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UGA Debate Launches Paperless Debate Initiative

New Paperless Initiative Logo
Photo Credit: Design by Nick Kinney

At the beginning of last summer, the Georgia Debate Union coaching staff made the decision to transition from traditional paper evidence to paperless debate.  There are a variety of reasons to make this change, and it requires enough of a commitment that having clear reasons is important to keep the project on track.  The purpose of this post is to outline our reasons for implementing paperless debate at UGA.  If you are trying to decide whether paperless is right for you or the debate team you are responsible for, perhaps this will help you make a decision.

Depending on your personal needs or the needs of your institution, you may decide to commit time and resources to going paperless for different reasons.  Since going paperless isn't something you can do on a whim one weekend, we wanted to make sure we were fully aware of our motivations before starting.  Our reasons for implementing the Georgia Debate Paperless Initiative fall into three major lines of argument:

1.  Economic cost and institutional resource conservation.  We believe paperless debate will allow us to travel more students and coaches to more tournaments.  As educators, one of our primary obligations is to provide opportunities to as many students as possible, and reducing the amount of money we spend on photocopying, office supplies, luggage fees, and gasoline frees up resources to spend on hotel rooms for extra teams, entrance fees, and coaching.

Over the last couple years, we have seen the cost of flying evidence to tournaments explode.  Essentially, each tub we take on an airplane costs us $50.  Taking two or three teams to the NDT, each with six tubs flying each way, added thousands of dollars to the cost of the tickets.  Going paperless converts six tubs plus all of our backfiles into a single reading laptop we carry on the plane.  The cost savings is enormous, and we don't have to worry about our 1AC being misrouted to Alaska.

When we had paper files, a 12 passenger van could hold two teams and their evidence, 2 coaches, and their luggage.  After we went paperless, we can fit three teams comfortably (and four if we needed to) in the same van.  This year, we managed to take six teams and eight coaches to Georgia State in two vans.  Last year, it would have required three vans (and maybe a fourth car) to get there.  We saved enough money to pay for the hotel and entry fees for one of the teams.

By the end of this year, we should be out of our contract for an enterprise model photocopier, reduced our paper consumption to one ream per month (from a couple cases of reams per month).  We won't need five printers in the office, and boxes and boxes of toner.  We won't need to replace the travel printers that break every year, or their preposterously expensive ink cartridges.

When considered as a block of money, this is an enormous part of our budget.  There is a UGA team this year that will get to travel a full schedule as a direct result, and I think of this as the "paperless bonus".  Next year, after we're completely free of the institutional costs of paper debate, there will be two such teams.  These teams will most likely be younger, inexperienced debaters who would never have had the opportunity to travel with a nationally competitive debate team, and the contribution of that to our mission cannot be given an economic value.

2.  Evidence distribution and tournament logistics.  You cannot imagine how much easier it is to get to the tournament on Saturday morning when you don't have to move 25 tubs from the hotel to the van, from the van to the building with pairings, and then to the rooms where the debates are taking place.  No hand trucks being shared between teams, no questions about whether we can leave the evidence on campus overnight, no forgetting files to work on in the van, no gigantic piles of paper choking the hotel rooms.  

Driving to Vanderbilt this weekend, I was very aware that there were not 800 pounds of evidence in the back of the van.  Driving the van used to feel like trying to steer a comet.  Now it just feels like driving a big van.  Every bit of the tournament experience has changed since we went paperless.  Perhaps the best way to describe the real value of paperless debate is to make a list of thing a UGA coach will never have to do again:

  • find a Kinko's at 4 AM before elim day
  • find an OfficeMax during their single debate off because the tonerpaperpowercable got left at [insert location here]
  • collect updates from six students, make them into a single file, and photocopy them six times
  • spend all their free time the day before we leave for a tournament making sure every team gets a copy of the updates
  • listen to a debater complain that they never received a file
  • buy a yellow, orange, green and blue four-pack of hilighters
  • carry a tub
  • pull the van around to the loading zone
  • wait on the debaters to finish refiling after their debate (if I could have all this time back, I could get another MA)
  • run to another room to borrow missing file from another team


Usually, people are exaggerating when they say a new technology will make your life better.  This time it is all true.

3.  Ecological impact.  The University of Georgia, like many public institutions, has started to emphasize sustainability in their strategic planning, and has asked departments and organizations on campus to develop plans of their own to assist UGA with their efforts to become a sustainable institution.  Our contribution to the effort was obvious to us.  Each tub of evidence is roughly 50 pounds of paper, so the paper consumption of a debate team can be measured by whole trees.  The policy debate activity, when in paper evidence mode, is unnecessarily wasteful.

What we like best, though, is that switching to paperless debate isn't just another recycling effort.  We already recycle.  Going paperless, though, reduces consumption.  We're recycling less paper because we're not using very much anymore.  We even managed to implement paperless using surplus computers, laptops whose useful life would normally have ended.  They work fine, but aren't speedy enough to handle rich media applications, video, and newer operating systems.  So we wiped them, made sure the batteries work, reinstalled XP and Office, and put them back online.

Sustainability is about reducing consumption and using physical resources wisely, and we've managed to do this by changing the way we store evidence, construct speeches, and distribute documents.  Ultimately, you should decide if paperless is right for you or your team, but at UGA it has been an entirely positive change.  As we become better at implementing the system, sharing evidence, and using the system in debates, I am sure the benefits will only grow larger.


UGA Debate Paperless Inititative Press Release - September 12, 2009
Georgia Debate Union Paperless Debate Initiative Logo - .JPG
Georgia Debate Union B&W Logo - .JPG

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