Author: Boyun Kim
The switch to remote teaching due to COVID-19 brought about the rise of many tools. Discord, used primarily for gaming functions, increasingly began to be used by students for classes. As instructors, many of us remember students in Zoom chats asking, “Is there a discord for this class?” followed by another student responding with a link. Those unfamiliar with the platform may have followed the link and found it confusing and difficult. Others may have taken up the technology and tried implementing it with some success or failure.
Even after COVID-19, Discord is here to stay. Following three years of remote learning, many universities offer hybrid or online classes, and flipped classroom is gaining increasing popularity among instructors as a method to promote active learning. At the same time, students have spent three years of their life in a remote lifestyle. They are accustomed to using Discord for school and with friends. We have an environment where Discord can be an excellent tool for promoting accessibility, community building, and active learning.
Below, I try to make Discord less daunting, outlining what it is, why it can be helpful for pedagogy, and what to watch out for. I finish with some tips and guidelines for creating your own Discord channel.
Discord is a primary chat platform for online gaming communities. It enhances connectivity by allowing synchronous and asynchronous communication through chat and live functions (Barnad 2021; Banson and Hardin 2022; Johnson and Salter 2022; Heinrich, Thomas, and Kahu 2022). The biggest strength of Discord is that it is less formal. Unlike email or Slack, students have found it more familiar and forthcoming for interactions among themselves and professors. It does not require high computer specs and is available with the web browser without installing the software. Heinrich et al.(2022) have found that it is preferred to other platforms for community building.
So why would an instructor want to create their own Discord, rather than leave it to the students? Here are some reasons:
Canvas, emails, Slack, and other methods of communication work fine, but it does not provide the same level of accessibility that Discord does. Students can reach you better, and instructors can reach the students more easily, too. This accessibility allows for better communication of announcements, course materials, and additional resources. Studies have found that Discord is indeed a user-friendly and accessible platform when compared to other options (Heinrich, Thomas, and Kahu 2022; Odinokaya et al. 2021).
- Quality of information:
Leaving students to create and maintain a Discord server on their own can lead to some problems, one of which is susceptibility to misinformation. In a statistics class I was teaching, someone in a student-made Discord started using the term “salience” in place of “significance” when explaining the solutions to a question on the assignment. More than a quarter of students’ assignments used the wrong term, which became a problem as the class was an intro-level class introducing students to statistical concepts and applications.
Another problem that a student-only Discord server is that it may lack inclusivity. Instructors can design and step in to make Discord servers more accommodating, inviting students from all backgrounds to ask questions and get answers freely. This becomes important because Discord lends itself to the potential dangers of toxicity in online gaming communities such as Reddit or other Discord channels (Johnson and Salter 2022). Often, students may not even be aware of underlying problems in their contribution. Johnson and Salter bring up an example of a popular internet meme, pepe the frog. A student had posted a pepe the frog meme on the server, which has a white supremacist backdrop. In this particular example, the instructor turned the situation into a learning experience with a discussion and a co-creation of a classroom agreement to refrain from using memes in the channel.
The Discord setting can also be overwhelming and backfire when other students feel left out of the discussions because of problematic content that the instructor lets slide or even simply because of technological difficulties (Banson and Hardin, 2022). Banson and Hardin also identify reasons why students can feel underwhelmed, usually because their questions or comments feel ignored, decreasing students’ willingness to participate in Discord discussions.
- Encouraging Co-work and Discouraging Academic Dishonesty:
Discord makes it easier for students to share work among themselves. While this can positively contribute to students working together, it also runs the risk of lending way to what may appear to be academic dishonesty (Banson and Hardin 2022), requiring instructors to give clear guidelines for what pertains to co-work.
Hence, a certain level of instructor intervention would be desirable to maximize the benefits of using Discord in a classroom setting. Below are some tips and helpful links to get you started.
If you decided to set up a discord for your class, here’s a link to help you set it up. It even has a sample template that you can use. Applying it as is, though, does not address some of the problems that Discord inherently has, and there are some decisions and adaptations you will need to make.
The first thing to do once your Discord is set up, you should set up a set of rules for the Discord channel. Discord itself has been trying to come up with remedies to the toxic technocultures that have existed on its platform and come up with its community guidelines. You can start from the community guidelines that are already provided since it explicitly rejects problematic behaviors, such as harassment and hate speech. But you can and should add other elements that customize your channel for a classroom setting, such as explicitly stating that “the discord channel is an extension of the classroom” or guidelines for what counts as academic collaboration versus academic dishonesty. While explicitly setting norms for the channel helps cut out some of the misbehaviors that instructors are most afraid of in using game-based technology such as Discord, there are a few ways to help consolidate the norms:
- Set up the server so that the students immediately see the rules for the channel. You can now set up the servers so that the students must first agree to the rules before they can DM or post in the channels. (The links are slightly different now, but here’s a guide to rules screening)
- Put the rules in the #welcome-and-rules channel for seeing later. Ensure students cannot write in this channel so that it will not be pushed up.
(Also consider co-creating the rules with the students once the term starts)
- Make sure that the welcome messages for students entering the server will not be in the rules channel.
- Attribute roles (which would allow students to see other pages) based on the emoji reactions to rules to create a buy-in effect (a.k.a. Use reaction roles on rules)
- Make server nicknames available and request students to use their real names for the server.
(Students can technically be anonymous in the channel by opting to use other screennames)
You would also want to determine the function of the Discord channel. Will you use it for submitting homework? Will it be used for in-class discussions? Will there be a separate Q&A page for off-hours? Will you use it as a repository for different resources? Do you aim to create a community for students, allowing them to chat among themselves?
If you use Discord only as an alternative office space, it may be easier to organize and manage. But that may come at a cost of the community. Without space to share their opinions, discussions, and possibly daily lives among themselves, you may be curtailing one of the biggest strengths of Discord, encouraging student interactions. The latter option, though, requires more management and monitoring on the part of the instructor. It gives more freedom to the students to discuss, make comments, and often also post memes. Unless the instructor is very literate in memes and internet cultures, they may risk letting potentially offensive language slide, overwhelming other students and curbing their willingness to participate in class discussions. On the other hand, the students may also find Discord underwhelming if they do not feel seen. Having too many pages where students are expecting your response can backfire if you cannot respond to them all. Here are some tips about creating and managing pages:
- Create clear labels based on functions. Make sure they do not overlap to avoid confusion.
- Differentiate channels where you will directly respond to and those where students are building community.
- If there are sections, creating section-based pages can help students familiarize themselves with other students they actually meet in smaller groups.
- Consider familiarizing yourself with some common slang and emojis students use on Discord. Be prepared to intervene (even if later!) if discussions go off topic or offensive.
- Use direct messaging to your comfort level. While it can be a direct line of communication between you and the students, it can also be overwhelming for you as an instructor. Setting clear boundaries of when they can expect a response from you (ex. Weekdays, 9AM to 6 PM) can help make it manageable.
And voila, that’s all you need to know to get started with your own Discord server. Good luck!
Banson, Justice, and Caroline D. Hardin. 2022. “Assessing Student Participation and Engagement Using Discord.” In 2022 IEEE 46th Annual Computers, Software, and Applications Conference (COMPSAC), 1299–1305. Los Alamitos, CA, USA: IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/COMPSAC54236.2022.00205.
Barnad, Barnad. 2021. “Discord to Support Synchronous Communication in Distance Learning:” In . Padang, Indonesia. https://doi.org/10.2991/assehr.k.210615.007.
Heinrich, Eva, Heather Thomas, and Ella R. Kahu. 2022. “An Exploration of Course and Cohort Communication Spaces in Discord, Teams, and Moodle.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, November, 107–20. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.7633.
Johnson, Emily K., and Anastasia Salter. 2022. “Embracing Discord? The Rhetorical Consequences of Gaming Platforms as Classrooms.” Computers and Composition 65 (September): 102729. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2022.102729.
Odinokaya, Maria Alexandrovna, Elena Alexandrovna Krylova, Anna Vladimirovna Rubtsova, and Nadezhda Ivanovna Almazova. 2021. “Using the Discord Application to Facilitate EFL Vocabulary Acquisition.” Education Sciences 11 (9): 470. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11090470.
Other helpful links:
Discord: the New Campus Quad: https://www.josieahlquist.com/discord-the-new-campus-quad/
If your students created a Discord channel: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2021/04/21/what-do-when-your-students-start-discord-server-your-class-opinion
Author’s “work office” Discord: https://discord.gg/ztBSxhZnTA (Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions!)