We all know that education is important for the growth of people, but due to the recent COVID-19 Virus, teaching has become more complicated. All teachers have been urged to work from home, but with a job that thrives on interaction between teacher, student and task, some issues arise when you are not in direct contact anymore. Working from home creates a sort of distance between student and teacher and might create barriers to learning, which is the opposite of what we want. Learning should be accessible, engaging and fun.
As a lecturer in game design I often don’t really lecture, I work together with my international students to help them develop. Now what happens when you take the physical learning environment away and trade it for an online environment? Van Oers (2003) and SLO (2019) state that in order to create meaningful education you have to stay close to the experience of your students. Our international game design students find themselves on Discord, so I decided to move my physical learning environment to Discord.
In this blogpost I will walk you through How to use Discord for online teaching. What struggles I have encountered and why it, in some instances, was actually better.
WHAT IS DISCORD AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Discord is an online server that provides text- and voice based channels. Their target audience are gamers as it supplies them with a steady server for streaming games and TeamSpeak. Therefore Discord is an important tool in the lives of our students.
Within Discord there are many (and I mean many) functions, but the main ones that are interesting when online teaching are the following:
- Discord allows for push to talk
- Setting up a button that you have to push before speaking
- Which means you won’t have 30 microphones going through your home-office
- Discord allows for priority speaking
- Which means when the lecturer speaks, the microphones of the students get dampened.
- Discord allows for combining chat and TeamSpeak
- Which means that while you lecture students can type in questions without interrupting your speaking and thus disturbing other students who are listening
- Discord allows for assigning roles to members with different permissions
- Which means you get to manage the online classroom while students get to work in it. It’s almost like real life.
So now that you get the gist of what Discord offers in terms of online teaching, lets take a look at how to use it.
How to setup Discord for online teaching
STEP 1 – SIGNING UP FOR DISCORD
The first step of course is to create an account on Discord. One of the nice things about Discord is that it has an app for your windows PC as well as for tablets such as an iPad, which means you don’t have to work in a browser, which allows for more freedom while teaching online.
STEP 2 – SETTING UP YOUR SERVER
The next step is setting up your server. Click on the + icon on the left side of your screen (figure 1).
Next a pop-up opens up. Click on create new server (figure 2).
Choose the name you want to give to your server (figure 3). To make it easy for students it’s wise to name the server after the course you are teaching. Then click create and your server is ready to be used.
FIGURE 1: THE PLUS ICON ON THE LEFT TO SETUP YOUR SERVER
FIGURE 2: THE POP-UP SCREEN TO CREATE A NEW SERVER
FIGURE 3: NAMING YOUR SERVER
STEP 3 – SETTING UP YOUR CHANNELS
Now you can see your server has been created and that you have channels names #general and a voice channel named general. When you right-mouseclick on the side you can see a few options (figure 4).
You can create categories for classrooms, certain assignments, and different teachers depending on what you’re teaching and what you’d like your students to do. Within each category, you can create channels.
For the course I was teaching I created a few categories (figure 5).
- Text Channels to give students access to extra books & materials, peer-feedback, testing, tool questions etc. Students could use this together and tag a teacher when they need something specific.
- Category for class 1 in both voice and text. Specifically here I created channels to discuss homework, to ask questions during the lectures or to comment during the lectures. These 3 text based channels were made to keep things organized for me as a lecturer and for students to have a space to input in the lecture. In that same category you can see one voice channel. Which is the main lecture channel that you can use for the actual teaching part.
- Multiple voice channels have been made to allow for smaller working groups to work together during the lecture on specific assignments.
FIGURE 4: CREATING CHANNELS
FIGURE 5: MAKING CHANNELS
STEP 4 – SETTING UP ROLES
To make it easy (and structured) for yourself and for students, you can set up roles with different permissions.
The roles I chose to work with (figure 6) were:
- For the lecturers in the course with rights set to priority speaking and managing channels
- Class 1 and Class 2
- Since this course has 2 classes in which there are about 30 students each I created roles for class 1 and class 2. This would also make it easier for the lecturers to know who they were teaching and when and where.
- I’ve given 2 students admin rights to help control the Discord channels, assign roles to students and to keep things orderly from their perspective. This means letting students feel responsible for making this online environment work for all of us
Set up push to talk for yourself so that background noises wont be picked up. This means that whenever you want to speak, you press and hold a button first before speaking. You can advice your students to do the same or let them mute themselves. You can even set up permissions so that you can mute your students but in my experience that wasn’t needed when priority is speaking is on and when you communicate clearly to your students how things will work.
FIGURE 6: SETTING UP ROLES
STEP 5 – COMMUNICATING TO YOUR STUDENTS
One of the main goals here is that your students know that a. their studies will just continue as usual despite recent events, b. you have taken care of their learning environment and c. we’re doing this together.
Send out an email to your students explaining briefly how things will go and where they can find you. Make sure to post the invite link to Discord by clicking the right mouse button on your server name and click invite people. You will see a link there to your server, click edit link in the bottom, and select: expire after – never. This way students can join in when they read your email. Otherwise the link will expire after one day and students won’t be able to join. The point here is to make online teaching accessible for your students. Making sure your server is reachable is key.
STEP 6 – CHANGE UP YOUR POWERPOINT / SLIDES.
Many lecturers think that sending the PowerPoint to your students and having them just ask questions is enough when it comes to online teaching. It is not! When you do this, they also wouldn’t show up to class in real life. Teaching is about interacting. Sending in a PowerPoint is not interaction. What you need to do instead is change up your PowerPoint to make it accessible for online teaching.
Some tips on how to change up your slides:
- Create a slide to explain to students how this online teaching is going to work and why you’re doing this this way.
- Create slides with small group assignments, so they interact with each other and their theory/task in smaller groups.
- Insert breaks into your slides. Even though we are all at home, we still need breaks. Insert a coffee break or even a lunch break so everyone can catch a breath. Online teaching is actually harder than offline teaching so breaks are definitely needed.
- Work with timeframes. Give students a certain time frame to work on assignment and then have them join back into your main channel in which you lecture.
- Check in between whether students have questions or comments. Because there are no facial expressions or hands being raised you need to become more aware of the needs of your students. When you’re explaining a difficult theory, ask them a question which they can answer in the #comments channel. This way you can check if they understand the theory or if they need more help with it.
STEP 7: TIME TO TEACH
Now that you have set up everything clearly it is time to teach. Go into your voice channel named lecture. On the bottom left there is a button that says go live. It opens up a new screen in which you can select which screen you will be sharing. Click on your Powerpoint. Students can now join your stream when they join the voice channel and click view stream.
# TIPS AND REMINDERS FOR TEACHING THROUGH DISCORD
Teaching via Discord might seem overwhelming at the start, but students are already familiar with the tool so they can help you out (if you make them admins and give them permissions.) Here are some extra tips to keep in mind when teaching through Discord.
- Have a good microphone so students can hear you clearly
- Make sure your lecture is structured properly so students can follow along easily, this goes for the online environment, communication to your students when it comes to HOW your sessions will go as well as the slides you will be using.
- If possible, use 2 devices at once to divide your own workload between teaching and questions. You can then follow the questions and comments on one decide and teach through voice via the other advice.
- Use your school’s servers, such as blackboard, to transfer documents to keep in line with the privacy rules. Don’t share grades and/or important info of your school or students through Discord.
Online teaching is different, there are no faces to read from nor are there active interactions or discussions going on, simply because you are looking at a screen and so are they. Using the different channels for interaction definitely increases the online experience of teaching for both you and your students. It allows for creativity, problem solving and critical thinking which are all 21st century skills that our important to our future professionals. Be open to this change and adapt as much as you can for as long as this lasts.
One of my main findings is that students actually find it easier to open up and give answers to questions because they don’t have to speak in front of everyone. On one question I asked them to answer in #comments I had 30 responses instead of the normal few in class. Introverts are loving this way of teaching and feel more comfortable and the extroverts are seeing the benefits of listening to each other and asking questions themselves.
Although I miss the interaction with my students and seeing the aha moments arise in class, online teaching does allow for new opportunities and Discord has provided me, and my students, with a great new learning environment.
SLO. (2019, October 30). Betekenisvol leren. Opgehaald van SLO: https://slo.nl/thema/vakspecifieke-thema/kunst-cultuur/leerplankader-kunstzinnige-orientatie/lexicon/betekenisvol-leren/van Oers, B. (2003). Signatuur van ontwikkelingsgericht onderwijs. Zone 2(3), 11-15.
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