First and foremost, NDF aims to create a positive and fulfilling learning atmosphere for every student, which is why we are committed to maintaining a faculty to student ratio of 4:1. Other camps advertise that they give individualized instruction, but NDF is committed to fulfilling this promise by hiring high quality staff while limiting enrollment so that the experience of all students is educationally enriching. While other camps accept hundreds of students and advertise ratios of 7:1, NDF is structured to ensure that no student gets lost in the numbers.
Each student at NDF can work with all of the staff – no one group of students is seen as the important group or the sole focus of the camp. Every student matters at NDF! We assign students to small lab groups based on consideration of their educational interests, but we also build in frequent opportunities for students to work with instructors other than their lab leaders through office hours, seminars and practice rounds.
While at NDF, students are exposed to lectures and seminars that range from techniques for sound case construction to rebuttal strategies to a deeper understanding of debate theory and philosophy. The combination of required lectures and seminar electives ensures that students are given a foundation, appropriate for their ability level and past experience, while also allowing them autonomy to select specific topics that they would like to explore for their personal development.
Students at NDF participate in a minimum of 12 fully critiqued rounds during the institute. In addition to in-lab and out-of-lab practice rounds, there is a “tutorial” at the end of the institute where students compete in a tournament. The tutorial tournament affords students the opportunity to compete in a tournament setting with a dense field where every round is competitive, but also with faculty on hand to assist students in learning from the tournament experience. We feel this uniquely prepares students for competition in high caliber tournaments, and provides them with a cumulative experience to showcase and solidify the skills they have developed over the course of the institute.
At NDF we have decided to continue our practice of using as the camp topic a past topic from the previous competitive season. We first made this change in 2010, and, after resounding success and positive feedback from our students and coaches, we have decided to make this a permanent fixture of our curriculum for LD Debate. There are a number of reasons why we think this is the best approach for an LD institute:
Using an old topic increases the efficiency with which students’ time at camp can be used to improve upon their existing skill sets. When camps use a new topic, it is unavoidable that they have to devote a significant amount of time to bringing students up to speed on the bare fundamentals of the topic, as well as to allowing them to do enough preparatory work so that activities, drills, and practice rounds will be useful. The result of this situation is that far too much valuable instruction time must be spent merely getting students to the point where the real work of improving their existing skill sets can be done. In contrast, using a previously debated topic eliminates this problem, enabling teachers to focus instructional time exclusively on improving their students’ existing skill sets. We view this as the primary educational reason for doing an old topic.
The more that camp instructors know about a topic, the more effective they are at teaching students about it. No matter how dedicated instructors are to educating themselves about a new camp topic, however, they cannot attain the same level of expertise about a new topic that they already have on topics they worked on for months during the debate season. This is especially true of first year out instructors, who will feel at ease working with a topic that they themselves debated in the previous season.
Using an old topic allows instructors to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses more effectively and quickly. Since students will come to camp having already worked on the topic, instructors can ask them to turn in work on day one of camp. This would allow instructors to become instantly familiar with what each student’s best work looks like, enabling them to immediately diagnose and address the needs of each student.
Benefits for all Labs
Using an old topic offers distinct advantages for both younger and more advanced students. Younger students generally take a longer time to acclimate themselves to the basic aspects of a topic. Using a topic with which these students are already familiar gives them a head start in this process. Advanced students arrive at camp with a solid grasp of a relatively sophisticated set of skills. Using an old topic allows these students to focus on improving on these skills further and on shoring up very specific weaknesses. Using a new topic, in contrast, forces students to spend a significant amount of their time simply repeating their existing skills in the context of a new topic.
Universal Activity Improvement
Nearly every specific area of camp curriculum is improved by the use of a previously debated topic. Topic analysis sessions can immediately deal with the more advanced mechanics of a topic, as students will already be familiar with the topic’s more basic aspects. Demo debates will be of a higher quality, as first year out staff members will have already prepared and debated the topic during the previous season. For the same reason, practice rounds will be more educational; students debating on a topic that they debated during the season will be prepared to demonstrate how they would normally debate, and this means that instructors can more readily help them improve. The process of case feedback and correction can also proceed at a higher level: instead of needing to go through several rounds of more basic corrections, instructors can work with students, from the beginning, on improving cases that represent the student’s current best work. Moreover, using an old topic will allow students to more easily explore new strategies for case writing: they will already have a basic set of cases that are within their comfort zone, so they will be able to devote more time and energy into exploring new types of cases with instructors.