Everything you need to know about using Discord in the classroom.
When you first log on to the Discord site or app, you'll see a colorful array of texts, quirky graphics, and cartoons. It might not immediately feel like a useful space for teaching and learning, but don't be fooled. What started as a way for gamers to talk, stream, and text, Discord is rapidly becoming a versatile hub with a plethora of other uses–from hosting virtual karaoke nights (yes, you read that right), book clubs, alumni groups, and more. Registered Discord users eclipsed 300 million in 2020, and the platform continues to grow in popularity.
If you're a tech-savvy teacher eager to organize your class (or at least parts of it) around an emerging platform, Discord may be what you're looking for.
Use these questions to help you find the information you need:
- What is Discord?
- How is Discord similar to and different from other social media platforms?
- What do people use it for primarily?
- Is it safe to use in classrooms?
- What settings can I use to make it as safe as possible?
- How do teachers use it in their classrooms?
- Does it offer anything different from Google Classroom or Zoom?
- Can I integrate Discord with Google Classroom or other LMS systems?
- What are some cool ways to use it for core subject classrooms?
What Is Discord?
Discord is a video, voice, and text messaging platform available on nearly any internet-connected device. Discord originally launched in 2015 as a way for video game fans and players to communicate, but over time it's developed into a social hub where people can create or join millions of public and private servers based on interest. Private servers, which are essentially small groups or communities, are moderated by their creator, who sets the rules. Within each server, Discord can host multiple channels to organize topics: Text and voice are the most common.
With this ability to create and moderate small communities, it's no surprise that teachers are now experimenting with Discord's potential to create classroom communities, support study groups, livestream class sessions (for remote teaching) and more. Discord has also launched Student Hubs, which require registration with school district email addresses and provide opportunities to connect with classmates and share servers.
How is Discord similar to and different from other social media platforms?
First of all, it looks and feels different. Discord isn't a typical social media platform along the lines of TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook, where users typically encounter and interact with algorithmically driven central content feeds. It also doesn't revolve around followers and likes. Some people say the interface is most similar to the business messaging app Slack because both are channel-based.
- Target audience: Compared to other social media sites, Discord users are younger–as of 2022, nearly two-thirds of users were between 16 and 34. That's why you might find that classroom application appeals to teenagers.
- You can talk! Within Discord servers, users can join voice channels and talk to each other in real time, which isn't a feature on other major social media platforms.
- No ads: Unlike most social media sites, Discord doesn't rely on paid advertisements for revenue. Instead, it offers premium subscription packages for features such as better streaming quality and custom emojis.
Like other social media sites, Discord users create customizable profiles and usernames. You can also create a friends list to send and receive private messages. Discord allows for media sharing, and it also has public and private groups similar to Facebook.
Here's another way to think about Discord: On other social media platforms, #hashtags are commonly used to organize ideas or find common content. On a Discord server, a channel is like a supercharged #hashtag, allowing for dedicated, interactive spaces aligned with a question, topic, or idea.
What do people use it for primarily?
As of March 2023, the most popular public servers were still dominated by game-based interests. But it does have a growing and diversified user base. When you log on to Discord to explore public servers, there are several main categories to choose from: gaming, music, education, science and tech, education, and entertainment as well as a feature called Student Hubs.
Millions of Discord users create and use private servers for groups of friends, which is where the platform's versatility provides customizable spaces for any type of social gathering, group, or community–classrooms included. Also, internet content creators and influencers consider it an invaluable tool to connect with fans.
Read this before introducing new classroom tech.
Is it safe to use in classrooms?
As with any tech tool, it's smart to understand the pros and cons related to student safety and privacy. And like any site where users post content, you'll find a range of material on the public servers—from light-hearted, to serious, to profane, and even pornographic.
But if you create a private, invite-only space for your students, you'll have options to make the experience safer for them. After all, you're the moderator and will be able to read, see, and hear the content that students post. It's a good idea to make sure you reinforce digital citizenship skills: If your server and channels are an extension of your classroom, the same policies and behavioral rules should apply.
What settings can I use to make it as safe as possible?
Discord launched AutoMod, which is a system of multiple content filters. For example, you can choose a filter for commonly flagged words in the categories of insults/slurs, sexual content, and extreme profanity. Or you can create your own customized filters. There's also a spam blocker, but that shouldn't be necessary in a private space.
How do teachers use it in their classrooms?
Teachers have discovered many ways to incorporate Discord into their classrooms. If you're going to give it a try, it's important to know what your goals are first, since a Discord server allows for a range of uses. Do you want to create a space for class discussions? Organize homework support? A space for student teams to collaborate on projects? Site administrators provide the following suggestions:
- Establish text channels to organize things like lessons, homework, or study groups. Your class server could contain text channels for asynchronous discussions in response to class assignments or general student questions or concerns.
- Use voice channels for both one-to-one and group discussions, or even to create office hours if students have questions outside of class hours.
- Host a real-time remote teaching environment through the Go Live streaming feature, where lessons can be shared with up to 50 people at a time.
- Consider the different roles and permissions within a server, which allow you to control how and what students can use to communicate. You'll need to dig into the details for each channel you create. For example, you may want to create a space for read-only notices, which would restrict students to viewing instead of contributing.
Check out the following video tutorials to continue learning how to set up classroom servers:
- How Discord Works in 148,000 Milliseconds or Less
- Student Hubs 101
- Discord for Teachers: Getting Started (longer tutorial)
Does it offer anything different from Google Classroom or Zoom?
As a system for classroom management, many teachers might find Google Classroom or Zoom simpler than Discord. Unlike Google Classroom, Discord isn't built for students to submit assignments, but it does possibly offer more versatility once you get the hang of the platform.
Like Google Classroom and Zoom, Discord allows teachers to stream class sessions through video. If you use Discord's text and voice channels, you might find that students take advantage of the communication style they feel more comfortable with, as teacher and blogger Mark Bresnan points out.
Unlike Google Classroom or Zoom, a text or voice channel can be front and center on Discord instead of placed off to the side on other platforms. Discord is also getting into the OpenAI game by integrating it into Clyde, the Discord bot, so there are ways you can add AI into the mix.
Get all the info you need about Google Classroom.
Can I integrate Discord with Google Classroom or other LMS systems?
Yes. If you choose to test out Discord and find that it works for your classroom instruction–and you want to use it with other platforms–there are ways to sync/link it to your LMS system of choice. This would allow for Google Classroom notification to appear on a Discord server, for example. Attempting this requires some technical skill, but it's possible!
What are some cool ways to use it for core subject classrooms?
- ELA: Host an asynchronous discussion about a text to encourage more participation. Use the AI-powered Clyde bot to create a summary of the discussion for the whole class.
- Math: Pose a problem to a group and let them discuss possible solutions. Embed hint videos to help them along.
- Science: Have groups collaborate on projects and share research. Students can schedule times to use the voice chat feature to coordinate and work together.
- Social studies: There are lots of history-inspired servers that you could explore and pull info from to share with students as interesting tidbits or points of discussion.