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  • Writer's pictureHeather Saigo

What is Discord and How Does it Work?

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

It’s not just for gamers

If you have kids in school, or spend time around students, you have probably heard about Discord. What started as an app for gamers has become a mainstream platform for online communities of all kinds. While it has not forgotten its roots and still boasts a throbbing user base of video game devotees, you can also find public servers dedicated to everything from specialty computer keyboards to dystopian memes.

Discord is still popular with gamers, but has become a mainstream platform for online groups to communicate.

Chat at home or around the world

There is another layer of Discord that is private, which provides a great opportunity to build a community around a special interest or purpose. For example, my family has a private server, with just four users: my three children, and myself. It may be the least hip server in the world, but it works for us. Our Discord has taken the place of texting and yelling up the stairs.

screencap of a discord message

Message from me to my kids, in our private Discord server.

Rules and moderation

And between the private household server and the world of public Discord groups, there are a great variety of invitation-only servers that resemble online clubs. These function as places to chat, share, and even learn, depending on their topic and purpose. A Discord server provides a measure of insulation from the relatively untamed wilds of Twitter and public Facebook pages, since all Discord users must agree to terms of service and community guidelines that are more expansive than other platforms.

Most servers I have used also have robust content rules, which are enforced by a combination of human administrators and bots. These measures provide a level of structure that deters trolls and bullies.

Discord for schools

The ability to customize a server makes Discord useful for teachers and universities to provide an online gathering place that is limited to enrolled members, but not so strict that it feels like detention. There are already more than 200 colleges and universities with official Discord servers, and many more informal student-created servers for “off-campus” communication. Our doctoral student group has an unofficial Discord server where we collaborate on group assignments, ask questions, share photos, and get to know each other. This has been extremely helpful for developing supportive relationships during pandemic learning.

Channels for conversations

Another great feature of Discord servers is the way they are divided into channels, which helps group chat messages by subject, topic, or purpose. This makes it easier to follow a conversation than having to weed through thousands of Tweets, for example. In the educational context, a server might be set up with channels for homework help, class notes, study groups, etc.

screencap of a discord server channel listing

Discord channels from a Biology server.

Five easy steps to starting on Discord

Add and visit Discord servers.

  1. Download and install the Discord app for your device or launch Discord in your browser.

  2. Create your account by entering your email address, choosing a username, and password. Complete the verification process and login.

  3. If you have an invitation, click the green button with the plus sign and paste the link to join the server.

  4. If you don’t an invitation, browse the public servers and find one that looks fun. Disboard provides a search function if you are looking to explore a specific topic. Find it and click the “join this server” button, and it will automatically generate an invitation link for you to use.

  5. Start chatting! Go to the message box at the bottom of the window to type and send your message. You’re in!

How do you Discord?

Do you use Discord? Who do you chat with, and do you find it useful? Do you have any tips to share? Let me know, and thanks for reading along!

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