In today's hi-tech world of webcams and broadband internet, businessmen use video-conferencing to meet 'face to face' online. But they're not the only ones to benefit from this technology - students are taking part in online school-to-school debates.
With support from the Joint School Information Technology Association, the first Hong Kong and Inter-City Schools Real Time Debate on Net was held in 2001. That contest was between 16 local schools, but in its third year the competition began to include teams from outside the city.
In online debating, the debaters from both sides and the adjudicator are able to see and hear each other on screen even though they are in three separate locations.
Now in its ninth year, the competition includes teams from the mainland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, taking part in 272 debates across 11 categories.
Francis Chun Kam-sun, the executive secretary of the association, recalls when most local schools lacked the facilities to host online debates. In those days, debaters had to travel to St Bonaventure College and High School, one of the first schools to install the equipment.
'Now many schools have their own facilities and are able to take part. The maturing of broadband technology has enhanced the sound and visual quality of online debates,' Chun says.
'Currently we are debating with several cities from the same time zone. We hope to have more schools from different time zones in future debates.'
Ron Kordyban, the NET at Christ College, sees a social benefit to online debating, aside from its ability to help students improve their English and gain confidence in public speaking.
'After the debate, debaters from both sides will have a little chat about their life. This reminds me of pen-pals writing to find out more about each other's life on the other side of the globe,' he says.
Beth Lui Kit-yiu, a Form Six student from Christ College, has experience of both traditional and online debating. She says she is less nervous while debating on the internet because she does not have to meet the adjudicators and her opponents face to face.
'In online debating, I look into the camera to present my case. There is no immediate response, such as frowning or shaking of the head, from the adjudicators or my opponents. This takes some pressure off me,' she says.
But technical failures can make online debating a frustrating experience.
Samuel Lam Tsz-fung, a debater from Christ College, says: 'Overall, the network works fine. But occasional technical problems, such as blurred images and disrupted sound, are unavoidable. The debaters have to repeat their speeches again. This is frustrating and affects their performance.'
Fore more information on online debating, visit the association's website at www.jsit.net