Creating a great debate

Debates are a great way to get students engaged on MS Teams and Slack. Post an interesting topic and track student responses. Students can vote on the best responses by giving a 👍. Students with the most votes win points and badges.


Debates spur interest in a topic. They are a great way to start the learning process. After students have spent some time forming their opinions on a topic, they are much more receptive to learning techniques for analyzing the underlying issue. I like to start my class with a high-level debate and then move into more formal learning.


To make debates work you need a great question. Below are 3 tips for creating engaging debate questions. Your question will make or break your debate, so it is important to get this right.


1. Pick a current topic without a right answer


A great debate question will address a current issue and likely will not have a right answer. Remember, debates are conducted in a public forum and if there is a right answer, students will copy from others. Here are some examples of good debate questions.


Human / Social / Organizational Issues

What is the greatest threat facing humanity today?
Has social media improved human communication?
Is the right to organize as a corporation good for society?
Does money bring happiness?
Is technology improving our quality of life?
How is the US doing in terms of healthcare from a cost/benefit 
perspective?

School and working

Is remote working good for society?
How will metaverse affect work as we know it?
What skill do you believe will be most important 20 years from 
now?
What is the most important thing you can do in college to 
ensure future success?

Economics

Should the federal government mandate a minimum wage?
Should we be concerned about the national debt?
Should central planners focus on increasing consumption or 
savings?
Is a modest amount of inflation good for society?
Is sound or fiat money better for society?

Math / Critical Thinking

Assume there are 3 closed doors: one is Red, one is Blue, and one is Yellow. Behind one of the doors is $6,000. Behind the 
other two doors is $500. You choose the Red door but before the door is opened to reveal your prize the judge opens the Blue door revealing a $500 prize. You are then asked if you would like to switch your selection to the Yellow door or stay with 
your original choice, the Red door. Should you switch your original choice or not? 

Crypto

Why does bitcoin have any value?
Is bitcoin a currency?
Why do nonfungible tokens (NFT) have any value? 

Ethics

Is outsourcing an ethical practice?
Is it acceptable that companies value human life when making decisions?  

Accounting / Finance

Is Tesla’s stock overvalued?
Is Berkshire Hathaway the most expensive company?
What is the most important item that GAAP does not account for?
How can a company with a negative book value continue to exist?
Should financial statements be adjusted for inflation?
Is ESG investing good for society?
Is the conviction of Elizabeth Holmes fair considering none of the Wall Street CEOs went to jail after the 2008 financial crisis?

2. Provide some background


In some cases, it is helpful to provide some background on the topic. Students need to see that it is an important question. For example, in my accounting course, I ran a debate on whether Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing is good for society. Here is how I framed the debate:


3. Keep it to one question


It is tempting to ask multiple questions in one debate but you will get the best results by keeping it to one. The goal is to get students to debate with each other. If students are focused on different questions you are unlikely to get the interactivity you desire.


Check out this article to learn how to create a debate with ClassCred.



About the author


Chris Edmonds, Ph.D., is a Professor of Accounting at the UAB Collat School of Business and a lead author of a series of introductory accounting books published by McGraw Hill. He is currently piloting a lean, team-teaching model that significantly increases engagement, outcomes, and retention in online courses. Dr. Edmonds frequently speaks at conferences and universities on best teaching practices and has received numerous teaching awards, including the UAB President's Award for Excellence in Teaching, UAB Collat Graduate Teaching Award, UAB Faculty Student Success Award, UAB Transformative Online Course Award, UAB Loudell Ellis Robinson Classroom Teaching Award, UAB Disability Support Recognition Award, and the Virginia Tech Favorite Faculty Award.