Discord: A gamer communication tool is now being used by colleges to encourage dialogue in virtual classes

November 24, 2020 /

College students are now halfway through their fall semester, and they continue with the online-learning format with a new twist.

This format was quite an adjustment for both teachers and students because the typical in-class discussion has been limited or omitted during digital learning. Learning does not solely result from lectures, reading, and studying. Learning by discussion is also helpful.

Benefits of class discussion include an increase in student engagement, promoting preparation, developing students’ speaking skills, and helping control the learning environment. That’s why an unpredictable app, named Discord, has become a center for conversation and fills the gap during online instruction.

Discord is an instant messaging and digital distribution platform designed for creating communities, ranging from gamers to education and businesses. Prior to the pandemic, its brand was a “Chat for Gamers,” but the company ditched its gaming branding in order to become a general-purpose chat app. In March, Discord released a new slogan, “Your Place to Talk.”

What used to be an exclusive gamer communication tool is now being used everywhere. Usage has catapulted during the COVID-19 lockdown. The company recently announced over 100 million monthly active users (MAUs). This is nearly double the increase of active users from 2019, with only 56 million MAUs.

A tool for gamers has now become a tool for teachers. On their website, it states “Whether you’re part of a school club, gaming group, worldwide art community, or just a handful of friends that want to spend time together, Discord makes it easy to talk every day and hang out more often.”

Bakersfield College staff and students have taken advantage of this useful app to maintain easier communication with each other.

Kern Sol News spoke with Bakersfield College instructor Richard Bollar, a political science professor. He set up a Discord for his courses to mirror typical in-person discussions in the classroom or office hours.

“I liked that it encourages a more normal, informal atmosphere for communication,” Bollar said.

He recognizes that college is not only about learning; it is also about forming friendships and relationships with classmates and professors, and the Discord app permits these meaningful connections.

“A big difference in teaching fully online is that your work life and your personal life become much more intertwined,” said Bollar. “You go from speaking with family to speaking with students very quickly, and there are less concrete boundaries between zones of your life. I imagine that it is very similar for students.”

Many college students share the struggle of balancing home and school life when being confined to the same physical space. Creatively, he is doing his best to create an environment where his students can feel more comfortable and learn better.

Organizations and clubs at Bakersfield College have also taken advantage of the different accessiblele features of the app. The Bakersfield College Office of Student Life uses the app to post various announcements and connect with new and returning students. They host game nights and post multiple resources.

This is done by organizing information accordingly to “channels.” Channels are simply small spaces for discussions on specific topics, as opposed to one giant live forum. It solves the issues of flooding a group chat or email spamming.

Benjamin Balderrama took a leading role in introducing the app on the college campus.

“I was already trying to get a server going but COVID-19 accelerated that due to our sudden move to 100 percent online,” Balderrama said. “I thought it would be a great way to have a virtual community where students can talk to each other at any moment. Many young adults use Discord already.”

He believes by embracing new technology and social media trends, faculty and staff can truly meet where the students are.

The college’s Pre-law Club has also utilized the Discord app. The president of the club explained that conversations are easier to follow through the creation of channels for different subjects or discussions. They have “channels” easily labeled: for example General Chat, Announcements,
Meeting Recordings, Questions, Graduating Students, LSAT help, and much more.

Furthermore, Bakersfield College’s Ethics Bowl team uses the app to organize their work for philosophical debate competitions and share sources with one another.

“Discord has been an incredibly helpful resource for our team,” Emma McNellis, the president of the club, said. “As an Ethics Bowl team, we are responsible for knowing the ins and outs of 15 different ethical cases.”

She continued: “Discord makes it easy to create a channel for each case, where we are constantly posting discussions, articles, and presentation ideas.”

McNellis now tries to use Discord for all her teams and projects.

Discord does not perfectly replace in-person meetings or class discussions, but it makes it more enjoyable and familiar. Additionally, students and staff are funding it resourceful and easy to navigate.

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly made college very different. However, it has not deterred Bakersfield College staff and students from facilitating a similar in-person environment to increase engagement and learning.