Oxford Debates 2.0: Mutual Respect and Well-Informed Dissent

September 1, 2008

The ease and relative impersonality of new technologies and new media “a mechanism of world inter-communication … embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity” requires writers to have a heightened level of self-discipline and consideration of content, volume, style, tact, wisdom and timeliness (Birkland 1998). With the speed of the mouse-click it easy to lose sight of moderation and courtesy.

The Economist began a series of Oxford-style debates[1] on October 16, 2007 using new technologies and new media with traditional academic skills of logic, rhetoric and courtesy to seek collective wisdom.

The first series of debates (Oct 16th 2007 – Jan 24th 2008) were on education and connected issues of public responsibility, immigration, and the digital divide. Technology in education; University recruiting; Social networking

The motion that,

“The continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education.”

was rejected with a vote result of: Proposition: 44% Opposition: 56%.

“We have supplied our own evidence for the value of new technology in education. Without new technology this debate would never have happened. But we have also shown the value of the traditional academic skills of logic, rhetoric and courtesy. All of these were much in evidence, and gave our debate its quality. On the substance of the question: Sir John Daniel and his supporters argued splendidly for the limitations of technology, and its frequent disappointments in practice. But they were handicapped from the start by a willingness to agree that technology could and should be doing much more to improve education, if only it were to be integrated imaginatively enough into the curriculum and if institutions and teaching methods were reformed radically enough to make best use of it. This undertow of possibility communicated itself to undecided voters, and produced an outcome which I suspect even the losers might regard as fair, amounting as it does to a very heavily qualified vote of confidence in technology. Let me thank again our speakers, who did a superb job of provoking and guiding us; and our featured guests, whose interventions kept the discussion fresh. I reiterate my admiration for Dr Kozma’s closing statement, in which, it seemed to me, he engaged himself much more personally in the argument and was correspondingly more persuasive. It was at the point that his clear margin of victory started to emerge. Most of all let me thank our commenters, whose collective wisdom and experience has proved a formidable resource. This officially brings the first Economist debate to a close and I look forward to welcoming you to our next debate on Dec 10th. (Robert Cottrell [2], Debate Moderator. Deputy Editor).


1. “Rules of the game: Traditional Oxford-style debate: Oxford-style debate is most famously practised by the Oxford Union, the debating society of Oxford University. The Oxford Union’s invigorating debating chamber has yielded generations of British parliamentarians, lawyers, journalists and other accomplished advocates. The Oxford style of debate is characterised by its formality and structure. Debates are hosted by a moderator and take place between two teams, the “proposition” and the “opposition”. The proposition proposes a resolution for the debate ‘with constructive arguments and the use of supporting material.’ The opposition then opposes the resolution by rebutting these arguments and bringing its own supporting material to bear. Traditionally, each side has three opportunities to advance its cause: through an opening speaker, a second speaker and a summator (The Economist Oxford-Style Debates: How it Works).”

2. “The Economist selects speakers on the basis of their professional accomplishments, intellectual acuity and knowledge of the topic at issue. A balanced perspective is required from all speakers; Oxford-style debate can only succeed when both the proposition and the opposition listen to their opponents’ arguments with respect and respond with well-informed dissent. Guest participants are chosen for their expertise and real-world experience. Their role in the debate is not to take sides, but to deepen the floor’s understanding of the issues surrounding the topic up for debate (The Economist Oxford-Style Debates: How it Works).”

Webliography and Bibliography

Birkland, Stephen. 1998-08-31. “Internet, the World Wide Web, and Electronic Discussion Lists: A perspective from the Baha’i Writings by Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and Universal House of Justice.”

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