Catching a Wave in the Internet Surf: Electronic Extemporaneous Speaking

Article excerpt

Few individuals fail to notice the growing importance of computers and technology in information dissemination and gathering. However, the explosive trend towards the use of information technology is only marginally apparent in present forensic practice. It is well known among forensic programs that electronic means can be used to gather evidence for presentation in events such as debate, persuasive speaking or informative speaking (Bartanen, 1993; Freeley, 1996). Nonetheless, tournament forensic performances remain largely unaffected by this technology. Little is seen of this technology inside competitive rounds.

Recognizing the growing significance of information technology and its potential relevance to forensics practices, the Miami University forensics program sought to integrate this technology into a forensic event termed "electronic extemporaneous speaking." Extemporaneous speaking is a public speaking event designed to challenge students' research, organization, critical thinking, and speaking skills by asking them to select among three proposed questions about significant current events and construct a seven minute speech with only 30 minutes of preparation time. In conventional extemp events, competitors may utilize files created at their home school composed of selected cuttings from major magazines and newspapers. In electronic extemp, the paper and file folders of clippings are replaced with live internet access to published news databases. The purpose of this paper is to elaborate the results of using electronic extemp. This analysis is organized around four main points: 1) preparation for electronic extemp, 2) event operation, 3) participant reaction, and 4) post event analysis by forensic staff.

PREPARATION FOR ELECTRONIC EXTEMP

Preparation for electronic extemp began with discussion of the description of the event for the tournament invitation mailed out in August for a mid-October tournament date. The following description was included in the tournament invitation:

EXPERIMENTAL EVENT: Electronic Extemp

This event is designed to challenge a student's limited preparation speaking skills in relation to computer technology. It is our belief that such technology is becoming an increasingly relevant part of public speaking preparation in professional life. The event will be run just like regular extemp (30 min. prep time and 7 min. speaking time), but the students will rely on the electronic full text database known as LEXIS/NEXIS for retrieving evidence and support for the speech instead of newspaper and magazine clipping files.

Information on using LEXIS/NEXIS is provided in this invitation. There will be approximately 15 PCs and 15 Macintoshes available for student use in this event. Student preferences will be accommodated as much as possible. (Sesquicentennial invitation, 1996)

In the tournament invitation, a LEXIS/NEXIS handout was included listing the command terms for LEXIS/NEXIS and sample searches.

An explanation of LEXIS/NEXIS is appropriate for full comprehension of the electronic extemp event. LEXIS/NEXIS is a specialized electronic database that is commercially available through various means of the internet. The service is distinctive in that it provides full text access to a number of local, state, national, and international newspapers. It also provides full text access to law reviews, medical journals, court decisions, government documents, magazines, television news show transcripts, and professional journals. It is one of the more comprehensive full text database services available at present. The potential effectiveness of electronic extemp is significantly affected by the power of an internet database retrieval system.

Initial inquiries were made at our university library about whether existing LEXIS connections in the library could be expanded to cover our competitors. The library was reluctant to pursue this option given the strict terms of the LEXIS contract maintained by the university. …

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