Students join servers to connect with peers, ask questions and stay up-to-date
The beginning of a new quarter entails a wave of social media posts emerging across a variety of online platforms. Platforms like Facebook are littered with screenshots of Schedule Builder from students who are eager to compare courses with their peers. The comment sections of these posts include requests from students to be added to group chats with their classmates.
Oftentimes, students inquire about Discord, asking for an invitation to join specific servers and connect with individuals. According to its website, Discord is a “voice, video and text communication service used by over a hundred million people to hang out and talk with their friends and communities.”
In addition to the over 200 colleges and universities that have turned to Discord, according to their website, UC Davis students are actively integrating Discord into their daily methods of communication.
Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Laramie Taylor said that autonomy and connectivity are fundamental factors that contribute to Discord’s appeal.
“I think that there is certainly a role for anonymity or maybe it is the lack of institutional affiliation,” Taylor said. “[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?’”
Undeclared first-year student Justin Ding said via Discord Direct Message that Discord is the platform he primarily uses to communicate with other students, especially since he is currently living at home.
“The app has also presented me the opportunity to meet people and form friendships that I would not have been able to with COVID-19,” Ding said via Discord Direct Message.
Second-year student Ravneet Rajasansi, majoring in global disease biology, echoed similar sentiments via Discord Direct Message.
“Discord has tremendously helped to bridge the gap of social interaction within virtual classes,” Rajasansi said via Discord Direct Message. “With hundreds of students on some of these servers, it is really easy to have your questions answered. Students are also willing to host study sessions or explain complicated concepts or problems to each other.”
Discord servers can grow quickly. One server titled “UCD Club/Server Directory” has already accumulated 4,647 members as of Jan. 14. This server provides designated spaces accessible to students who are looking to build connections over similarities.
According to the “#info” channel within the server, user @Sammy said that official UC Davis affiliated servers for clubs and organizations recognized by the university and Center of Student Involvement, community servers, dorm hall servers and course servers can all be found within the “UCD Club/Server Directory.”
This quarter, Denis Tran-Le, a first-year majoring in the biological sciences, created a course-specific Discord server for BIS 2C: “Introduction to Biology,” currently taught by professors Joel Ledford, Jason Bond and Jorge Rodrigues. Over 717 members have joined Tran-Le’s server as of Jan. 12.
“I created this server for everyone to help each other in the course as I sometimes struggle understanding a concept,” Tran-Le said via Discord Direct Message. “With the server, people can ask a question without being scrutinized and someone can answer, providing a solution as well.”
Taylor said that as an instructor, he had encouraged student-to-student interactions long before the pandemic.
“Students have done just what we were hoping they would do all along, which is reach out in a very open way to each other, share information across lots of their peers and do this virtually,” Taylor said.
But, Taylor cautions that such collaborative spaces can also warrant academic misconduct. According to an article published by Student Affairs, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of students referred to the Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs (OSSJA) has been twice the amount prior to COVID-19.
“It’s also become clear that Discord and other platforms or sites [can lead to] academic dishonesty, where people organize cheating at least time-to-time,” Taylor said.
However, Taylor recognizes the benefits of using platforms like Discord, especially with unidirectional communication through online learning.
“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.”
Online communities, like servers on Discord, allow for students to reach out and ask questions and for students to advocate for themselves and for each other to their professors.
“If the Discord conversation skews towards ‘Does anybody have any idea what [the professor] was saying?’ […] hopefully someone—even if they did understand—will reach out and say, ‘Hey, people were not understanding this, can you clarify?” Taylor said.
Second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major Emma Proctor said via Discord Direct Message that, though she personally has not connected with any classmates via Discord, it has helped her stay up-to-date with her classes.
“Without in-person classes, I always feel like I’m missing something, didn’t read an announcement, or forgot about an assignment,” Proctor said via Discord Direct Message. “People are constantly talking in Discord about what’s going on in the class. So, by checking Discord everyday, I don’t have that feeling of, ‘What am I forgetting?’”
Isabella Boren, a second-year psychology major, said via Discord Direct Message that Discord helps her identify and compartmentalize important points within an influx of information.
“I tend to get overwhelmed really easily, so large group chats can be difficult to navigate because everything is one thread, and oftentimes it can feel like too much,” Boren said via Discord Direct Message. “But with Discord it’s so easy to locate information you need with the search tab, or to organize your class needs into categories, such as general, homework help, and more.”
First-year cell biology major Mahboba Ansari said via Discord Direct Message that she is still getting used to the server and prefers other applications.
“I prefer Instagram or GroupMe, which is designed for things like these,” Ansari said via Discord Direct Message. “People already have Instagram, and there is no need to download an extra app. So, we usually go for Instagram.”
Although Ansari said it hasn’t helped her that often, she still feels that she can use the platform to get her peers to answer her questions.
“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.” Written by: Aarya Gupta — firstname.lastname@example.org