A thread about using @discord for office hours, asynchronous discussion and community building in an engineering classroom: a compilation of largely positive experiences and recommended practices. By request of @ProfStoebel and @dyong 1/?
Why Discord? We picked it because we were initially going to use three separate platforms (Piazza, GChat and Discord) for Q&A, office hours chat and community. It seemed like a mess. We realized we could get everything we wanted (except threaded comments) from Discord.
That turned out to be a good call. Students seemed to like it because they could get answers at any time and maybe because the interface was familiar and/or informal. I also got mileage out of being able to quickly hop between video channels, I could wander through breakouts 3/?
A good practice: make a landing channel (note that you can make an invite link to a specific channel) that contains norms for your class. Mine is pictured below. I wish I'd added a norm that developed over the semester "keep concepts in public channels and answers in DM" 4/?
A good practice: keep an organized list of channels. It makes it easier for students to find what they're looking for, and having the channels set up at the start of the semester shows them that you're serious about using the service. 5/?
A good practice: Make special roles for instructors and set their names to be highly visible. I wanted this for TAs too, but students and TAs joined the server at the same time, which made it hard to see who to give the role to. Have TAs login for setup before public release 6/?
Community building was hit-or-miss. We lucked out with students who weren't shy about asking or answering questions. They set a great tone. I tried to make an off-topic corner, but didn't seed it enough for it to take off.
funfactoftheweek (silly icebreakers) went well though 7/?
Beware: users have kind of high permissions by default. Make sure you lock down channel creation and deletion. I also locked down image sharing on most channels. User permissions are intimidating to start with, but you have very fine grained control once you learn them 8/?
Beware: Discord will tell all your students what video game you're playing by default. Take steps to ensure they don't learn about your enthusiasm for Tabletop Simulator. (Unfortunately, I've forgotten the name of the setting you need to change.) 9/?
Beware: installing the Desktop app is a bit of friction between students and your office hours. (I know there's a web version, but it wasn't popular.) Also, the first time anyone shares a screen is an adventure. For some reason, students kept sharing their own Discords. 10/?
Re office hours: I used a document camera to rotate between my face and scratch paper. Students mostly hung out in the main voice channel, but I sent them to problem-specific voice channels if I got overwhelmed. We used DMs or screen share to verify algebra heavy answers. 11/?
Aside: in my other class, which had a lecture component, I used voice channels to make breakout rooms where students could work on problems. Students could sort themselves into the rooms based on verbal instructions, which sped the process up. 12/?
My wish list for future development is threaded chat, which makes it easier for students to discuss specific issues/questions, and math rendering. The math rendering isn't a dealbreaker though, you can invent a plaintext-Latex pidgin pretty easily. ie: xdot = -k*x+y 13/?
Overall, I feel like it worked really well. Students made good use of office hours (more than in-person), and there was robust back and forth in the problem set channels. A curated environment and timely responses seemed like the most important building blocks for success. 14/14

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