ACF Fall packet submission reform

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ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Knickerbocker glory » Mon Nov 07, 2016 1:35 am

Hi, I'm Bruce, and I was editor for the history in this year's ACF Fall set. The problem is, that I didn't so much edit history, as completely write it from scratch. The set contained 71/72 history questions; I personally wrote 50/51 of it. As for the other 21/21 that came from packets, for the vast majority of them (over 75%), I pretty much kept just the answer line and the giveaway, and rewrote the entire tossup. I don't want to offend anyone who submitted a packet, and there were plenty of good, impressive packets, but I have to say that the quality of submissions I received was, to put it very bluntly, abysmal. Many tossups had clues that were of no value at all (using vague clues, biographical clues, statistical clues--I pretty much saw everything on the list of "what makes a bad question"). Other than that, the biggest problem was difficulty. Most submissions were entirely too difficult for ACF Fall, and no amount of editing is going to turn a tossup on a super-hard answer with super-hard clues into a playable question. Because of these problems, the easiest thing for me to do was to simply throw out submissions and write questions from scratch, which was actually faster than trying to massage a bad tossup into a good one, and the end quality was probably better, too. Because of the bad questions, the editors were forced to write more questions themselves, which led to a larger workload for the editors and a rush to finish at the end.

In addition, forcing teams to write a packet discourages many of them from playing at all. A major purpose of ACF Fall is as an introduction for players new to collegiate quiz bowl (but may have high school experience). We want to lower the barrier to them playing quiz bowl in college as much as possible, hence the lower difficulty of ACF Fall, and the lower level of competition (I mean, while Eric Mukherjee or other top players could technically choose to play ACF Fall, almost none of them do because of a gentleman's agreement for not clubbing baby seals). Writing a packet is actually quite daunting for players, who have busy schoolwork and other extracurricular activities of their own, especially if they have not had any writing experience at all. Here at Cal, people often don't play ACF Fall simply because it asks them to put in extra work. Still others are reluctant to write. It's counterproductive to make teams which aren't good at writing write questions which mostly aren't used, and have many of them quit outright.

I thus propose a reform to the ACF Fall packet submissions. A few proposed replacements I have are:

1. ACF Fall gets rid of packet submission entirely. ACF Fall will be written by a team of experienced writers, a little like a housewrite, but with more oversight and more distributed. This is not too different from what happened this year--in addition to the original editors writing much of the set, we had a team including Will Alston and Rob Carson basically help rush-write large chunks of the set. We had 5 whole packets written by the editors, with large portions of "submissions" being editor-written too. It isn't much of a stretch.

2. ACF Fall raises the bar for teams that need to submit packets. We receive a lot of packets for ACF Fall. We receive more than we could possibly ever use. We could use fewer, but more high-quality packets. In the end, we almost use no packets written by newer players, only packets written by players with multiple years of writing experience. It sucks to write a packet, then have the editors simply toss the packet. If we made more experienced teams--teams with star high schoolers on it, teams who have upperclassmen members who've played a couple years of college quiz bowl already--submit a packet, then we'd end up with fewer, but better, submissions.

3. ACF Fall becomes a PADAWAN-style training ground for inexperienced writers. There's a lot of good writing talent in the community that goes untapped because a lot of people don't ever get the chance to write for an event because they aren't well-known enough. It would be a good way to simultaneously get lots of questions and let writers gain valuable experiences.
[Thanks to Ankit Aggarwal for this suggestion.]

It was really a pleasure to write a ton of questions for ACF Fall, but it definitely was way too much work for the timeframe, and things got a little rushed towards the end. I hope that by adopting one of the proposals I have above (or something that I haven't thought of yet--proposals welcomed!) that ACF Fall can be a better experience for editors and players alike.

Thoughts?
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by TylerV » Mon Nov 07, 2016 2:30 am

I haven't spent much time thinking about packet submission in general but I think an ACF Fall with packet submission remains better than an ACF Fall without. However, since it seems there are far more packets than there are rounds, I think it would make sense to allow schools to collaborate on with each other for one packet. My thought process behind this is explained in a hypothetical situation with State University A and Founding Father University C. If two teams worked together on one packet, instead of a half packet, you could still have the same number of full packets, albeit with one more team unable to play it, while having more eyes on the packet before it is submitted. I think this would be especially useful if Founding Father C had an experienced writer, while State Uni didn't, who could guide the entire process. This has the potential to create more work for one team but I think the overall result would be for the best.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by armitage » Mon Nov 07, 2016 2:31 am

3. ACF Fall becomes a PADAWAN-style training ground for inexperienced writers. There's a lot of good writing talent in the community that goes untapped because a lot of people don't ever get the chance to write for an event because they aren't well-known enough. It would be a good way to simultaneously get lots of questions and let writers gain valuable experiences.
This sentiment keeps popping up, not least in the thread two weeks ago, and I think it's a very good idea.

In fact, I was disappointed to have to turn away a number of good candidates last year, and in retrospect I think that I should have tried to incorporate all of them. So ACF Fall, in its current form, already has a mechanism in place by which it could transition to a submission/feedback tournament, if a few more mentors are added to the editing team. It seems like something to consider for next year.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Urech hydantoin synthesis » Mon Nov 07, 2016 2:31 am

Matt Weiner has said for a long time that ACF Fall needs to be moved to earlier in the year. If that were to happen, I think option 1 makes sense, and if option 1 is enacted, i think it would make sense to move ACF Fall earlier in the year.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Rococo A Go Go » Mon Nov 07, 2016 3:00 am

GOODCOMPANY88 wrote:3. ACF Fall becomes a PADAWAN-style training ground for inexperienced writers. There's a lot of good writing talent in the community that goes untapped because a lot of people don't ever get the chance to write for an event because they aren't well-known enough. It would be a good way to simultaneously get lots of questions and let writers gain valuable experiences.
[Thanks to Ankit Aggarwal for this suggestion.]
I think this is a very good idea and preferable to the status quo, and seems the best option of the alternatives presented. Getting new writers into the community is important, especially if they start early, and ACF Fall (which doesn't require people to write until their 3rd year of collegiate quizbowl) might be less effective currently than a PADAWAN-style event.

I also don't think it's a bad idea to question the need for packet-submission for both Fall and Regionals. Do people actually become writers because they were required to submit packets after having played two years of quizbowl already? It seems like a lot of players come out of high school with either writing experience or the desire to write to improve, and if they don't, they learn it well before packet-sub requirements kick in. I understand that it would be very hard to produce Nationals without packet submission, and a potential reason for retaining packet-sub at lower levels would be to prepare teams for that. The required submission for Fall prepares teams for writing Regionals packets, and both Fall and Regionals prepare teams for submitting packets to Nationals. If Fall and Regionals abandoned their current formats, how many teams would not have any writing experience prior to their ACF Nationals packets? Would this actually negatively impact the tournament considering many, many teams who attend Nationals should be able to submit a decent packet (and since it's likely the rest of the teams weren't all going to have been transformed into quality writers by submitting two or three packets for prior tournaments anyway).
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Nov 07, 2016 9:28 am

I think packet submission needs to be kept for Regionals for the simple reason that it's become a Nationals qualifier tournament. If you're an experienced team that plans on attending Nationals, you know you're going to have to write a packet, and I do not see what is wrong with asking you to contribute. If you're a less experienced team that isn't as sure about qualifying, and may not have the experience needed to submit a quality packet, then that's different. The "submission required" bar should probably be higher and made more in line with the D1/D2 distinction for NAQT i.e. maybe something like "if members of your team qualified for Nationals at last year's Regionals, you are required to submit a packet to Regionals." This way, Columbia A would have to submit, but Columbia C would not. ACF Regionals gets enough packets already, so I doubt the volume decrease would be too devastating.

As for Fall, I think the PADAWAN style idea is good, and would also help move Fall into a better slot - though we need to be careful about this because some schools like Chicago start really late. Frankly, I think it's pretty ideal if the schedule can do something like novice/ Fall / EFT / regular set (Penn Bowl, TIT, etc) so that there's something of a natural "ramp up" in difficulty. Maybe this would let something like a regular-plus open (i.e. BARGE level) take a late-in-fall-season slot, so people can get a full sampling of many levels of quizbowl if they so desire?
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Aaron's Rod » Mon Nov 07, 2016 12:52 pm

Urech hydantoin synthesis wrote:Matt Weiner has said for a long time that ACF Fall needs to be moved to earlier in the year. If that were to happen, I think option 1 makes sense, and if option 1 is enacted, i think it would make sense to move ACF Fall earlier in the year.
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:As for Fall, I think the PADAWAN style idea is good, and would also help move Fall into a better slot - though we need to be careful about this because some schools like Chicago start really late.
I agree with Will--this would hurt schools on quarters/"trimesters" a lot, and it would hurt small schools on that schedule even more. Schools that I can think of that are on that schedule include: UChicago, Northwestern, Carleton, Lawrence, Michigan, Dartmouth, a lot of the UCs, Stanford, probably more that I don't know of.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by setht » Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:30 pm

I'm going to disagree with various people here and suggest that ACF Fall should not move to a PADAWAN model.

I agree that there's a lot of untapped writing talent out there, and that a PADAWAN model would be better suited than the current ACF Fall model to identifying and nurturing those talents. I'm not sure how much of the current ACF Fall model people are willing to abandon to accommodate a PADAWAN model. For many reasons, I don't think it's possible to assemble a PADAWAN-model tournament from ~68 team-written packets. I think it would instead require that interested writers sign up to write for ACF Fall, then editors cobble together packets by writers at different sites. It would also require placing more distributional constraints on the writers, or else tasking the editors with writing a lot of questions with a wildly unbalanced distribution.

More importantly, my understanding is that the current model of ACF Fall is to recruit and nurture new editors. For any given tournament I think it's possible to focus on nurturing new writers, or it's possible to focus on nurturing new editors, but trying to do both in the same tournament is madness. (Madness I say!) And I think it makes the most sense (and is of greatest benefit to the community) to have ACF Fall continue to focus on training new editors ahead of new writers, and then add in a separate PADAWAN-style writer-training project elsewhere in the calendar. (Which would presumably not be a formal ACF event, wouldn't have the same expectations as ACF Fall, etc.)

On that note, I think Bruce's proposal 2 is superior to 1 and 3, because it allows ACF Fall to continue to serve as a training ground for rising young editors.

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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Nov 10, 2016 1:12 pm

setht wrote: More importantly, my understanding is that the current model of ACF Fall is to recruit and nurture new editors. For any given tournament I think it's possible to focus on nurturing new writers, or it's possible to focus on nurturing new editors, but trying to do both in the same tournament is madness. (Madness I say!) And I think it makes the most sense (and is of greatest benefit to the community) to have ACF Fall continue to focus on training new editors ahead of new writers, and then add in a separate PADAWAN-style writer-training project elsewhere in the calendar. (Which would presumably not be a formal ACF event, wouldn't have the same expectations as ACF Fall, etc.)
This is a fair point, but it requires that all of the new editors have somebody experienced and knowledgeable in the categories they're editing guide them, if you will. From my understanding, that only happened with some categories in this tournament, and not with others.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by setht » Thu Nov 10, 2016 3:32 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:
setht wrote: More importantly, my understanding is that the current model of ACF Fall is to recruit and nurture new editors. For any given tournament I think it's possible to focus on nurturing new writers, or it's possible to focus on nurturing new editors, but trying to do both in the same tournament is madness. (Madness I say!) And I think it makes the most sense (and is of greatest benefit to the community) to have ACF Fall continue to focus on training new editors ahead of new writers, and then add in a separate PADAWAN-style writer-training project elsewhere in the calendar. (Which would presumably not be a formal ACF event, wouldn't have the same expectations as ACF Fall, etc.)
This is a fair point, but it requires that all of the new editors have somebody experienced and knowledgeable in the categories they're editing guide them, if you will. From my understanding, that only happened with some categories in this tournament, and not with others.
Sure, it means that the job of overseeing ACF Fall editing will generally require more than one senior editor. That requirement would still be there for a PADAWAN-style writer-training tournament, so it's not like one option uses fewer senior-editor resources than the other. Actually, if I had to guess, I would say that overseeing a smaller number of new editors is probably less work than overseeing a larger number of new writers. So I guess I would say both options probably require the same number of senior editors, but continuing with the current ACF Fall model probably means less work for those senior editors than switching to a PADAWAN model.

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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Benin Rebirth Party » Thu Nov 10, 2016 3:55 pm

GOODCOMPANY88 wrote:2. ACF Fall raises the bar for teams that need to submit packets.
If this is the case ACF Fall could also turn back into taking full packets. Surely there are 15 teams who play ACF Fall that can submit a packet that isn't complete garbage.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Gautam » Thu Nov 10, 2016 11:10 pm

I'll put my veteran ACF member hat on:

I disagree that it is somehow cumbersome for teams to participate in Fall, or that a bunch of teams are sitting out because they cannot write a packet for submission. We have seen participation double in the last 8 years, with steady increases every year. In most of those years, teams were required to submit full packets and we still saw growth in teams attending. Between 2014-16 we made it much easier for teams to participate:
  • In 2014, on which I worked with Gaurav, we expected many more submissions than we could handle. We cut down the requirement by 50% (submit half packets instead of full) and drastically reduced the submission burden.
  • For 2016 we changed the packet requirements to say teams with at least TWO people who have been playing for a while should submit packets. This made many more teams packet optional.
These measures are drastic compared to the previous requirements, and they have not resulted in a flood of new teams playing Fall. There is growth, but no magical hockey-stick-curve like growth... we're at a steady 5-7%. This tells me that getting rid of packet submission will not result in tens of new teams signing up and that it could hurt ACF's model of nurturing editors, as Seth put it.

All that said, I think I've shown that there's a variety of things we're trying to make the volume of submissions easier for editors to handle. Simultaneously, we've been easing the requirements, with the hope that only requiring more experienced teams to submit packets will result in better quality submissions. We could go a bit further to make it easier for new editors. I think many ACF folks are listening to the suggestions in this thread.

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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by eliza.grames » Fri Nov 11, 2016 6:12 pm

I think part of the reason teams submit bad packets is because there's an expectation that the editors aren't going to use submissions anyways. A revise-and-resubmit approach might address this problem since it places the burden of work back onto the teams instead of on the editors. If a team submits an abysmal packet, the editors can reject it, but the team gets a second chance to rewrite it and submit a revised version (which might get rejected again if it's still atrocious). You wouldn't need to give detailed feedback and could just say it's rejected because it's poorly written or because it's too difficult. Knowing there's a possibility of packet rejection would probably motivate some teams to work harder on their questions and you'd get higher quality submissions the first round.

For what it's worth, I think option 2 could potentially reduce the number of teams that play ACF Fall. If you're only offering packet discounts to select teams, that makes it more difficult for schools with small or non-existent budgets to play. Taking a revise-and-resubmit approach would make it so that everyone is still eligible for packet discounts, but only if they submit an acceptable packet and/or make an effort to revise it up to higher standards.

This isn't really a serious suggestion, but what about a packet of shame? A compilation of the worst questions submitted to ACF Fall would be amusing to play.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by mozzarella » Sat Nov 12, 2016 8:56 am

eliza.grames wrote:A revise-and-resubmit approach might address this problem since it places the burden of work back onto the teams instead of on the editors
100% agree! This was my first time writing a packet, and I would love feedback or criticism or whatever the kids give these days. It's hard to write a good question when there's no resource available for review, other than just hoping it's as good as the ones in the packets you've played. This way, teams get practice writing, understanding question goals, and are forced to do a little research on the way. Plus, it means other teams are playing better packets, and the editors are not working their butts off to create packets from scratch, to boot.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by bradleykirksey » Sat Nov 12, 2016 9:21 pm

mozzarella wrote:
eliza.grames wrote:A revise-and-resubmit approach might address this problem since it places the burden of work back onto the teams instead of on the editors
100% agree! This was my first time writing a packet, and I would love feedback or criticism or whatever the kids give these days. It's hard to write a good question when there's no resource available for review, other than just hoping it's as good as the ones in the packets you've played. This way, teams get practice writing, understanding question goals, and are forced to do a little research on the way. Plus, it means other teams are playing better packets, and the editors are not working their butts off to create packets from scratch, to boot.
I would definitely like to echo this sentiment. I've been submitting tossups to ACF for various tournaments since 2011 and I haven't had a single one used once. I've never thought of myself as a bad writer necessarily, but if there's something I need to work on, I wouldn't have any idea. I understand it's got to be extremely hard to give feedback to 68 teams, but if 97% of the history is unusable, that's extremely unlikely to change without something structural changing, just waiting for everyone to organically get better. I think I've gotten better from the little bit of feedback I've gotten from Chris and Travis and others in the local circuit. But I wonder, if other writers from other schools aren't getting that, if there's ever going to be a lot progress from your 3% usability rate. And I'm saying that as someone who's been in the circuit for a bit. I'm sure that a lot of new clubs probably have less idea than we do.

I'm not sure if changing Fall away from packet submission will make the problem any better when Regionals comes. I suspect that most quiz bowlers don't write too many tossups outside of ACF tournaments, and you're just pushing the problem off to a more important tournament.

Eliza, that really does sound like a fun suggestion, even if it's not practical.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by eliza.grames » Sun Nov 13, 2016 11:11 am

mozzarella wrote:
eliza.grames wrote:A revise-and-resubmit approach might address this problem since it places the burden of work back onto the teams instead of on the editors
100% agree! This was my first time writing a packet, and I would love feedback or criticism or whatever the kids give these days.
To clarify, this is not at all what I'm suggesting - if you want feedback on your questions that's the PADAWAN approach. There are plenty of resources out there for how to write good questions and the burden should not be on the editors to point out what is wrong with each question they get.

To make it more clear what I'm proposing, here is a choose your own adventure version of revise-and-resubmit:

1. You sit down to write a packet for ACF Fall. You're really busy with school and also don't have much experience writing questions. You can either plan ahead and start your packet early, solicit feedback from experienced members of your team who aren't playing the tournament, and read guides on how to write good questions. Or, you can just slap together a bunch of clues in a vaguely pyramidal order and say "eh, the editors probably won't use my questions anyways so I'll just submit whatever I come up with by the deadline." What do you do?
a) Work really hard to put together a good packet. (go to step 3)
b) Write a packet that doesn't represent your best work and is probably abysmal. (go to step 2)

2. Uh oh, you wrote an abysmal packet! As the editors read your packet, they make confused facial expressions and question why they signed up for this because fixing your biographical clues is irritating. They also don't understand why you would toss up an obscure member of the Tuatha de Danaan for ACF Fall. The editors send your packet back and in their email they either say "really? biographical clues? this is bad" or "this is too hard for this tournament but please write a side tournament of all Irish mythology." That's it. That's all the feedback you get and now you're not sure what to do. You could either say "screw it, I give up" and not get a discount for ACF Fall but still be allowed to play. You could also look for resources to learn to write better questions and work really hard on revising your packet to get it up to the point where you're proud of it and you think it could be acceptable to play unedited at every ACF Fall site. Or maybe you could revise the packet a bit to take out the biographical clues, but choosing new answerlines is hard and you're still gonna submit that tossup on Ogma. What do you do?
a) Screw it. (go to step 6)
b) Work really hard. (go to step 4)
c) Submit that tossup on Ogma. (go to step 5)

3. The editors open your packet and see that at least 50% of the questions are usable with minor revisions. They smile because you submitted a decent packet and accept it because it lightens their workload.

4. The editors open your revised packet and are pleased to see that you've removed all your biographical clues and replaced them with actual important things and you also toned down the craziness of your answerlines to an appropriate difficulty. The accept your packet because 50% of questions are now usable with minor revisions.

5. Your submission is still abysmal. The editors shake their heads and reject your packet. You don't get another chance to resubmit because at this point your questions make the editors want to cry. You don't get a discount but can still play the tournament.

6. You can still play the tournament, but you don't get a discount because you didn't submit a usable packet.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by mozzarella » Sun Nov 13, 2016 4:39 pm

eliza.grames wrote: To clarify, this is not at all what I'm suggesting - if you want feedback on your questions that's the PADAWAN approach.
I might jumped the gun a bit. I don't expect sentence-by-sentence critique, but definitely would like to know what I wrote/phrased/created wrong and given a sot to improve.
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Re: ACF Fall packet submission reform

Post by Aaron's Rod » Sun Nov 13, 2016 5:48 pm

eliza.grames wrote:The editors send your packet back and in their email they either say "really? biographical clues? this is bad" or "this is too hard for this tournament but please write a side tournament of all Irish mythology." That's it. That's all the feedback you get and now you're not sure what to do.
Consider that for young/new/generally inexperienced teams and writers who are completely clueless, even very brief suggestions like that may be helpful.
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