Discord has quickly become a popular social media app among college students. It is comparable to the Facebook group chat feature as it allows you to talk about anything you wish. It has become so popular that college athletics, groups, clubs, and other organizations started using it almost exclusively to communicate with teammates, members, and professors when the Coronavirus pandemic forced schools to move to an all-remote schedule.
Discord has been around since the mid-2010s and was first introduced as an app for gamers. The popularity of the platform grew so fast that now anyone can use it, not just gamers. It climbed into the top list of social media apps by May 13, 2015.
An Overview of Discord
Discord has exploded in popularity because of its ease of use. Users create servers where they can chat with their friends. It’s easier to create a server on Discord than it is to create a page or a group on Facebook. There are a few simple clicks of the mouse and your server is up and running for you to use with your friends.
Another benefit of Discord is that it is completely accessible on mobile devices and on desktop computers, unlike Instagram and Snapchat. To take it one step further, Discord even lets you post when using the app on a desktop. There is a fullscreen option as well when on a desktop so you can get the entire picture while playing a game or talking to a friend on your server.
Each server has multiple channels that are assigned themes or topics. If you want to discuss the college baseball team, you would create a channel for that. If the discussion is the campus newspaper; create a channel for the campus newspaper. The channels have the capability for text, voice, and video chatting.
Distance Led to the Uptick in Discord Popularity
As colleges and universities across the country shuttered their doors due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Discord quickly became the best way for friends, teammates, and club members to stay in touch with each other. Some professors created channels for their classes.
“You can replicate, kind of, the classroom experience and a lecture, but it’s a lot harder to replicate things like hanging out in a dining hall or in your dorm room or just walking around together,” stated Ashlee Shaw, Associate Director of the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP).“We wanted to create a sort of flexible space where students have the ability to have small conversations or livestream or really just gather that wasn’t strictly structured.”
Princeton University created channels for classes, study groups, clubs, and even a channel for members to share pictures of their pets.
“We used it during FSI [Freshman Scholars Institute] and it was really, really effective,” Shaw said. “There’s always this warm-up period where people figure out what the social norms are … that period of people realizing, ‘It’s okay, you can post memes here,’ ‘you can talk to each other and have these casual spaces.’”
Daily Communication Capabilities
More than 200 colleges and universities are actively using Discord, according to the company, and that includes UC Davis.
Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication, Laramie Taylor, said:
“I think that there is certainly a role for anonymity or maybe it is the lack of institutional affiliation. [With] Piazza, your professor sets it up and is monitoring it, there are some things you won’t talk about. That’s not just about academic dishonesty, that’s things that are personal or just that sense of […] ‘How can we connect with others while still having a sense of autonomy?’”
Taylor and other professors at UC Davis have seen an increase in student interaction since utilizing Discord when the school switched to remote learning in the midst of the pandemic.
“In a face-to-face classroom […] a lot of the communication is reciprocal,” Taylor said. “The instructor talks or presents, but the students—through their body language, through their expressions, through their fidgeting—communicate a lot about how effectively they are learning. It is much more difficult to get that two-way form of communication with Zoom or with any other online instructional community.”
Students and professors alike have praised the use of Discord as it allows students to discuss classes, information, projects, and other issues that they need clarification on before, during, or after a class.
“Twenty years ago, when the World Wide Web was young, there was a lot of utopian discourse around the Internet,” Taylor said. “This idea that future communication would shift being online and school would be online and work would be online, […] it’s all here. It’s really remarkable that we have the ability to continue to work and conduct school as normally as we have with these communications tools.”
The biggest strength of Discord is the instant feedback users can get compared to the platform Reddit.