfolio? 
       
      Arvind: I haven't completely decided yet, but I think I'll most likely be pursuing CS. And yeah, I definitely think debate.cards is a good contribution to my personal portfolio.
       
      Colin: What programming languages are you most familiar with?
       
      Arvind: I'm fairly comfortable with Java, Python, and Javascript. Recently, I've found my self working Javascript/Node the most.

      Colin: A lot of people draw parallels between debate and other activities (usually something they personally find interesting. Do you see a relationship between coding and debate? 
       
      Arvind: For me personally, coding and debate are both things that I'm passionate about, so being able to work on a project that combined the best of both worlds is something that incredibly fun and rewarding.

      Colin: There are some examples of individuals attempting to monetize software solutions in debate. Why open source and not keep it private? 
       
      Arvind: debate.cards was created with intention of keeping it free. The goal of debate.cards has always been to make evidence more accessible, I feel that monetizing it ultimately detracts from that purpose.
       
      Colin: That's an admirable attitude. Developing something that can be used as a public good should have low or no barriers to access it. Debate thrives on individuals willing to do selfless work for the benefit of others. 
      I have a couple of follow up questions here: 
      Why do you think that accessible evidence is necessary? 
       
      Arvind: I think that more accessible evidence is a good way to help close the resource gap between small and large school debaters. I also think it just increases the overall quality of debate, having access to more specific and well-research evidence allows for debates to be more educational and in-depth.
       
      Colin: There are plenty of people in debate who have disliked some technological changes in how debate works, whether it's the use of laptops or paper, use of internet in debate (more in a regional high school context), using cites or docs, or even using the caselist at all. Most commonly there's a fear that debaters will become lazy and retreat from having to learn independent research skills. An example from [my coaching experience] is that we usually have to go through a period of forcing novice or JV debaters to stop relying on the search feature in their virtual tubs so they actually have to learn their files. You're offering a paradigmatic shift in how people can access evidence in various places online. What effect do you think debate.cards will have in this regard? Do you think this is unfounded or do you just think the benefits outweigh? 
       
      Arvind: I think that criticism of tech in debate is inevitable. I'm sure the same was said for paperless, open evidence, and open source. While yes, there is a risk that software like debate.cards will lead to lazy debate practices, I don't think it's as big of deal as it's made out to be. I don't think it's an issue that's intrinsic to debate.cards and yes, the aforementioned benefits are probably more important.

      Colin: In simple terms, how does it work (both front and back end)? What makes it easy to use? Where might it have some user interface challenges? 
       
      Arvind: At its core debate.cards is pretty simple. First, Word documents are fed into a parser, the parser splits up the individual cards in the document and does a little bit of guess work to get information such as the author and date out of the card. 
      All of the parsed data is then indexed, the indexer allows for quick and powerful searches of all the stored data. Think google, but for debateevidence. 
      The then the last part is the actual user interface that allows for searching through the data, and downloading it back into a word doc.
      I think the super simple interface it what makes it appealing for users. Search for what you want, then download it. No frills.
      Ironically, I think this is the cause of its biggest shortcoming. The site currently lacks features that would allow for more advanced searches and better evidence discovery, features that would make it an even more useful tool for debaters.
       
      Colin: I noticed that the search bar says "Search for a cite or tag..." So the keywords search are for just those 2 parts? When evidence is parsed through, are cites and tags lumped together for keyword searches or separately?
       
      Arvind: I guess that isn't completely true anymore, it searches through the cite and tag along with the heading levels. All three of those things are indexed separately but there isn't currently a way for the user to pick which fields to search in. That functionality will be added in the relatively near future though.

      Colin: How extensive is its library? What kinds of places can it search? How easy would it be for people to configure their own to crawl other places? 
       
      Arvind: Currently debate.cards pulls data from the past 7 years of the Open Evidence Project and open source documents from this year's High School Policy wiki. Short term plans include adding the LD and College wiki, but my eventual goal is to open it up for users to directly contribute files. 
      There is currently a section on the GitHub readme file on setting up your own instance of debate.cards which would allow people to add in their own custom data sources, which might be an interesting challenge for those that are tech savvy.
       
      Colin: What could custom data sources be? Locally hosted for an enhanced vtub search tool? Or does it have to be web-based? 
       
      Arvind: It could in theory be anything, the application is written in a way that is modular. So people could in theory write their own modules that would add in new data sources. But to be clear, this definitely isn't something I'm recommending to the average debater or team, or even officially supporting it - it's just an idea. Maybe in the future I can look into adding a more user friendly way to do this. 
       
      Colin: At the college level there has been some discussion of consent to data collection, even for willingly provided open source documents for disclosure purposes. How feasible is it for you to exclude specific caselist pages from debate.cards? Just as relevant, are you willing to take requests to do so?
       
      Arvind: This is definitely something I've been thinking about recently. When I initially added open source docs to the wiki, I took the liberty to assume that those that are willing to open source their documents would also be willing to let their documents be used for something like debate.cards - both of which share the same goal of making research more accessible to debaters. However some of the backlash over oodebate has made me question that. I still think that for the most part that is a fair assumption, especially since debate.cards is not a commercial product.  However, I think it's definitely important to respect the feelings of the debaters that put these files out in the first place. There is some technical work that needs to be done first, but once that's ready I'll definitely add an opt out option.
       
      Colin: Debate.cards has a lot of potential as it is. What kind of development do you see in the future of debate.cards? Is there an end goal vision of what you think it could be? 

      Arvind: I think the coolest part about debate.cards is the fact that, for the first time, there is a structured way to store and retrieve debate evidence. Instead of being confined to folders full of shoddily formatted word docs, having a more structured and semantic way to store individual debate cardshas enormous potential for the future of technology in debate. I'm frankly not sure what the direction of debate.cards itself will be in the future, but I'm confident that the technology behind it will end up being useful for a lot more than just debate.cards
      A public API for debate.cards is in the works which would allow other developers to use the data from debate.cards in their own applications and projects.
       
      Colin: So do you think that the traditional hierarchical structure of debate files should be dropped in favor of individual card searches? Or am I reading too much into that?
       
      Arvind: No not really. I just think that technology in debate is inevitably going to progress, and word docs are just not a very convenient format to work with it. Being able to represent the contents of a speech doc in semantic way just makes developing technology for debate much easier. 
       
      Colin: What kind of data could be called through the API? 
       
      Arvind: All of the features of debate.cards (searching, retrieving a specific card, downloading as a word doc) will definitely be available. Beyond that, I'm not completely sure yet. I think that once I get the first version of the API running, I can probably expand the feature set based on community demand.
                     
      Colin: A lot of nerds in debate at the college level are highly interested in data. Are data analytics and/or visualization somewhere on your checklist?
       
      Arvind: Creating analytics is not something I currently have plans for, but the data for others to do so is something that can probably make available through the API.
       
      Colin: Alright, last question for you. You've done this by yourself so far, do you want people to help out? How can they do so? 
       
      Arvind: Yeah help is always appreciated, that's part of the reason why debate.cards is open source. For those that feel like they might have the ability to help out but don't know where to start, just shoot me an email and we can talk.
      Even if you don't have technical skills to directly contribute, things as simple as making bug reports when you find and issue or providing feature suggestions help out a lot.
      --------------------------------------------------------
       
      If you are interested in learning more or helping contribute, you can visit debate.cards or find the source code on Arvind’s Github here.
       
       

      View full article
    • By ColinD
      2019 in debate is a far cry from what it used to be. Goodbye paper, expandos, and tubs. Goodbye photocopying and printing. Goodbye asking to look at a physical card to write down the citation. We exist digitally in word documents, virtual tubs, caselists with full speech documents, and repositories like the Open Evidence Project. Evidence has, in many respects, gone from a hoarded commodity to being a community resource. The ironic thing is, as we create more evidence solutions, we create new problems in how it works: poring through files to find a single card; spending an inordinate amount of time formatting files, structuring them, perfectly naming and organizing headers. Printing a single debater’s dropbox now would likely collapse a handcart. Evidence has become more readily available to all, but as the amount of accessible evidence has exponentially increased, the management and organization of this evidence has become a gigantic task.
       
      Arvind Balaji, a 16 year old Junior at Round Rock High School, may have the solution. Arvind is the mind behind debate.cards, an open source, flexible, and free to use evidence search engine. I reached out to Arvind over email to talk debate.cards with him to see where it came from, how it works, and where it can go.
       
      [Our emails have been lightly edited for readability in an article format. No content has been censored or changed in meaning.]

      ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Colin: How long have you been involved in debate? How did you get involved? 

      Arvind: Third year debating. I knew a few friends that debated in high school, figure I would a give it a shot.. and here I am three years later haha

      Colin: Where did you get your interest in coding and when did you start? 

      Arvind: I've had interest in computers since I was young, my parents are both software engineers which is suppose helped me to foster that interest. I kinda just taught my way  to code along the way, from starting out with simple website and working up to full fledged projects like debate.cards
       
      Colin: Wow, so you have a pretty deep history with software development.  I saw on your github (snooping) that you have developed a debatetimer and an openevidence download tool among other things. Have you done any large projects as sophisticated as debate.cards? 
       
      Arvind: I think debate.cards is definitely the most ambitious project I've taken on so far, but the smaller projects along the way helped me learn a lot.
       
      Colin: Is [software development] what you intend to pursue after you're done with school/is this partly an exercise in building your portfolio? 
       
      Arvind: I haven't completely decided yet, but I think I'll most likely be pursuing CS. And yeah, I definitely think debate.cards is a good contribution to my personal portfolio.
       
      Colin: What programming languages are you most familiar with?
       
      Arvind: I'm fairly comfortable with Java, Python, and Javascript. Recently, I've found my self working Javascript/Node the most.

      Colin: A lot of people draw parallels between debate and other activities (usually something they personally find interesting. Do you see a relationship between coding and debate? 
       
      Arvind: For me personally, coding and debate are both things that I'm passionate about, so being able to work on a project that combined the best of both worlds is something that incredibly fun and rewarding.

      Colin: There are some examples of individuals attempting to monetize software solutions in debate. Why open source and not keep it private? 
       
      Arvind: debate.cards was created with intention of keeping it free. The goal of debate.cards has always been to make evidence more accessible, I feel that monetizing it ultimately detracts from that purpose.
       
      Colin: That's an admirable attitude. Developing something that can be used as a public good should have low or no barriers to access it. Debate thrives on individuals willing to do selfless work for the benefit of others. 
      I have a couple of follow up questions here: 
      Why do you think that accessible evidence is necessary? 
       
      Arvind: I think that more accessible evidence is a good way to help close the resource gap between small and large school debaters. I also think it just increases the overall quality of debate, having access to more specific and well-research evidence allows for debates to be more educational and in-depth.
       
      Colin: There are plenty of people in debate who have disliked some technological changes in how debate works, whether it's the use of laptops or paper, use of internet in debate (more in a regional high school context), using cites or docs, or even using the caselist at all. Most commonly there's a fear that debaters will become lazy and retreat from having to learn independent research skills. An example from [my coaching experience] is that we usually have to go through a period of forcing novice or JV debaters to stop relying on the search feature in their virtual tubs so they actually have to learn their files. You're offering a paradigmatic shift in how people can access evidence in various places online. What effect do you think debate.cards will have in this regard? Do you think this is unfounded or do you just think the benefits outweigh? 
       
      Arvind: I think that criticism of tech in debate is inevitable. I'm sure the same was said for paperless, open evidence, and open source. While yes, there is a risk that software like debate.cards will lead to lazy debate practices, I don't think it's as big of deal as it's made out to be. I don't think it's an issue that's intrinsic to debate.cards and yes, the aforementioned benefits are probably more important.

      Colin: In simple terms, how does it work (both front and back end)? What makes it easy to use? Where might it have some user interface challenges? 
       
      Arvind: At its core debate.cards is pretty simple. First, Word documents are fed into a parser, the parser splits up the individual cards in the document and does a little bit of guess work to get information such as the author and date out of the card. 
      All of the parsed data is then indexed, the indexer allows for quick and powerful searches of all the stored data. Think google, but for debateevidence. 
      The then the last part is the actual user interface that allows for searching through the data, and downloading it back into a word doc.
      I think the super simple interface it what makes it appealing for users. Search for what you want, then download it. No frills.
      Ironically, I think this is the cause of its biggest shortcoming. The site currently lacks features that would allow for more advanced searches and better evidence discovery, features that would make it an even more useful tool for debaters.
       
      Colin: I noticed that the search bar says "Search for a cite or tag..." So the keywords search are for just those 2 parts? When evidence is parsed through, are cites and tags lumped together for keyword searches or separately?
       
      Arvind: I guess that isn't completely true anymore, it searches through the cite and tag along with the heading levels. All three of those things are indexed separately but there isn't currently a way for the user to pick which fields to search in. That functionality will be added in the relatively near future though.

      Colin: How extensive is its library? What kinds of places can it search? How easy would it be for people to configure their own to crawl other places? 
       
      Arvind: Currently debate.cards pulls data from the past 7 years of the Open Evidence Project and open source documents from this year's High School Policy wiki. Short term plans include adding the LD and College wiki, but my eventual goal is to open it up for users to directly contribute files. 
      There is currently a section on the GitHub readme file on setting up your own instance of debate.cards which would allow people to add in their own custom data sources, which might be an interesting challenge for those that are tech savvy.
       
      Colin: What could custom data sources be? Locally hosted for an enhanced vtub search tool? Or does it have to be web-based? 
       
      Arvind: It could in theory be anything, the application is written in a way that is modular. So people could in theory write their own modules that would add in new data sources. But to be clear, this definitely isn't something I'm recommending to the average debater or team, or even officially supporting it - it's just an idea. Maybe in the future I can look into adding a more user friendly way to do this. 
       
      Colin: At the college level there has been some discussion of consent to data collection, even for willingly provided open source documents for disclosure purposes. How feasible is it for you to exclude specific caselist pages from debate.cards? Just as relevant, are you willing to take requests to do so?
       
      Arvind: This is definitely something I've been thinking about recently. When I initially added open source docs to the wiki, I took the liberty to assume that those that are willing to open source their documents would also be willing to let their documents be used for something like debate.cards - both of which share the same goal of making research more accessible to debaters. However some of the backlash over oodebate has made me question that. I still think that for the most part that is a fair assumption, especially since debate.cards is not a commercial product.  However, I think it's definitely important to respect the feelings of the debaters that put these files out in the first place. There is some technical work that needs to be done first, but once that's ready I'll definitely add an opt out option.
       
      Colin: Debate.cards has a lot of potential as it is. What kind of development do you see in the future of debate.cards? Is there an end goal vision of what you think it could be? 

      Arvind: I think the coolest part about debate.cards is the fact that, for the first time, there is a structured way to store and retrieve debate evidence. Instead of being confined to folders full of shoddily formatted word docs, having a more structured and semantic way to store individual debate cardshas enormous potential for the future of technology in debate. I'm frankly not sure what the direction of debate.cards itself will be in the future, but I'm confident that the technology behind it will end up being useful for a lot more than just debate.cards
      A public API for debate.cards is in the works which would allow other developers to use the data from debate.cards in their own applications and projects.
       
      Colin: So do you think that the traditional hierarchical structure of debate files should be dropped in favor of individual card searches? Or am I reading too much into that?
       
      Arvind: No not really. I just think that technology in debate is inevitably going to progress, and word docs are just not a very convenient format to work with it. Being able to represent the contents of a speech doc in semantic way just makes developing technology for debate much easier. 
       
      Colin: What kind of data could be called through the API? 
       
      Arvind: All of the features of debate.cards (searching, retrieving a specific card, downloading as a word doc) will definitely be available. Beyond that, I'm not completely sure yet. I think that once I get the first version of the API running, I can probably expand the feature set based on community demand.
                     
      Colin: A lot of nerds in debate at the college level are highly interested in data. Are data analytics and/or visualization somewhere on your checklist?
       
      Arvind: Creating analytics is not something I currently have plans for, but the data for others to do so is something that can probably make available through the API.
       
      Colin: Alright, last question for you. You've done this by yourself so far, do you want people to help out? How can they do so? 
       
      Arvind: Yeah help is always appreciated, that's part of the reason why debate.cards is open source. For those that feel like they might have the ability to help out but don't know where to start, just shoot me an email and we can talk.
      Even if you don't have technical skills to directly contribute, things as simple as making bug reports when you find and issue or providing feature suggestions help out a lot.
      --------------------------------------------------------
       
      If you are interested in learning more or helping contribute, you can visit debate.cards or find the source code on Arvind’s Github here.
       
       
    • By NickDB8
      Any predictions?
    • By RobGlass
      NDT Second Rounds went out recently. This has restarted the perennial discussion about their utility and fairness, as well as the health of the NDT. This time it seems like there are two camps that are extra aggrieved:

      - A camp that thinks that deserving third teams from a number of schools got the shaft by not getting an invite, thanks in large part due to the cap on third teams.
       
      - A camp that implies, heavily, that certain teams that were accepted to the NDT as second rounds were not competitively justified to be allowed.

      I think the second camp represents a aggrieved petulance that is unworthy of discussion at length, but the first camp (even with its tinge of the latter opinion) represents a real grievance that should be recognized. I want to briefly explore this, its history, and a modest proposal to fix the problem:
       
      This isn’t the place for a proper history of the NDT’s eligibility rules. Suffice to say that the NDT has always dealt with a problem of declining participation year over year. Originally the NDT only invited one team per school, but over time it started including second teams, and then a limited number of third teams so as to make sure it could fill out the pool. We’ve even been in this position before, where the number of second rounds and third teams was barely enough to make the NDT happen according to the rules, in the nineties. The result of that crisis was the merger between CEDA and the NDT which drastically inflated the pool of eligible teams by letting CEDA schools into the mix.
       
      I don’t want to rehash something that has been basically accepted by the community writ large at this point, but I think it can take at least a brief repeating: the elitism of the NDT intrinsically drives schools out of the activity. Partially because of the frustration that results from the exclusion of not being able to qualify, and partially because of the sheer costs that are required to be able to overcome that exclusion.
       
      I will, personally, place a lion's share of that blame directly at the feet of the Second Round At Large process: National Circuit tournaments have always existed, and potential first round teams coupled with the existence of well-financed teams will always make a pseudo-national circuit emerge as top level teams travel across the country to debate each other. Theoretically this should be fine as teams that aren’t at the very top of debate should feel comfortable simply debating in local and regional circuits and not travelling to national tournaments, unless they want to. However, teams that fear that they won’t get out of districts need to protect their second round chances, and that requires repeated outings on the national circuit to prove competitive viability. That costs way more than local travel (the cost to fly two teams from the mid-west to the Cali Swings more than equals bringing multiple teams to two or three local tournaments) and these costs directly trade off with both local tournament attendance and team size.  This has real consequences both in terms of the viability of local tournaments, novice participation, etc. as well as in terms of participation in the community itself: Once those costs pile up it becomes harder and harder to justify having a debate team both internally to students who deal first hand with the questions of competitive inequity, and to administrators trying to track return on investment in a debate program when these factors don't exist in parli formats.*
       
      The result has been the community losing teams year over year, with long-time stalwart programs either disappearing or going off to the ‘other side’ of parli debate. (See, most recently, Vanderbilt). Herein lies the real pain of the first camp I outlined: the limits placed on the number of third teams allowed in was designed to protect a broadly diverse mixture of competitive schools who felt like they were being locked out, the decline in participation means that those schools no longer exist, which means that they are now being excluded in what appears to be an act for exclusion’s sake while competitively inferior teams are being let in because _someone has to be let in_ to make the tournament happen.
       
       
      While I don’t think their pain should necessarily be prioritized over the joy of inclusion that the included second round teams have, I do think that this reveals an underlying question of how we should balance the elitist demand of the NDT** with declining participation and other concerns. In that regard, I propose the following solution as a framework to look at:
       
      -       As a premise I imagine keeping the NDT, but increasing the number of participating teams. The actual number can be fluid, but I think a pool of around 90 sounds perfectly workable.
       
      -       Then maintain the first round process for sixteen teams. Let as many teams who are voted in via the first round, even third or fourth teams from schools, into the NDT in the initial stage.
       
      -       At this point let every subscriber school nominate one team to the NDT. I’m inclined to put some barebones requirements on this team (a minimum number of rounds during the year, let each district nominate a ‘district’ tournament during the year and require these teams to have attended at least two of those tournaments, a winning record in Open, etc.), but nothing too strenuous. These teams should be allowed in if they clear those requirements.
       
      -       This should fill up a majority of the slots to the NDT. To fill out the rest I propose having a National Qualifying Tournament. A tournament held in February that is open to every school and is run like present day district tournaments, except open to every team in the country. (We can rotate the hosting duties of the NQT between the schools every year). Every school can bring as many teams as they’d like to the NQT, and the top qualifiers will be let into the NDT to fill out the numbers.
       
       
      Obviously, this is not a perfect system, but I think it allows a baseline of compromise between the exclusionary demands that underlie the NDT’s focus on elitism with the real need to open the NDT up to more schools and participants and break the hold of the national circuit on schools***.
       
       
      There are also problems with this system that may make particular parts of it unworkable. For instance, the intra-squad discussion of which team to nominate to the NDT will probably be heart-rending and divisive. I also know that some schools would absolutely opt to use their nomination for a ‘B’ team while choosing to send their ‘A’ team to the NQT, which is less than ideal. 
       
      But, this is a starting point and not a final product and I think that there are many things that recommend it over our current system which is fundamentally broken, and has been since the 70s. At a core level, if we want to preserve the activity we need to come up with a fix that allows more schools in, there isn’t another parallel debate league to merge with a-la CEDA  in the mid-90s, and if we don’t do something soon to fix the structural problems in the activity it might be too late to actually right the ship.
       
       
       Rob Glass is the Editor in Chief of Policydb8 and debate coach for the University of Houston, before this he has worked for schools like Binghamton University, the University of Rochester, and Stuyvesant High School. 
       
       
      * If we were to abolish the second round and simply give those bids to the districts, either as part of the district tournament or as a second round bid to be given out by them, I think we would be in a far better place.
       
      ** I will gladly flag here that the response of “elitism bad” is a fair one. Abolishing the NDT as a poisoned relic and embracing CEDA as the end of year championship is something that should absolutely be on the table for the community. 

      *** One of the great shames of this year is that the splitter movement that fled the Cali swings for the Miami Georgetown tournament weren't called out for the damage that that move did to community cohesion. The spirit of the PRL still haunts the activity and we are all worse for it. 

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