Discord, Slack, and Reddit
What Are They, and Should I Use Them in My Teaching?
As we’ve become more comfortable with using digital tools in our classrooms, your questions about Canvas Discussions, or Discord versus Slack or Reddit, have become more common. For most courses, Canvas Discussions will be sufficient: you and your students are able to post text, images, and video, and respond to each other; as an instructor or TA, you can grade discussion posts with the Canvas Speedgrader; and your students are likely to already be using Canvas for your course, so you won’t be directing them to an external tool. If you’re new to using Canvas Discussions, reach out to Online Education for support.
As some instructors are using other discussion platforms, we’ve organized a matrix to provide an overview of the more common alternatives.
A Note of Caution...
Keep in mind that unlike Canvas, Zoom, Hypothesis, and other tools you’ll find on the Keep Teaching website that have gone through the campus selection and procurement process, Slack, Discord, and Reddit are not endorsed or supported by UCSC ITS, Online Education, or CITL for classroom use. For all of these platforms, instructors should be aware that students are likely to have used some of them in different contexts (such as in gaming communities or social media), and that students will bring with them their perceived norms for engagement. These norms may be inconsistent with expectations for appropriate communication in an educational setting - so if any of these tools are used in a class, it is important that the instructor provides clear guidance and expectations for student engagement and decorum. Additionally, these platforms should be moderated and monitored closely.
Professional culture: As a tool designed and most often used for work communication, Slack has few associations with gamer culture, online harassment, and other behaviors you don’t want to see in a class discussion. This is an important distinction from Discord and Reddit. Of course, instructors should still monitor and set clear expectations for discussions on Slack.
Known identities: Slack is the only of these 3 platforms where users can NOT be anonymous. All members of a workspace can see each others’ email addresses used for signup.
Integrations with other platforms: Slack offers many pre-built integrations with other apps you may use in your teaching, like Zoom and Canvas.
Accessibility issues: No native live captioning on video calls.
“Yet Another Inbox” Problem: If you plan to post class announcements on Slack, there is a risk that students will not see them because it requires they check “yet another inbox.” Ideally, your students will have one place to go - Canvas or email - for all announcements related to your course.
UCSC documentation for using Slack as a discussion forum in courses.
Ease of use: Setting up a new account is faster and easier on Discord than on Slack. The platform’s interface will be intuitive to Slack users. Discord has also published a step-by-step support article on using Discord for your classroom.
High number of users allowed on voice calls: With up to 5,000 users allowed on a voice call and high-quality audio, Discord offers a unique option for synchronous discussion accompanied over both voice chat and text chat within the server’s channels. One instructor at Colorado State University writes on using these features of Discord together.
Accessibility issues: No native live captioning on voice or video calls.
Culture of Discord: Some Discord servers have been used to plan “raids” of other servers - particularly those formed by minoritized subgroups - where large numbers of users join the server in order to harass its users. They have also been used to plan Zoombombing.
Organization within channels: Unlike Slack, Discord does not support threaded conversations within channels. Busy channels can become confusing or disorganized, particularly if users try to hold multiple different text conversations in a channel at the same time.
Familiarity to students: Of these 3 platforms, Reddit is likely familiar to the greatest number of your students. This may facilitate easier adoption of the platform for class discussion.
Accessibility issues: Images shared in Reddit are, by default, not accessible (no alt text).
Culture of Reddit: Like with Discord, some students have used Reddit to plan Zoombombing “raids.” Minoritized Reddit users face frequent harassment. Further, the specific culture of Reddit - which includes a dizzying variety of acronyms, memes, and self-referential jokes - may be alienating to students not familiar with the platform.
Up- and Down-Voting: In the context of a class discussion, up- and down-voting posts and comments could enable a kind of popularity contest and bullying among students.