A&T professor is taking debate online

Tonight, students can react to the presidential debate in real time.

People who pay attention to presidential debates are used to watching them on TV in the den with family members or maybe alongside friends at a corner tavern or civic club.

The next day, at work, they might gather round the water cooler with co-workers to replay the most telling moments and see who shares their perceptions.

But tonight, a professor at N.C. A&T is using social media to create a group setting online, where participants can react as the debate unfolds.

New-media expert Kim Smith will host the online equivalent of a conference call in which his students — and anyone else who wants — can comment live on the last presidential debate of the 2012 campaign.

“Now we’re able to do the analysis in real time as it happens,” said Smith, who teaches classes at A&T in new media and society, minorities and the mass media, and multimedia journalism. “I’m really interested in seeing if it gets any public traction outside the university.”

The event is made possible by the “CoveritLive” website, which creates virtual “rooms” for people who want to watch an event together and text about it in a moderated format.

Smith got the idea of bringing his students together online for debate reaction last school year, during the Republican presidential candidate debates of the primary season.

“I was trying to figure out a way to engage students in talking about what was going on,” he said of the search that led him to www.coveritlive.com. “I wanted to use it as a way to promote interest in politics, education and debate.”

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.

Mason said she found that particularly enlightening.

Smith serves as moderator, editing comments to improve spelling and grammar, and filtering the remarks to make sure they are germane and not offensive.

The group’s verdict last week? All of the 35 or so participants said the president won handily.

Admittedly, Smith said, that’s about what you’d expect from people at a historically black school where many lean Democratic, reviewing the performance of the nation’s first African American president.

But tonight, who knows? It all depends, Smith said, on who shows up.

(c)2012 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)
Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at www.news-record.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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