He gave students in his various classes a few points’ extra credit if they logged into the GOP debates and, in recent weeks, the first two between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

Student Kimberly Mason said she gained a better appreciation of what was being said and what it meant in a political context.

“It’s very interesting because it allows you to see what others have to say,” said Mason, a junior in the journalism and mass communications program.

“It really did help me to understand.”

Like a lot of things involving social media, the online version of group debate-watching has a lot in common with the traditional format, but there’s a twist.

In a live group setting, people might react and make comments, but they also might be shouted down by others who disagreed or who just wanted to listen to the candidates without interruption.

A teacher could assign his students to watch the debate at home and talk about it the following day in class. But there are always students who hang back in class because they are shy or think they aren’t eloquent enough, Smith said.

Participants seem to chime in more readily from the relative anonymity of their dining-room table or dorm room, typing out comments that don’t prevent anybody from hearing the candidates, Smith said.

Mason said she really enjoyed the convenience of streaming the debate on her laptop computer, then using her traditional desktop to type and send comments to the group discussion.

And for last week’s debate, Smith also invited several other professors to sit in as online panelists, one an expert in speech who texted about the meaning of the candidates’ inflections, word use and body language.