Product Review of Discord
Discord is a video, voice, and text messaging and communication platform available on nearly any internet-connected device. Discord was originally built as a way for video game fans/players to communicate, but over time it has developed into a social network hub where people can join certain groups/communities based on interest. When signing up for Discord, users can join or create what Discord calls “servers.” While this term might seem technical or intimidating, servers can be thought of as groups or spaces. In an education setting, educators will likely want to create a server for each class that they have. Each server can (and should) be set up so that learners must be invited to join. Learners and educators can then interact in a number of ways: chatting in rooms, posting media, or joining video/audio calls or meetings. Discord currently allows up to 50 participants in a live video meeting, which should be enough for most educators. During these sessions, educators and learners can share their screens. Educators have the needed controls to mute or remove participants. It’s also possible to have Discord read aloud text messages, which will help ensure equitable access to information in chats.
Discord promotes its attention to safety, community, and belonging; along these lines, it doesn’t position itself as a typical social network but as a service for clubs and communities. Most notably, Discord doesn’t begin with a big public feed for learners to scroll through. Instead, users are invited to explore and join different communities/servers — each with a different focus, community, and moderation style. Still, like with any social media service, it’s possible for learners to access questionable or inappropriate groups (if they adjust their age and settings), including adult content, so digital citizenship support will be paramount.
Educators can use Discord as an asynchronous hub of learning and communication and a synchronous instructional tool. It’ll work particularly well for remote learning scenarios, flipped classrooms, and school clubs/programs; it can be a place for instruction, for knowledge sharing, or just for hanging out, depending on your goals. Discord has features and controls that educators frequently use in other conferencing platforms, such as screen sharing, text chat, videoconferencing, and the ability to mute or remove learners.
What truly sets Discord apart from other tools is its persistence. Once learners are in the educator’s Discord, they’ll be able to browse any existing channels and content (including text and media) and pop in and out of rooms to participate in scheduled or impromptu conferences. Persistent channels can be set up based on purpose or topic. For example, educators may have a channel with links to a form for learners to turn in homework, one for important dates, and another for course materials like links and pictures. Other channels might be just for fun, where learners can post memes or discuss what they’re reading. While Discord is not as robust with classroom-specific features as something like Google Classroom or Schoology, a creative educator could turn Discord into a highly functional platform for learning.
The trick with Discord is that it’ll take a bit more classroom management and prep to make sure it’s a great experience for everyone. In addition to making sure to set norms and expectations around behavior and participation, educators should be mindful of how learners prefer to communicate, whether through text, video, or audio. Camera-shy learners might typically be quiet during video and voice conversations but find participating with text much more comfortable. Regardless of what options learners choose, it’s easy for everyone to see, hear, or read everyone’s contributions. Better still, the text conversations (which can include links and images) will be preserved indefinitely, making it easy to process what was discussed last week or last month. It isn’t possible to replay audio or video contributions, though, so educators may want to paraphrase critical contributions made by learners in these formats in the text channels. This’ll archive things and affirm learners’ contributions. Paraphrasing/summarizing learner work could also be a good formative assessment opportunity.
One note: Many learners will likely already have a Discord account. Before having them join, remind them that they should use a school-appropriate name. Educators might also consider having Discord-savvy learners help their peers get up to speed.
The ability to manage live instruction and asynchronous learning from one platform will be a huge draw for many educators. With some creative application of the platform, educators could also use Discord to store and organize learning materials as well as archive learning experiences. Learners, who might already be using Discord or be familiar with it, will likely find the experience less frustrating than stripped-down platforms designed specifically for schools (which tend to feel sterile and stifling). Further, learners will appreciate the ability to participate in asynchronous and synchronous discussions, and channels allow this communication to be archived by topic.
Educators should be aware that there’ll be a learning curve, though, specifically around how to set up and moderate a server. Educators will need to get very granular with permissions for each channel on their server (e.g., a small-group channel may allow only certain learners, or an announcement channel might restrict learners to viewing vs. contributing). Fortunately, there are many helpful guides and tutorials on Discord’s website, and once things are set up, you’re good to go. Thankfully, Discord is also leaning more and more into the education space, and now provides educators with a handy guide to get started with their first server, which includes a template that educators can try out and modify. This alleviates some of the past frustrations educators faced trying to tune what was primarily a tool for gaming to education purposes.
Overall User Consensus About the App
With some creative setup, educators can organize a truly seamless, authentic learning space online. Learners will love using something familiar.
Curriculum and Instruction
It’s a useful tool for facilitating and extending learning, especially when learning remotely/virtually, and for flipped classrooms and after-school clubs.
The website has plenty of helpful information, guides, and tutorials. Communities can range from positive and productive to toxic.