Debate tournaments, especially big ones, can be messy events, when it comes to disbursement of information, be it the Tab or Motion for the round, or other major announcements. Especially with all the intense pre-debate prep demanding people’s attention.
In many instances debaters find it difficult to properly note down their rooms, names of other teams and correct wording of the motion. Having information slides exacerbates the problem, especially if any word requires further clarification. Moreover, multiple running of the draw contributes to significant delays as well. Projector displays and oral announcements require the audience to be attentive all the time, which can be both inconvenient and stressful, and we always run the risk of someone missing out on an important announcement for any number of reasons, especially towards the end of the day when there is a rush to get back to the buses on time.
A recent development in the Bangladesh debate circuit has tackled these issues with ingenuity & pragmatism.
A project consisting of five developers, headed by Nazmus Sakib from Islamic University of Technology, Textab has been quite a success in its short stint in the local circuit, playing a substantial role in terms of distributing essential information to the relevant parties & ensuring the overall efficiency of the tournament.
TexTab ensures that each individual receives the information they need to know at the right time, and in case of announcements, allows them to stretch their memory to events that happened before that late night party started. Most importantly, it allows adjudication core and organizational committees greater flexibility at making adjustments to the schedule as the tournament progresses, since there remain no worries about people missing out on an announcement.
So how does it work?
TexTab is a personalized SMS-integrated debate tabulation system. When deployed, it sends text messages to each participant’s mobile phone via bundle SMS’s on their carrier. Currently the system sends three types of information – the draw for each round (Image 1), the motion for each round and any accompanying information slides (Image 2), and alerts (reporting notice and as such, Image 3). The system also offers custom masks, which means the name of the tournament can be the SMS transmitter’s ID.
In terms of compatibility the system operates seamlessly with Tournaman and Tabbie. The team is adept at running BP tournaments. However, the dearth of Asians or Australs format tournaments in this part of the world meant the development for 3v3 formats are still in their initial stages.
About the operations
The system consolidates three programs into one platform – the tabulation software, the TexTab data processor and the TexTab transmitter application. For the draw SMS, all three work together.
For motion and alert SMS, only the transmitter app is required. The steps are outlined in the illustration below:
For an example of time involved: In a 40-team tournament, time required between end of draw generation and SMS received in phones is 12 minutes on average.
Once recruited for a typical tournament, the TexTab team sets up the database and tab room beforehand. One assignment team consists of a Tab Director and two TexTab executives. The team takes care of all tabulation-related tasks of a tournament – from briefing and directing runners, coordinating with organizers and adjudication core and providing tab feedback, break summary and tabulation reports in the end. The approach is to allow the org.com to be able to completely outsource anything regarding tabulation to the team, and focus on more important things, like managing food & drinks, ensuring the debates run on time. It also reduces the burden on the organizational comities in terms of training the volunteers specifically for ballot and feedback form related tasks as well.
There are certain considerations in juxtaposing SMS with WiFi, such as – reliable internet connection and availability, costs, SIM cards and need for developing iOS and Android apps. There are plans to expand the system and cover alternative communication modes and platforms in future, with particular focus on WiFi based app in the works.
Still in its infancy of both development and operation, the software does have its hitches, however minor. Most of the issues are purely logistical. In some instances, the SMS went to the wrong person due to incorrect entry of the person’s mobile number, or that individual having swapped the team combinations from the ones originally submitted.
In a few other instances, SMS to some recipients were delayed by up to 15-20 minutes; this author received a long information slide on a gas deal during the Prime Minister Speech (Much obliged).
However, these are purely down to the connectivity and network quality of the local carriers; and were not faced by people who subscribe to better service packages within the same events.
So far, the system has been used successfully in two major local tournaments, the Dhaka University IV 2014 and the IUT IV 2014, both with more than 11 debate rooms with over 8 rounds of debate each, with no additional issues reported.
In terms of scaling up, the only concern remains for international tournaments due to some participants having limited or no access to a working SIM card.
However, that can be partially circumvented by them submitting one number per team/institute, allowing them access to all the announcements regarding the tournament.
The system has been tested to be reliable with carriers in a number of countries, so this remains a valid option for regional or national level tournaments. Realistically, a WiFi based app will need to be the default platform for the system to fully function on the international platform.
Message from the developers:
“The field of tabulation should evolve with the pace of technology and scale of tournaments. Investment is required to encourage young developers to create new methods in tab system, analysis and service. We designed TexTab as a model that changes the way tabulation is engaged intellectually and incentivizes creativity. As such, the TexTab system and service is a commercial one.
Our tab directors and executives are always excited to volunteer at tournaments where just the tabulation software is required, at no-cost. Subscribing to the full package of SMS-integrated TexTab, however, has its costs. We bill a fee which covers service- and SMS-charges. We are looking to try our system on a broader scope, to both cater to the needs of the tournaments, and to learn the specific requirements of participants and tailor our system to suit them better in the future.
We eagerly await feedback from the international community”- Nazmus Sakib, Developer, Textab.