Overview of 2017 Curriculum Updates—By Lawrence, Marshall, and SunHee

This first post in the Curriculum Corner is to roll out, and explain, some of the new curricular elements that we have been developing and will be using at VBI this summer. Later in this series we will have articles to explain these components in-depth and go into detail about what pedagogical value we think each of them has. But for now, we think it’s important for people to have at least a general idea of what our new programs this summer will look like. 

Dine With a Mind: There are already lots of ways for students to meet and talk with instructors at debate camp. However, much of that time is formalized in ways that are not always optimal for getting to know an instructor and really picking their brain on a tough issue for an extended period. The Dine With a Mind Program is designed to fill that lacuna. It allows students, either individually or in a group, to sign up to get a meal with an instructor. Talking over a meal provides a wonderful and less formal context for fellowship with others. I know that many of the most engaging and challenging conversations I’ve had with students about issues of debate and philosophy occurred in the context of a meal. By providing an official program, we hope to guarantee that every student who wants to receives such an opportunity can do so, at no additional cost to them.

Module and Seminar Integration: Modules have always been the primary ‘elective’ feature of our curriculum. Modules allow students to learn about areas of new or particular interest. This year we are going to include seminar selections into the module options. Students, if they want to, can sign up for a seminar which would run during module slots. These seminars are modeled off the seminar system that many students will eventually experience once they begin taking upper-level classes in college. They will consist in an instructor and small group of students carefully working through nightly readings within an area of debate applicable literature. This will provide a unique learning opportunity to develop, discuss and investigate new positions and ideas.

Student Clubs: As another component of our attempt to increase student control in what they learn, we are introducing student directed clubs. Students will have the opportunity to form their own clubs with an instructor as an advisor. Some students might form a ‘philosophy club’ others might form a ‘K innovation league’ or a ‘frontlining util frameworks faction’ or a ‘novice casing company.’ Not only does this provide a lot of valuable elective freedom for students to pursue their interests, it also helps develop important skills for team-building and team-development during the year. Additionally, these clubs will be able to bring in instructors (either their advisor or others) to help cover additional content. Thus, these clubs will provide students the opportunity to, functionally, create their own custom modules.

Student Run Modules: There is overwhelming research (and I can confirm from personal experience) that there are few (if any) better ways to learn something than to teach it. To provide another opportunity for students to get teaching experience, we are formalizing student run modules this year. Students will have the opportunity to submit an application (explaining the content of their proposed module, their module outline and which instructor they are working with to prepare) to teach an official student run module during camp. These modules are currently scheduled to occur during the 1-on-1 mentor blocks (since mentors each have four mentees, each mentee is free for at least an hour every other day), allowing any student who does not have a 1-on-1 mentor meeting during that time to attend if they are interested.

Evening Activities: We are also introducing optional formalized evening activities for students wanting to make the most of their camp time. These activities will involve hour long segments dedicated to a wide variety of activities, from staff and student demonstration debates, panels on a wide-range of subjects, debate round analysis, additional one-on-one work time with top-tier instructors, forums on advocacy and diversity in debate, and much more. While informal evening activities have long been a staple of a VBI education, a formalized schedule will provide many additional learning opportunities for students every night. With multiple activities to choose from, there will always be something for the eager student to participate in.

Equity Day: As we continue to entertain ideas of how to make debate a more diverse space we also want to focus on the question of equity in the activity. How do we create a space so that those from different backgrounds not only feel comfortable but have tools and mentors necessary to equip them with everything they need to have some form of equal footing in debate? Integrating black, latinx, queer, low-income, and differently abled students is not enough if we are not providing adequate support. Equity day will be a combination of interactive activities, personalized workshops based on different identities in debate, and introductory explanations to diverse literature that incorporate multiple perspectives both inside and outside of rounds. With the ability to rotate and see many different perspective within our community, we hope to come one step closer to dealing with the lack of equity in debate and create calls to action within the conversation.

Overall, we honestly think these curricular innovations will make this the best summer—at the very least, curricularly—that VBI has ever had.