Principles and Preparation for AI in Speech and Debate

admissions counseling debate limited prep speech techniques Apr 14, 2023

ChatGPT is already changing the world, setting a record for fastest user growth in January when it reached 100 million active users two months after launch. Its use has wide-ranging implications for nearly every industry--from lawyers, to accountants, to educators, to financial analysts, to healthcare workers, this explosive technology will reshape billions of lives in the coming decades.

We're already seeing many speech and debate lawmaking bodies start to grapple with its utility: what happens if a student presents a speech 100% generated by ChatGPT? 50% generated? 5% generated? Just grammar-checked (if so, how is it different from Grammarly)? While we can't predict how powerful this AI will become, we can offer two observations: first, about principles; second, about preparation.


First, all AI should be treated as a supplement, NOT a substitute. In other words, it does a student absolutely no good to plug in a few sentences into a bot, ask it to write a speech, and then take that speech and regurgitate what the language model suggested. That does not develop any long-term skills beyond rote memorization, and we'd suggest that the first-draft speeches often feel mechanical, clunky, overly formal, and unappealing for audiences.

Second, nothing the AI says should be automatically trusted. There is a growing body of evidence about how these language models often 'hallucinate,' giving the reader information that is factually wrong or otherwise unverifiable.

Third, pushing for innovation must be prioritized. The human race thrives when we attempt to develop new knowledge. When we simply parrot others' ideas, or plagiarize them without doing our own thinking, we're diminished. These language models string together existing thoughts from data sets fed to them. This means they aren't telling us anything new--they're rearranging what we already know (sometimes inaccurately). Our obligation as educators is towards giving students the tools to form new ideas, explore new manners of expression, and conduct new research. Creating a society dependent on AI models fails to fulfill that obligation.


These language models, nonetheless, can be useful in helping students prepare for competitions.  For instance, a GPT-based AI called DEBATE DEVIL plays the devil's advocate in virtual debates, challenging users to contradict its arguments. This helps students substantively prepare for analytics-based argumentative clash.

ChatGPT itself can be prompted to help give ideas for oratories, outlines for Impromptu, jokes for Extemp, analogies for debate, and much more.

Coaches who have a lot of feedback to get to students and want to make their bullet points more comprehensible could try the following: "Make the following bullet point critiques into a professional, constructive review of a student's speech; give concise suggestions after each critique: [comments]."

Judges who have a lot of feedback to provide but want to make sure their comments adhere to the NSDA's ballots could use a prompt like this: "Make the following bullet point critiques into a professional, concise, constructive review of the following students, who are [insert category] competitors. Focus on how they can be better in [list all the major categories; for example, in Oratory, the NSDA says to focus on importance, delivery, and originality]."

Students who are preparing for Impromptu speeches but struggle to find examples online could be inspired by this prompt: "Make a three-point, five-paragraph essay speech. In the introduction, give me an attention-getting story about a real-life person or fictional character. With each point in the main body (three of them), find me one specific example that most people don't know about. Entertain me and educate me. Here's the prompt: [insert prompt here]. Use the language of the prompt throughout the speech." Of course, becoming reliant on this AI will be entirely unhelpful; judges can tell when a student is 'reading' their speeches online, and competitors can't do this in-person. Additionally, these answers aren't sufficiently detailed to use the examples without doing further research. This is solely a tool for practice purposes--the 2023 version of googling "little-known inspirational stories," which most Impromptu competitors have done.

AI is developing at a drastic rate. Large organizations like Khan Academy have started to use AI to improve their educational models. As former presidential candidate Andrew Yang discussed on his podcast, major colleges are likely to focus less on essays and more on interviews in admissions (which we specialize in!), as well as less on computer-based assessments and more on verbal presentations in classes (which we prepare students for!).

Rest assured that ModernBrain is deeply committed to understanding all the tools at our disposal--and anticipating what's coming around the corner--to help train your students for this exciting, changing landscape!

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