Using discord for online teaching

On Wednesday, I asked several of my students what tools they use to collaborate online on their problem sets. Several of them mentioned Discord. I am currently trying to set up a Discord channel for my class. I imagine I am not the only one in this situation, so I am writing up my progress as I go here . If you have relevant knowledge, please leave an answer to this question or edit mine!

If you have questions to discuss, let’s do that in the comment thread here. And please promote this on twitter and wherever else math teacher’s gather!

I did a dry run with 6 of my students this afternoon. We spent 10 minutes introducing each other to the system, broke into two groups of 3 and spent 10 minutes solving a math problem (problem 19.2 here) and 30 minutes debriefing. Most students found it awkward but workable. Here are things I/we saw as good:

  • Connection was reliable; much less dropping out than the video conferencing tools they report their other courses are using.
  • The presence of the chat stream with integrated graphics and LaTeX encouraged people to write things down, just like we encourage students to write on blackboards when doing group work in class. This made it easier for me to jump in and out of conversations.
  • It was pretty easy for me to jump back and forth from one group to the other. (Not sure how I would do with 4 or more groups, though.)
  • We really did solve a nontrivial problem and have a nontrivial conversation about it!

Things we didn’t like

  • Both groups needed, at one point, to draw an equation or commutative diagram like this one:
    \mathbb{Q}(\cos \tfrac{2 \pi}{7} ) \cong \mathbb{Q}[x]/f(x) \mathbb{Q}[x] \cong \mathbb{Q}(\cos \tfrac{4 \pi}{7}).
    One group did the LaTeX, the other draw a commutative diagram in MS Paint and dropped it into the thread. Both expressed frustration about how much slower this was than drawing a picture in person.
  • Some students felt that it was awkward not seeing the people they were talking to.

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