If students can get their audience to feel something, their chance of “success” rises dramatically.
We’ve all been there. Two students stand on one side of the screen, two students stand on the other. One student talks to the screen while the others fidget nervously until it’s their turn to stumble through what they couldn’t quite memorize.
Student presentations are painful. For them. For us. For judges.
Use the videos below to teach your students to deliver presentations that make their audience feel something.
Option 1: Make The Audience Feel Something About Themselves
Students often jump right into describing or selling the product/service.
This is the classic pitch mistake.
Students need to know their audience – their goals, their values, their struggles. The more they know about their audience, the easier it will be for them to bring the audience’s point of view to theirs. In the video below, Dallas Mavericks owner, and Shark Tank billionaire Mark Cuban shares how he sold Mavericks tickets when they were the worst team in the NBA.
Mark is not selling the basketball game. He is selling the feeling parents have when they create family memories at the basketball game.
Mark understand that his customers (parents) want to create memories with their children. And more importantly, the kind of memories the parents have with their parents. He convinces customers that a Mavericks game experience creates those lasting memories. Mark makes an emotional appeal to his audience’s nostalgia so they will feel something about themselves and buy his product.
Option 2: Make The Audience Feel Something About You
If your students want people involved, they can open up about themselves and weave their personal story into their presentation. If they are vulnerable, their audience begins to feel something.
This approach is about students finding something that is true about them that may also be true about their audience.
In the Shark Tank pitch below, a founder (Phil Lapuz) gets sharks tearing up tearing up – including Kevin O’Leary, who is the definition of a robotic investor!
Phil is vulnerable and authentic. He uses his own story to remind the sharks about the risks of starting a new company, something that each shark undoubtedly remembers and feels very intensely.
Help your students appeal to their audience’s emotions by:
Being vulnerable, and authentic
Identifying their audience’s values – what matters to them
Specifically link their product/service to those values
The audience is immediately compelled to act because they remember, they feel, and they believe. They empathize with the person pitching and with the product/service. Phil makes the sharks feel something about him so they will invest in his startup.
Option 3: Make The Audience Feel With You
Amy Cuddy’s video below is about imposter’s syndrome, which she felt and which many in the audience undoubtedly felt at one time or another. They feel Amy’s fear and angst. Because they remember, and feel, their fear and angst.
People clap during Amy’s talk, because they are celebrating her and what she is offering another young woman experiencing imposter syndrome. But they are also clapping because they recognize something in themselves.
Amy doesn’t just make her audience feel something about themselves.
She doesn’t just make her audience feel something about her.
She makes her audience feel with her. And in that moment, they will go wherever she wants to take them!
If students default to their normal Powerpoint presentation technique, the audience defaults to processing language. All their effort is spent decoding words into meaning, instead of feeling. Share these videos with your students to help them understand that great presentations make audiences feel something.
In upcoming posts, we will share lesson plans, quick slides, and a variety of other resources to keep your students engaged!
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So how did Dennis and his colleagues – Michael Harris, Director of the Miller School of Entrepreneurship, David Mayo, and Corey Pulido – grow their entrepreneurship program so quickly? And more generally…
How do Top 50 entrepreneurship schools get on, and stay on, that list?
To find out, we interviewed the leaders of several Top 50 programs so we could share their techniques with you.
Who We Interviewed
Below you’ll find a summary of what we learned during our interviews, as well as…
5 concrete steps you can take to grow your entrepreneurship program.
Step #1: Define Your Niche
Most of the successful entrepreneurship programs we interviewed did two things early on to spark their growth:
They intentionally started small and
They specialized in an area of entrepreneurship that leveraged their local community and institutional culture
For instance, Iowa State University leaned into agricultural entrepreneurship, and East Carolina University specialized in the needs of eastern North Carolina. Studying your local ecosystem by identifying the largest industries, companies, and communities will help you define your niche. Additionally, you can look at your local Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, or similar entity, to see how they are marketing your community.
Defining your entrepreneurial niche is important because it will help your program stand out in a sea of other academic programs, not to mention accelerators, incubators and community-based organizations. Narrowing in on a small group of students you can serve extremely well as your program is still growing will increase the success rate of your program, which you can highlight as case studies to create a positive feedback loop that grows your program.
So if your local community has a large Latinx population, consider specializing in Latinx entrepreneurship. Or if your entrepreneurship program has a number of instructors who are veterans, consider developing programs that specialize in veterans entrepreneurship.
Over time, you’ll be able to grow and broaden the scope of your program, but when you’re starting out, do like the most successful programs have done and ensure that you can provide a fantastic opportunity for a small set of entrepreneurs in your community. Then, highlight their successes to help fuel your program’s growth.
Note: This is our first article in a series dedicated to growing entrepreneurship programs. We’d love your input on which article we should write next.
If you want more details on this specific step (i.e. how to define your entrepreneurial program’s niche and create programs specific to it) please vote here and we’ll expand the overview above into a full article and checklist.
Step #2: Name Your Champions
The Top 50 programs we talked to overwhelming stressed the importance of identifying people on your growth team to fulfill these three roles:
Administrative Champion: A Dean, Vice-President, Provost, President, etc. who has been at your school for some time and has excellent relationships with faculty, staff, and the ability to get buy-in for creating new programs.
Faculty Champion: Preferably a tenured faculty member who can drive the implementation of your new academic and extracurricular programming.
Data Collector: Someone to aggregate program metrics, testimonials, and success stories.
Note: the same person can fulfill multiple roles, you just need to make sure you’ve got someone owning all three levels of responsibility.
Champions are people who can help you launch your efforts by providing critical feedback, opening doors, and giving their resources. Many of the programs we interviewed mentioned specifically having two campus champions – one a tenured faculty member, and the other an administrator (Dean, Vice-President / Provost, President). With respected champions who can reach across campus, program growth has a clear path for growth. They also recommend giving the faculty champions a meaningful title and a commitment of time and support to help them help your entrepreneurship program.
Another potential benefit to identifying champions is that they sometimes rise into leadership positions at the university (Dean, Vice-President / Provost, President) and can provide ongoing support and visibility for your program from the top down.
Jamey Darnell from Penn State University mentioned that working towards getting ranked as a top entrepreneurship school is a great way to get administration excited, and achieving rankings is a great way to keep them excited.
In addition to stressing how important campus champions were to building their program, the leaders we interviewed all spoke about the importance of a data collector: someone to capture their efforts and successes and report them as part of the Princeton Review rankings process. As with your champions, consider providing this person (ideally a faculty member) with a title and a small monetary stipend to emphasize the importance of the role and ensure they have time to complete it. In addition, make sure other people on campus know who this person is – put out a press release, introduce the data collector at campus meetings and events, etc. This person will interface with faculty, students, and administrators, so letting your campus know who they are and what they’re doing enables them to collect more stories and data.
If you’d like us to write a more detailed article about how to identify and empower your entrepreneurial champions, please click here.
Step #3: Start a Fellows Program
Every program we talked to emphasized the importance of early cross-campus collaboration. Creating these connections will help you accomplish two things:
Get buy-in from a wide range of tenured faculty which helps establish academic legitimacy.
Grow your program by embedding entrepreneurship across the curriculum which introduces it to more students.
To do this, you want to build a cohort of entrepreneurial ambassadors across campus. As Tom Swartwood at Iowa State University recommended, you want to:
“Deputize people around campus.”
Jamey at Penn State University found that having a cross-disciplinary program leads directly to growth because they get to meet students wherever they are: at a law school, at an incubator, etc. For the same reason, Susan Fiorito at Florida State University recommends developing a diversity of courses and programs to reach as far across campus as possible.
The most effective mechanism we heard for building cross-campus collaboration was through an “entrepreneurship Fellows” program. In a Fellows program, you pay non-entrepreneurship faculty a small stipend to bring entrepreneurship into their curriculum. For example, you might pay 4 or 5 faculty in different disciplines a few thousand dollars to each develop a course that focuses on entrepreneurship in their respective discipline. Judi Eyles at Iowa State attributed much of the entrepreneurship program’s success to spending a little money early on to “turn faculty into ambassadors.”
You guide the Fellows through learning about entrepreneurship in the context of your university (and your niche), and collaboratively develop ideas for how to introduce it into their curriculum. You will also want to include faculty involved with your curriculum approval process in your Fellows program, which will help smooth the course approval process when you get to that stage.
Each year, add more Fellows to your program (both senior faculty and new faculty), in new disciplines, while former Fellows serve as mentors. You can thereby build a rich and diverse community of entrepreneurship champions across campus.
The big payoff from an investment in a Fellows program comes in two forms:
Cultivating entrepreneurship educators across many disciplines creates a rich fabric of entrepreneurial courses, which increases interest in entrepreneurial minors, and majors.
Student entrepreneurs get a diverse range of experiences and perspectives, which increase the quality of their experiences and their outcomes as future entrepreneurs.
If you’d like us to write a detailed guide on how to create a fellows program, please click here.
Step #4: Map Your Ecosystem
Ecosystem maps will help you understand the relationships between the people and assets that contribute to creating amazing student experiences. Building an ecosystem map specifically provides two benefits:
You identify the people who support entrepreneurship (so you can empower them) and those who do not support it yet (so you can interview them to understand their perspective and work to bring them onboard)
During your research, you plant the seeds from which your entrepreneurship program will grow. As you map your ecosystem, you talk to faculty, staff, students, and alumni about your vision and goals for your program. When it is time to make an ask, these stakeholders understand what you’re doing and why.
The leaders we interviewed mentioned the following as critical components to include in your ecosystem map:
The faculty and staff who collectively create your student experience.
The practices they perform – the services or value they deliver to students.
The information they require, use, or share to contribute to their parts of the university.
The people, systems, faculty, and staff they interact with to be successful in their roles.
The channels through which they communicate – e.g., email, campus newsletter, campus forums.
For a demo on how to start outlining the key players in your ecosystem, check out this great video by Meg Weber from Western Washington University:
Want more details on how to build and leverage an ecosystem map? Click here and we’ll expand this into a full guide.
Step #5: Connect Your FACS
After you’ve identified your niche, champions, Fellows, and ecosystem members, you’re ready to take the final step that separates the Top 50 entrepreneurship programs from the rest…
Connect your constituencies to accelerate growth.
Successful entrepreneurship programs are intentional about connecting their “FACS”:
Each of these groups complements the others, and together, creates the fuel for program growth. For example, you want to make sure you’re actively promoting programs connecting:
Faculty to Alumni – Great for finding guest speakers, internships for students, publicizing your programs’ success stories, and soliciting donations.
Faculty to Community – Great for getting pitch competition judges, finding inspiration for class projects, highlighting student success stories, and soliciting donations.
Students to Alumni – Great for mentorships, jobs, and potential investments.
Students to Community – Great for mentorships, jobs, and inspiring class projects.
As Judi Eyles at Iowa State University mentioned, “you need to make it easy for the outside world to connect with your students and faculty by giving them a portal to connect.” Intentionally building relationships with students will help you keep in touch with them as they transition to alums, and enable you to extend relationships with them and their growing network.
Creating relationships with alumni and community members will provide the “reality” your students yearn for as they wonder how to apply what they’re learning in the classroom. Alumni will also create opportunities for students – through job shadowing, internships, seed funding, adjunct instructors, and the list goes on.
Does your entrepreneurship program offer your alumni and community members multiple opportunities to contribute their time, expertise, and/or money to help your program grow?
If not, you may be able to accelerate your program’s growth by connecting your “FACS.”
If you’d like us to write a detailed guide with specific ideas on how to connect your FACS, please click here.
Bonus Step #6: Focus on Skills
The top 50 entrepreneurship programs we interviewed had one more resounding practice in common:
They prioritized entrepreneurial skill development over “success stories.”
The programs we spoke with acknowledged that entrepreneurial success stories are fantastic to share to grow your community, but they can be few and far between. So instead of focusing exclusively on those, the programs emphasized the value for students of learning entrepreneurial skills, regardless of their perceived career path.
Universally applicable skills like design thinking, financial modeling, and business model validation turn today’s students into returning alumni who are looking to hire similarly skilled and innovative graduates.
With the exercise and techniques we discuss in this class, we’ll show you how to engage all students in entrepreneurship, regardless of their desire to become an entrepreneur, so they can develop their entrepreneurial skills.
If you teach an intro or elective entrepreneurship course, this workshop is for you!
When more than one instructor is teaching an intro course, different teaching approaches can lead to different class outcomes:
Students need a consistent experience regardless of their instructor.
Of course, each instructor also needs flexibility to leverage their areas of expertise.
ExEC Big Intro balances these needs by providing a well-documented, structured set of exercises,that each instructor can customize.
This approach provides a common course foundation (and an easy way to onboard new adjuncts) while enabling each instructor to play to their own strengths.
Passion + Experiences = Engagement
ExEC Big Intro’s first exercise helps students, especially those that don’t identify as entrepreneurs, discover their passions:
Students engage when they work on something they’re passionate about.
Once students know their passions, every subsequent exercise leverages them to make lessons relevant. For example, “entrepreneurial finance”, a topic that often shuts students down becomes an experience to answer the question:
“How do you finance your passion?“
Now, regardless of their major, students can see the relevance of entrepreneurial skills – even if they don’t identify as entrepreneurs (yet ;).
Assessment is always challenging but for large classes, it can be overwhelming.
One solution is more multiple-choice tests because they’re so easy to grade. Unfortunately, multiple-choice tests assess “reading and regurgitation” skills more than they do entrepreneurial skills.
On the other hand, reflective writing assignments can assess entrepreneurial skills, but aren’t feasible with hundreds of assignments to grade each term.
What we need is the best of both worlds: reflections that are easy to grade. With that goal in mind…
ExEC Big Intro has a new type of assignment: Reflective Quizzes.
Reflective Quizzes have three components:
An interactive experience
An open-ended reflection question
Automated support tools that challenge students to reflect deeply, and make it easy for instructors to assign full, partial and no credit
Here’s a demo of the Reflective Quizzes:
In addition to the student-side checks demonstrated above, the system can also give instructors assessment suggestions (e.g. full, partial, no credit) based on the content of the answer to make grading extremely fast.
With ExEC Big Intro…
Reflective assignments can replace multiple-choice quizzes, even in large classes.
Lowering Costs for Students
We all know how important it is to reduce textbook costs for students.
With the goal of providing experiential learning at a price that’s lower than traditional textbooks, ExEC Big Intro has a new pricing model that aims to make:
Experiential entrepreneurship accessible to all students.
Just like we teach our students that their businesses need to solve a problem for their customers:
Students are our customers and finding a job is their problem.
With data from thousands of students who’ve completed the Fears and Curiosities exercise, we know students’ biggest concerns about life after school revolve around jobs:
Can I find a job?
Will I like it?
Will I be good at it?
Will it pay enough?
If you want to attract new students to your program, the key is to:
Demonstrate that students in your program get great jobs.
Pitch days are fantastic opportunities to advertise the career opportunities your program provides. Below we’ll detail 3 steps to make make the most of yours:
Identify “high value” employers
Invite them to be guest judges
Invite prospective students to pitch day where they can see that students involved with your program get to connect with those employers
1. Identify High Value Employers
“High value” to us means employers that can satisfy the needs of our students in terms of supplying jobs that they’ll be good at, will enjoy doing, and will pay enough. Here are some tips on how to find those employers.
Ask Students Where They Want to Work
Ask students, “What companies would you be excited to work for?”, make a list, and constantly keep these companies top of mind because:
Every person you can introduce students to that works for one of those companies can help you recruit more students.
Students will often tell you they want to work for companies that are associated with brands they love:
Whatever your students tell you, search your LinkedIn connections and keep your eyes peeled for any connections you have to those companies.
Bonus Tip: Start Linking-In with all of your students now. Eventually some of them will get jobs at the companies your future students will love and pitch day will be a great opportunity to invite them back!
Talk to your Career Center
Talk to your career center on campus and ask them for lists of employers who visited previous career fairs / job days. Also, take a look at who is hiring on your school’s job board.
Search Job Boards
Look for job postings on:
Look for companies that are trying to hire students like yours and that can offer high-quality, good-paying jobs.
2. Invite the Employers to Pitch Day
Once you have a list of high value employers, pitch day is the perfect opportunity to create connections between them and not only your current, but your prospective students.
Find the “Right” People
Ideally, the people you invite from the employees are hiring managers: people with some say over who gets invited in for interviews. If you don’t know any, check LinkedIn, ask your career center, alumni office, or use the contact information associated with the job postings you found.
Invite them to Judge
Identify the people who you think students will respond most positively to, and invite them to be judges. Their companies and positions will be part of your marketing material for pitch day, so make the most of these coveted judging positions.
Side Note: Be sure to set judges expectations that you’re teaching a process (not just launching products).
Your judges might be familiar with a more traditional pitch day format, where people are pretending to know their future revenue, sales, growth, etc. You will need to conduct some basic training with your judges so they understand your students are learning a process and not necessarily working on launching investment-ready products or services. They will hear your students sharing what they did, what they learned, and what they’ll do differently next time (as opposed to, “This is a $10B market and if we capture just 1%…”).
Setting expectations ahead of time will be crucial to ensuring your judges (i.e. your students’ prospective employers) think highly of them during pitch day.
Invite Others Employers to Coach
You can only have a few judges, but you can engage more potential employers as coaches for your students. For those interested in coaching, prepare them with a brief summary of some projects that you think will be especially interesting for them. Your students should progress through multiple practice pitches, each of which is an opportunity for a coach to help them (and you!) create more impact:
Rough draft idea quick-pitch – students pitch the basics of their idea early in the course
Process pitch – a few weeks before pitch day, students practice sharing their journey (not the outcomes)
Dress rehearsal – a week before pitch day students practice their final pitch
Invite coaches to your pitch day and acknowledge their contributions. After the event, you and your students should send a follow-up handwritten note to coaches thanking them for investing their time and expertise.
Take every chance to deepen the connection with your students.
Sample Invite Emails
We’ve included some sample email invitations at the end of the article that you can use to recruit coaches and/or judges.
3. Make Pitch Day a School-Wide Event
Open Pitch Day to all Enrolled Students
Pitch Day isn’t just for your current students – it’s an opportunity to recruit your future students!
When prospective students see that your current entrepreneurship students are building close connections with employers they want to work for, they see your program as a way to solve their biggest problems.
Ask your students to present an invitation to student clubs around campus. Start with entrepreneurship-related clubs like:
and expand to other clubs in which your students are active. On any given campus there are hundreds of student clubs. Be strategic about those that have engaged members and related goals around employability and entrepreneurship. For instance, your students can present to entrepreneurship fraternities like Epsilon Nu Tau and Sigma Eta Pi, and professional business fraternities like Alpha Kappa Psi and Delta Sigma Pi.
Expand beyond the clubs and departments that are already intimately familiar with your program. Remember, your goal with a pitch day is to grow your program, so you want to reach out to students from areas you don’t normally engage with.
Use this as an opportunity to strategically connect with departments you don’t normally engage with. Maybe that’s the science departments. Or the foreign language departments. Or the fine art departments. Ask your students to present to their other classes, and to their friends majoring in these departments.
Give your students a chance to practice their pitching skills. Give your campus a chance to be excited by your program.
Equip students with a short template so messaging is consistent – keep to the point of “network with employers” as the main message.
Leverage the power of social media. Ask the university to share promotions on their official social media accounts. Incentivize students to share on their social media accounts by making it a deliverable of their pitching assignment (or extra credit).
And last, but certainly not least, take this opportunity to invite your university’s administration. Enable (and guide) your rock star students to handle these introductions – administrators will appreciate it more coming from students. Many will politely decline, but you can make them aware of what you are doing. And if they do show up, make sure they feel the energy of the connections you’re creating between students and employers.
Work with your enrollment/admissions office to invite prospective freshmen and their parents.
The enrollment/admissions team wants to highlight the best of your university for prospective freshmen. Enable them to invite these students to your pitch day – local students and their parents can attend physically, and others can join via Zoom.
This builds your funnel of freshmen students for your program by exciting them before they even get to campus! You can provide immense value to your enrollment/admissions office. Plus, universities struggle with retention and helping students find their way early on in their university careers. Pitch days can help to inspire and have students see future opportunities.
Provide food and drinks for everyone who attends
People get hungry and thirsty, and having food and drink at an event helps create spaces for connection. You don’t want the typical student event pizza and red Solo cups. But you also don’t want the alumni wine and charcuterie. Go for some very simple (and not messy) appetizers and finger foods along with a selection of soft drinks and water.
Food and beverages don’t always come cheap, especially as your guest list grows. If you have former students running or working with local food vendors, reach out to explore ways to incorporate and highlight their stories. You can also ask areas around campus to help fund this and receive recognition, given the presence of potential employers and donors. Ask your career center, a College of Business, enrollment/admissions office to share the cost and get sponsorship benefits of recognition at your pitch day event. See below for more tips on increasing funding.
During the event, highlight your program to prospective students in attendance
Throughout your event, highlight to prospective students the kind of learning experiences they will encounter in your entrepreneurship program.
In breaks between pitches, or as your judges are deliberating, talk to prospective students about how they too can learn how to pitch companies like they’re hearing. Also, share with them stories of the types of companies and jobs successful students from your program are currently engaged in (these stories will also resonate with alumni and enrollment/admissions staff in attendance).
During the event, facilitate connections between your judges and your high-performing students to grow your list of successful graduates from your program.
Most communities really want to give back to students– as educators we just need to figure out the in-roads. Many of the students at Western Washington University are food systems aficionados. One such student is Arlen Coiley. Arlen entered our entrepreneurship program with a great fervor for coffee- of all sorts- recycling hulls, creating compost, exfoliating soaps, you name it- this guy was ALL about coffee.
During his time in the program, Arlen pitched his coffee fervor to community members, who then hired him for events, invested in expanding his pop-up stand Handshake Coffee, and ultimately helped develop connections and now a vibrant restaurant called Storia Cucina.
Get Sample Emails for Inviting Judges and Coaches
Plus get a demo of how to map out external investors to help grow your program:
In our context here, Meg thinks of coaches and judges synonymously, and refers to them as coaches to help create a collaborative context. Therefore, the email below can be used for both coaches and judges.
Initial Invitation: Time to Coach Email
We are reaching that time in the quarter when our students are eagerly posed for your coaching! ANNND, it’s easier than ever to jump into coaching (dates) with our dynamic Zoom-based engagement! Learn more here (or read below!)
Oh, the ventures are exciting, and our students would love your input! Here are some highlights this quarter: (enter some sample projects!)
Covid-safe music festival- YES, it can be done!
Matchmaking and support platform for coaches
Fresh new food truck idea
Top-notch designers building brands for our internal student projects
Artists removing the starving from the equation to monetize and empower ….and so many more!
And what happens to our grads?
They work at Tesla, they start coaching businesses (with great customer bases), work as engineers and software developers, they run non-profits, they open local restaurants (Storia Cucina), they go to grad school, and the live more vibrant lives that they have authored. …And we’re just getting started. Opportunities to Coach!
Please tune in ½ an hour early (before student sessions) to learn about our unique approach to Entrepreneurship and Innovation Education.
Pitch Day 1! Watch first round “Dress Rehearsal” pitches and give developmental feedback- you’re seeing a work in progress- dive in with curiosity and support.
Pitch Day 2! Watch final pitches and provide developmental feedback. Streaming on Facebook Live and via Zoom [insert link]
Please let us know if you can join us through this quick form here [insert link to a Google Form for gathering basic contact information].
Once again, thank you for being such an important part of our entrepreneurial community! The comments about how you are helping students move forward are consistent and heartening. Your time and investment in these young entrepreneurs and innovators is impactful.
If you’re not subscribed to our newsletter yet, please join in for updates on amazing things that our students are up to or check us out on Instagram, Website or Facebook (etc.)
We look forward to seeing you soon!
Thank you from all of us! Teaching Team and Students
Mapping Out “Investors” in your Program
There are so many resources available to grow an entrepreneurship program. So many in fact, it can be hard to know all of them and be able to prioritize which ones you should be tapping into.
That’s where Meg Weber’s fantastic tip on network mapping comes in handy. Take a look at this video to brainstorm all of the assets in your community so you can find more people to invite to your Pitch Day!
Go Forth and Grow Your Program
You now have a playbook to use the pitch days we all do to grow your program.
It’s not just an event for your students to practice pitching.
It’s not just an event to give your students beer money.
This is your opportunity to make connections between your current students, your next cohort of students, and the people in the community who want to support those students.
Discord (a lot like Slack if you’re familiar with it) is an online tool for groups with:
Real-time text chat
Voice and video discussions
Small-group/team collaboration spaces
Integrations with lots of cool services (e.g. bots) that can provide features like gamification to increase interaction
For a quick sample of what Discord looks like when used with a class, check out this video:
Student Discussions on Discord vs LMS
Before we talk about why Discord can be so powerful, it’s helpful to understand why our LMS discussion boards, which are designed to solve this problem, don’t work:
Why LMS Discussions Don’t Work
They encourage communication with long paragraphs. Students prefer quick, real-time communication with short, SMS-length messages, emojis and gifs.
User interface is old and slow
No real-time capabilities (i.e. have to refresh to see updates, no voice or video discussions)
In short, LMS discussion boards may make sense to us as instructors because we’re used to communicating via email with full sentences and paragraphs. Our students on the other hand live on TikTok and Instagram. Asking them to use LMS discussion boards is like asking them to hand-write letters to one another.
Why Discord Works
Students Design Their Own Experience
In Discord, however, students can create their own character and their own emojis. In an LMS discussion board, students cannot develop and share their personalities.
Peer-to-peer communication seems more authentic because individuals can add individuality to their communications.
In addition, we know what feels natural to many students in online classes is having their cameras turned off. Discord takes full advantage of that with “voice only” channels where students can work in groups in real-time either during or outside of class with no expectation of having to turn their cameras on.
An Emoji is Worth 1,000 Words
Discord provides another natural communication tool for students: emojis. Look at any student’s texts and you see a plethora of emojis – it’s quick and it’s the language they prefer. Discord takes full advantage of this by offering a wide variety of emojis. You can even design your own emojis for certain situations, such as:
“$” for great business ideas
“A” and “F” letter grades to let students know when they’ve contributed great (and not-so-great) ideas to the conversation
Test tubes to represent an assumption that needs to be tested
Gamify The Student Experience
Another way to encourage richer communication among your students is to gamify the experience. LMS discussion boards can’t do that. Discord can, with bots.
Discord bots are built to perform any number of useful automated tasks. For instance, bots can reward students with “experience points” (“XP” in gaming and Discord terminology) that measure each student’s contribution to the discussion.
Students automatically earn XP:
Each time they post to a conversation and
The longer, more thoughtful their post, the more XP they get
It’s Easy For You to Grade Discussion
Grading discussions can be unbearable. Let Discord do it for you!
With bots such as Arcane, you can actually associate grades with different levels of XP. So if you had a participation requirement for your class, you could say students need:
75 XP for a “C” in participation
150 XP for a “B”
300 XP for an “A”
You can enable the bot to determine what students are participating and what students are not, and with some more advanced features, you can even reward levels based on the quality of posts.
Students Answer One Another’s Questions
With all of the gamification built-in, students will naturally want to answer each other’s questions to gain XP points and level up. Once they start engaging each other, their anxiety decreases, and their excitement increases as they learn together.
Students Get a Fast, Responsive Solution
Students struggling with homework or class details can post a question on your Discord server, and you or other students can respond lightning-fast, from a phone, with emojis! Students are notified of activity on their phone, unlike an LMS that students have to log into to see activity.
This will significantly minimize your time spent fielding basic questions about things like your syllabus and assignments and other basic course details.
Discord vs Slack
If you’re familiar with Slack, you can tell it has a lot in common with Discord. When it comes to teaching there are a few key differences that come to mind:
Slack offers “threaded messages” so you can reply to students and it makes it clear which message you’re replying to.
Slack is designed for business, which means its UI reflects that. That makes it a more applicable app for students to learn before they enter the job market, but also means it will often be less inviting for students to adopt while in school.
Discord will keep all of the messages on your server (Slack will only keep 10k on the free version).
Many students will already be on Discord.
Discord is easier to invite students to.
If you’d like to see a general overview of Slack vs Discord, check out this video:
Play with Discord
If you want to try out Discord, in 2 minutes you can have your own server and add gamification and levels!