By: Tom Goulding
Teachers have needed to become more creative as classes are now more digitized than ever. As a result of this need, more options have opened for class rosters to interact with one another — in particular, chat platforms like Discord and Slack have increased in popularity. Let’s get into why these platforms are seeing more use in school settings and how students use them.
Slack is a channel-based chatting app for desktop and mobile, where students and teachers can connect, share documents and conduct video conferencing with integrated Zoom calls to meet classroom needs. Workspaces can be implemented to separate the more student-focused channels from the teacher and admin communications, and there can also be workspaces just for students. Slack is free to start, but you’ll get the most out of it with a paid version.
Consider this example: A high school teacher sets up their own dedicated workspace, with dedicated channel threads as they see fit. Students can use these threads to ask questions and discuss lessons with their classmates. Individual threads can cover a wide variety of specific purposes, such as the following:
- #study-room, for students to pop in for questions with their teachers.
- #announcements, an example of a permission-based thread students can reference to find key updates on assignments, class sessions, school news and more.
- #Algebra-2, a class-specific thread for students to discuss material and ask questions. (And with this one, it’s definitely needed.)
#cato-doggo, an essential thread for the classroom to share pictures of their furred friends.
Slack also excels with its emoji and gif support, giving channel users that extra panache that a digital classroom format needs!
Discord is a platform at least some of your students will be familiar with — it’s the premier chat option for gamers. With Xbox integration on the horizon and over 140 million users and counting, your students may likely already be on the platform in their free time. Discord has several notable selling points, but one of the biggest is that most features are completely free.
Discord started out primarily text-based, with voice channels available for party chat while users played games like “League of Legends.” But as the pandemic began and remote work and learning became necessities, video capabilities started emerging. Discord is starting to see uses across multiple avenues — most notably, educational ones.
Using Discord for your classrooms is an example of going where your students are, but in this particular case, it would most likely excel in a “relaxed fit” capacity, a less formal class setting in addition to actual classes. Because of Discord’s flexibility, teachers can set up their own servers (similar to what Slack calls "workplaces") and then implement bots like:
- Carl-bot, a multi-use automation that lets members select what threads and “roles” they wish to have, and also works as a solution for setting their pronouns.
- SESH, a bot used for scheduling and reminder functions, for syncing with Google Calendar.
Music bots, where students can join voice chats that serve as study rooms and customize their experience. (Don’t worry — anyone with appropriate role permissions, like you as the teacher, can mute them as needed.)
Both Discord and Slack are great applications for teachers to engage their students outside of physical classrooms — and they might even help students make friends along the way.