By: Karina Valdes
As summer camps all over the country were closing due to COVID-19, professors at the University of Miami School of Communication worked quickly to move the annual Hurricane Debate Institute (HDI) to an online format. This summer camp offers instruction in public speaking, argumentation, and debate to students in grades 6 through 12 and is normally held in-person at UM’s Coral Gables campus.
“The transition from in-person to online has gone very well,” said Patrick Waldinger, co-director of the Hurricane Debate Institute. “The nature of debate and public speaking translate meaningfully to online instruction.”
Waldinger along with Leandra Lopez have directed HDI for the past 10 years. When developing the plans for this year’s camp, they took into account time zones and how long a student can realistically spend in front of a computer. They settled on three hours of instruction from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST., with a one-hour break from 12 to 1 p.m. EST, for four weeks. Students have the option of attending as many weeks as they like.
“We have always been focused on providing quality instruction while making debate fun. This summer, we made our lectures and activities more interactive than ever. To keep students engaged, we used technology to our advantage,” said Lopez.
According to Waldinger and Lopez, the feedback from parents and students has been great.
“We’ve heard good things from parents. We had a student sign up for one week and she’s now in her fourth week. In fact, her dad sent an email this weekend asking if we are planning to extend the camp or host more sessions,” said Waldinger.
Students of HDI agree and when asked why they chose to attend the camp, many stated they wanted to become better speakers and debaters.
“I want to work on my public speaking skills in a debate camp where they’ll be teaching us how to make arguments in different aspects of debate,” said Tori Graham, a rising eighth grader from Maryland.
For Thrisha Gogineni, a rising ninth grader from California, her reason was to gain more confidence when speaking.
“I decided to participate because I have never done debate, and I want to try to improve my argumentative skills and try to speak louder because I normally speak soft because I’m a shy person,” said Gogineni. “The reason I went to debate is to open up a little bit more and to speak louder,” she added.
HDI has students that return year after year to improve their skills. Sunny You, a rising 9th grader from Florida, has attended all four weeks of the program and he also participated in the camp in 2018 and 2019.
“This year it’s a lot more debate practice, rather than learning debate theory, which I felt like I actually needed a bit more of,” said You.
For Graham, the camp has helped her become a better debater.
“I think the most important thing I learned was how to make more compelling arguments like how to use my words, the format, structure, and also my research skills. I learned how to get more thorough research to make better claims,” said Graham.