Discord: For Engaging Class Discussions

Discord: For Engaging Class Discussions

Engaging students in discussion has never been easy, but now with our online classes…

Having interactive discussions is harder than ever.

Fortunately, there’s a new tool to help…

Discord Saves The Day

Discord is an amazing communication tool many students already use that we can leverage for more dynamic classes.

Discord: where campus communities talk

Discord is great because it:

  1. Is free
  2. Uses points to incentivize participation
  3. Makes discussions easy to grade
  4. Reduces time you spend answering questions (because students get rewarded for helping one another)

Plus, students love it.


Elizabeth StricklerA huge thank you to Elizabeth Strickler, Director of Media Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Creative Media Industries Institute at Georgia State University for turning us on to Discord and for collaborating with us on this article.


What is Discord?

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
  • Screensharing
  • 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.
  • Not mobile-friendly
  • 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.

Cameras Off

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
  • Etc.

Sample of emojis

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

Gamification by leveling up in a Discord server

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”
  • etc.

Leveling Up Calculator in Arcane's Discord Bot

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 Pros
    • Slack offers “threaded messages” so you can reply to students and it makes it clear which message you’re replying to.
  • Discord Pros
    • 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!


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share tips for faster, but still rigorous, assessment!

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