Teacher’s Guide to Discord

At the moment, I feel as though my ITP project will most likely take the form of an interactive website on the Commons, dedicated to introducing the pedagogical possibilities available to Discord as a dynamic learning space for instructors teaching in online, blended, and web-enhanced contexts. The content of the website, as I see it now, would include instructional support documentation, student testimonials, server templates, as well as analytical reflections on the affordances of Discord-enabled learning models. Some of these features might include a server setup guide and other technical docs, along with a series of teaching recipes tailored to synch and asynch learning formats. While I’ve considered the prospect of forking off an open-source Discord bot and repurposing it to support class activities, I’m not convinced that doing so would be the best use of my time, since the bots currently active on Discord already appropriately serve that purpose. As far as design practices are concerned, I may choose to develop and showcase a taxonomy of Discord templates for instructors to adopt in support of different pedagogical models. For what it’s worth, here is one such template, entitled “Writing 101 Classroom Server,” which I’ve designed (and used) for the purpose of first-year writing instruction, specifically with an emphasis on writing groups and peer-review activities.

Moreover, I hesitate to frame Discord against the limited backdrop of distance education, since doing so may pigeonhole the project, inviting a false equivalency between Discord-enabled classrooms and the emergency-response pedagogy of distance learning in 2020/21. I’d rather dig into the pedagogical affordances of Discord as an fluid learning environment whose community-driven design fosters student agency, group cohesion, and peer-interactive pedagogy across multiple learning formats. In other words, I would like to explore the various ways in which Discord can support online learning environments not only during our stint with distance learning, but also as a web-enhanced extension of face-to-face instruction following the pandemic. Doing so may reinforce the social ecosystem in which college students find connection and belonging alongside their peers, forming online communities of practice that then enrich face-to-face learning encounters.

In my experience, for instance, Discord has enacted as an interstitial space in which my first-year students have linked up and developed social connections, building for themselves a broader sense of community than is available simply within the formal confines of (online) educational contexts. I think Discord class servers may in turn operate as a “digital third place,” where community life may casually unfold with students having easy, transparent access to one another both within and outside the online learning environment. This prospect is heightened when students friend each other on Discord and voluntarily communicate through direct messages and additional student-led Discord servers. I’ve also found Discord to offer affordances in establishing clear lines of communication between myself and my students, streamlining the extra steps required to send emails by enabling a self-contained domain for communication via direct messages and engagement with different text/video channels. On that note, since Discord collapses the text-video divide, I also find the platform to be especially attuned to one-on-one conferences (via office hours), which may support students in futures times who feel the need to meet temporarily but would rather not commute 30-60 minutes to do so.

Since I also serve as an admin for the English Student Association’s Discord server, I’ve also toyed with the prospect of collaborating with Baruch folks to help build out a server tailored to instructors in the first-year writing program. In this regard, my goal would be create a collaborative academic space for first-year writing instructors to communicate and pool their resources, staying in touch by means of both text and video. Such opportunities testify to the fact that strategic uses of Discord may foster connectivity between an array of teaching and learning models, as well as broader academic communities among the CUNY system. Whether or not such a prospect might be feasible, I see my ITP project as expressly defined by this community-driven ethos, one in which my efforts would involve articulating how and why Discord may effectively serve as a collaborative online ecosystem for instructors and learners alike. There are more granular pedagogical details and features related to Discord that I would like to explore in pursuit of these goals, but for now I’ll conclude in the interest of brevity and of seeking feedback from the class.

Thank you for reading!!

6 thoughts on “Teacher’s Guide to Discord”

  1. This is really great, Z. First, the scope is so well considered and (to my mind at least) REALLY manageable.

    I also admire the thought of making sure this isn’t just a “distance learning” resource. You might even considering, in designing it, how various lessons/elements could be applicable to a different online software in case Discord goes the way of Ask Jeeves.

    1. Like Stephen, I like your framing of this project beyond emergency. The key to that, as you suggest, is capturing what students (esp in first year writing) get out of Discord and how they get that specifically from Discord. It’s already come up in both of the FYW classes I’m teaching as a possible mode for students to interact in a “hallway” kind of way. Exciting stuff!

      1. Precisely my thinking, Tim!! Seldom do we talk about the role of lateral conversations and liminal spaces in facilitating social learning + interpersonal connections in our classes. In my view, these adjacent interactions between students are understatedly meaningful when it comes to fostering group cohesion and a self-sustaining sense of community across a semester. Since such forms of engagement often occur both in liminal spaces and during transitional periods, we as instructors tend not to pay as much credence to them as we do more formal class activities. Now that our students are largely deprived of these lateral conversations, it’s no surprise that our online learning communities are suffering — perhaps more so than they need to given how socially ineffective many edtech platforms tend to be. This also comes to a head with FYW students who are still very much in between high school and college as a far as belonging and community is concerned. Anyway, I hope to approach my guide with these thoughts in mind, embracing the platform’s bent toward third-place pedagogy as a chance to free up and enable peer-to-peer connections both within and without the (online) classroom.

    2. Thanks for your feedback, Stephen! I very much agree. It’s crucial to me that I align the lessons and recipes of the guide not with the Discord “brand” so much as the core features and affordances of Discord as a *type* of edtech platform — i.e. the all-purpose, group-chatting platform. That way instructors may flexibly adapt elements of the guide to alternative platforms bearing an associated suite of features, such as Slack (or even this one open-source platform called Mattermost, which might be worth exploring on its own accord). Doing so may provide instructors a more fluid/integrative set of techniques and guidelines whose affordances play out similarly when applied to edtech formats that’re akin to Discord in some way, shape, or form.

  2. This is really great, Zach, and fills a niche on conversations about ed tech that has found footing of late.

    We’ve talked about this a bit, and will talk about it more… you’ve touched on the how, what, and when. You have the opportunity to think more expansively this semester about the why, who, and where. Your discussion of “why” here is smartly connected to specific affordances and the experiences that Discord unlocks in the classroom. In some of your reading, though, you might look to more explicitly connect Discord to values within comp rhet, and prepare an argument about what kinds of experiences should be sought whether Discord can help or not (we’ll have some readings later on that model this in discussions about forums and WordPress). In other words, in what you present, you’ll need to think about how to balance the pedagogy and the tech, and how that can impact the paths different end users find into your arguments.

    This last point connects to the “who” argument. FYW instructors, yes. But there’s also folks in K-12 and other college disciplines who may benefit from this project. How do you build/write something that’s inviting for all those folks? What rhetorical strategies are necessary to get them to what they need while also drawing them to the thinking you hope that will do? As we read and explore this semester, I recommend you do so with a keen eye towards how scholars are imagining their audiences. This connects to with the “where?” argument, and here you have lots of options to consider both within and without the CUNYverse.

    Looking forward to seeing this develop!

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback, Luke. I’m excited to hash out some of the more explicit links between Discord’s affordances and rhet comp scholarship. To start, I imagine that process will involve mapping out my trial-and-error sense of which teaching practices benefit from different Discord recipes. I can then put a pin in those practices as departure points for an environmental scan of relevant scholarship in rhet-comp. My sense is that low-stakes writing exercises, small group work, and other collaborative activities really come to life in Discord, so researching process writing pedagogy and theories of social learning might be a good starting point. I’ve also been exploring theoretical complements/additions to rhet comp scholarship, ranging from cultural-historical activity theory (via Yrjo Engestrom), to communities of practice (via Etienne Wenger), to third place theory (via Homi Bhabha). I’m interested in adopting “digital placemaking” as a frame, too, but haven’t had much luck locating articles that address it in the context of online ed and place-based pedagogy.

      Before I drone on for too long, I would also say the hardest part of conceptualizing my project has been deciding on “who” indeed my audience(s) should be. I likewise feel as if this guide might be useful to K-12 communities and other college disciplines (with some so far afield from FYW as to include electrical and computer systems engineering), but addressing so many rhetorical situations *does* feel a bit of daunting, if not anxiety-inducing. Lots of time to work out these complexities, though… for now, I’ll just welcome the challenge and, like J. Embiid, trust the process…

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