First-Year Experience

Great Debate Toolkit

The Great Debate is an amazing project with support and contributions from a variety of programs, community members, faculty members, and of course, students! This section of the toolkit will introduce you to some of the documents we use to organize and manage this project.

Public Sphere Pedagogy works when we take the important work of students and make it public.  We accomplish this by helping them to develop connections between the classroom and the surrounding community. The Course Related Materials section will help you understand how we incorporate the Great Debate into the curriculum of courses at Chico. One thing to keep in mind for this section is that the best growth is organic growth. Letting faculty find their own ways to build this event into their courses helps to smooth the integration process, and aids in the critical need for faculty buy in. Once faculty members are on board the other parts of course integration become much easier.

The Logistics of the Great Debate are handled by faculty and our dedicated student staff. The nuts-and-bolts of the event are outlined in this section which covers everything from staffing, to the scheduling of speeches for students. As our event has grown the role of logistics has increased exponentially. Currently the Great Debate welcomes over 2000 students and community members each semester so tracking and managing these folks requires a lot of front-end work. This section details some of the tactics we use for this task.

The community involvement in the event is covered partially by the section on Moderators. Having non-university/college members of the community involved is one of the things that marks the event as different for the students. They see us as instructors on a regular basis, but when they see political parties registering voters or interact with a community advocate it helps them make a connection between the classroom and the community. We believe this connection is part of what makes them more likely to become civically aware.

Good Publicity is what helped the Chico Great Debate get off the ground in our first event. We worked with the topic of marijuana, which was compelling to multiple press outlets and the local community. This initial press helped us build on a promising event and compelled central administration to get on board.

  • Course Related Materials

    Public Sphere Pedagogy requires a coordinated effort at the public events, but it all starts in the classroom. In this sub-section you will find materials related to the incorporation of the Chico Great Debate in CMST 131, which is  our course in Public Speaking.

    Different courses handle course integration in unique ways, and the style of integration changes over time. When we started the Great Debate we simply tacked it onto the end of an existing course. By examining the assessment results over time, we realized that we needed more thorough course integration to help students make sense of their experience at the event.

    In the Public Speaking class we use a consistent theme for the whole semester. Previous semesters have included themes like “Mental Health” or “Education Reform” that allow students to find a point of personal connection under a broad topic area. We embed these themes and schedules in syllabi and course material.

    You will notice that in the  Course Syllabus we have a specific section on “Civic Engagement,” and the Great Debate is visible on the course calendar. This informs students early on what they will be doing and how the course and event will work together. Specific questions are addressed on the last page of the  Course Packet. This provides TAs and students with answers to commonly asked questions and helps us solve problems before they start.

    Regardless of the form, course integration is a critical step in helping to make PSP succeed. Linking the work of the classroom with the work we do in and around our community helps students understand how the two are connected.

  • Logistics

    The logistics of an event like the Great Debate vary considerably depending on the size of the event, how many people are involved, and the location. We have found it useful to break the event into a variety of schedules and charts outlining responsibilities and tasks.

    The  Calendar of Tasks is our guiding document in the months leading up to the event. Over time we have identified common tasks that must be completed every semester. It is best to break the task list down by genre of tasks. For instance assigning “Promotion” to one individual rather than reallocating personnel each month will ensure everybody understands which tasks need to be accomplished. Accountability is always important. At regular meetings we frequently move through the task lists to make sure we are on-track and give help where it is needed most.

    The  Master Schedule,  Schedule by Time, and the  Event Schedule help to keep us organized on the day of the event. The Master Schedule is a document for in-house use detailing all the presentations and moderators for the whole day. This document is useful for us, but confusing to students. The Schedule by Time is what we post at the event during individual sessions. The Event Schedule is blown up and put on posters at the event to give students an idea of what the can expect and when.

    The  Map is our quick overview of where events will be held. This map is useful for students trying to understand where they will be going. In general we try and assign staff members to specific locations rather than tasks, so we know where people are and what they are doing.

    The  Staff Schedule is our detailed breakdown of who does what and where. This essential document keeps us on schedule during the day and aids our volunteers and employees by ensuring they have breaks and adequate support. You will see the schedule is also broken down by person, which allows us to tell people when they should expect to be at the event.

    The  Supply List seems innocuous, but is one of the most important documents we have. This list tells us what to bring to the event, but it also informs us what we have while we are there. At the end of an event like this everyone is exhausted and ready to go home. This gives us a checklist to make sure we are not leaving laptops or basic supplies behind.

    The  Sample Program is a version of what an event program can look like. In early incarnations of the Great Debate we printed hundreds of programs for students, community members, and guests. It is a great archive of the event and a promotional tool. As the event has grown we have stopped printing programs for cost/sustainability reasons. If you are starting an event small, we strongly encourage designing and printing a program.

    The  Budget Overview gives you an idea of what we spend the most money on. For this event we spend most of our money on staff because we require a large number of people for a long time. We do not spend very much money on food because the event is in the middle of our downtown area with myriad food options.

  • Moderators

    At the Great Debate we incorporate community and campus moderators to diversify the event. Student reflections indicate that cross-generational dialogue and non-University personnel are important to the perception that the event is different from a normal school project. Moderators also play a critical role in facilitating conversations with the audience, and occasionally leading the post-presentation discussion. It is important that these participants understand the event is student-focused and their job is to help the students and community engage in a meaningful discussion.

    The  Invitation is the document we send to prospective moderators from the campus and community. Key features of the invitation include clear explanations of what will happen, where, and when. We also try and include information about the significance of the event for students. In recent semesters we have worked to trim down the invitation and make it easier to read. We strongly suggest opening up an email account for the event. It makes handling mail merge and auto-reply much easier.

    The  Moderator Guide is the document we supply moderators with when they arrive at the event. This document leads them through some background information and gives them specific guidelines for starting a discussion. This is critically important for many community members as not everyone has teaching experience often necessary to facilitate a group discussion. 

  • Publicity

    Publicity is critical to the short and long term success of PSP programs. Our first priority is always making sure students have a positive experience at the event; however documenting the event is part of what puts the “Public” in Public-Sphere-Pedagogy.

    Recently we have been working with interns from the Communication Studies or Journalism/Public-Relations programs at CSU, Chico. These advanced students frequently come to us with experience or theoretical knowledge making them valuable additions to the program. Regardless of where your help comes from, taking advantage of some existing knowledge and materials will help you publicize your PSP program.

    The  Brochure was designed for distribution at conferences, presentations, and talks. This document provides a quick synopsis of the Great Debate along with contact information about the event. You will notice that visuals dominate the brochure, underscoring the importance of visually documenting actions related to the event.

    The  Campus Announcement is designed to publicize the event through on-campus announcements and list serves. The campus audience is unique in that there is already a working knowledge of programs and a pool of key people. As is always the case, including basic information like start times and contact people allows the announcement to work as a recruiting tool.

    The  Press Release is designed for distribution to a broader community. Over time, we have developed a good working relationship with the City of Chico, which sends out the press release for us. You can also send a press release through your campus office. Regardless, the press release should be written to quickly engage news programs and help them identify key people for follow up. In our case, because we want to increase traffic at our Web site, we provide this contact information.