Classroom Lessons and Minnesota Urban Debate League
Next fall, the Department of Communications Studies will be expanding their service learning program after being awarded an Engaged Department Grant from the Office of Public Engagement. This spring, COMM 1313W: Analysis of Argument, served as a pilot course to prepare forty students to be mentors and judges for middle school debate tournaments sponsored by the Minnesota Urban Debate Team (MNUDL). The department’s debate program is led by Dr. David Cram Helwich, who explains, “The program will enhance research and teaching by giving communication studies students opportunities to practically apply communications theories while evaluating, researching, and discussing public policy arguments.” Helwich currently teaches the student volunteer judges the necessary skills to be as helpful to the middle school debaters as possible.
As judges, undergraduate students will be given the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom by teaching debate skills to young adults in the community. Over the course of the semester, students will judge at least two middle school debate tournaments. Student mentors provide immediate feedback to the debaters’ argument in addition to offering suggestions on how to improve their performance and persuasion techniques.
The program is set to expand for the upcoming 2016–2017 academic year. “The program fosters a department-wide civic engagement model that will create a formalized process to engage in, evaluate, and receive professional development support for community engagement as part a a broader departmental focus on the grand challenge of addressing the education opportunity gap,” Helwich says. Research shows that the implementation of debate programs in middle schools and high schools improves reading scores for all participants and serves as one of the most successful strategies for tackling the opportunity gap between socioeconomic classes.