Online debate camp raises student concerns

Judy Feng, Features Editor

Since early fall last year, freshman Luke Nelson had set his mind on attending the Michigan Classic, one of the University of Michigan Debate Camps. His summer plans were halted when Aaron Kall, director of the University of Michigan Debate Camps, emailed students on April 13 to confirm that the camp would be moved online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I was pretty devastated because I was looking forward to spending a whole month at … the University of Michigan with my debate friends,” Nelson said in a phone interview. “And then my second thought was, ‘How are we supposed to debate over the phone?’”

Junior Alivia Klinghofer said in a phone interview that a big part of the debate camp is the social aspect. On-campus, students are immersed in a learning environment centered around debate, surrounded by people who love debate and are working constantly to improve their debate skills. Klinghofer fears that with the camp online, students will have a harder time focusing on the debate work. 

Kall said in a phone interview that he understands students’ concerns. He attended the camp during his high school years and knows having an online experience will differ in various aspects from an in-person one. He sees a silver lining in going online, though, as the camp has become more available to new students.

“Debate has moved online very quickly and the technology really supports people from all over the country, all over the world being able to debate on Zoom,” said Kall. “So, it does increase the accessibility and it brings debate to … a wide group of people, some of which may not have been able to experience it in person.”

The Michigan Debate program has been running summer debate camps at the University of Michigan since 1985. This year marks the first time the program has planned to move the camps off-campus in 35 years. 

According to Kall, the camp has been able to reduce the price of tuition by about 35-40 percent due to the change. All classes and practice debates will occur over Zoom. 

The online debate experience can still offer the same benefits as the in-person experience, said Kall. Students have full access to online resources such as the Canvas Learning Management Platform, which contains video lectures, research materials and online practice debate demonstrations, as well as the online version of the University of Michigan Library. The directors are also working on maintaining the social aspect of camp by including games and friendly competitions in the schedule. 

“Seeing that there’s no option to have in-person experiences this summer, not just with us but for any other debate camps, I still think [the camp is] going to be a very positive experience for students,” Kall said. 

According to Nelson, even though the camp has been moved online, he is still looking forward to it. 

“I don’t care if it’s online or in-person, I just want to debate,” Nelson said.