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Pros: Manage learning materials in one place. Communicate via video, audio, text, or screen sharing.
Cons: Possible exposure to adult content. Students might be more distracted. Requires proper setup.
Bottom Line: With some creativity and moderation, this student-loved messaging alternative to Google and Microsoft could be a key extension of your classroom.
Teachers 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 teachers frequently use in other conferencing platforms, such as screen sharing, text chat, videoconferencing, and the ability to mute or remove students.
What truly sets Discord apart from other tools is its persistence. Once students are in the teacher'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, teachers may have a channel with links to a form for students 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 students 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 teacher 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, teachers should be mindful of how students prefer to communicate, whether through text, video, or audio. Camera-shy students might typically be quiet during video and voice conversations but find participating with text much more comfortable. Regardless of what options students 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 teachers may want to paraphrase critical contributions made by students in these formats in the text channels. This'll archive things and affirm students' contributions. Paraphrasing/summarizing student work could also be a good formative assessment opportunity.
One note: Many students will likely already have a Discord account. Before having them join, remind them that they should use a school-appropriate name. Teachers might also consider having Discord-savvy students help their peers get up to speed.
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, teachers will likely want to create a server for each class that they have. Each server can (and should) be set up so that students must be invited to join. Students and teachers 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 teachers. During these sessions, teachers and students 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 students 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 students to access questionable or inappropriate groups (if they adjust their age and settings), including adult content, so digital citizenship support will be paramount.
The ability to manage live instruction and asynchronous learning from one platform will be a huge draw for many teachers. With some creative application of the platform, teachers could also use Discord to store and organize learning materials as well as archive learning experiences. Students, 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, students will appreciate the ability to participate in asynchronous and synchronous discussions, and channels allow this communication to be archived by topic.
Teachers should be aware that there'll be a learning curve, though, specifically around how to set up and moderate a server. Teachers will need to get very granular with permissions for each channel on their server (e.g., a small-group channel may allow only certain students, or an announcement channel might restrict students 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 teachers with a handy guide to get started with their first server, which includes a template that teachers can try out and modify. This alleviates some of the past frustrations teachers faced trying to tune what was primarily a tool for gaming to education purposes.