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Pandemic Pedagogies: Professor Katie Gatto

The Social Online Learning Experience

The Faculty Perspective

As the world settled in for quarantine, and it felt like everyone was turning to Zoom to meet their online learning needs, I went to Discord. Now, the platform of choice for streamers and gamers may not seem like a natural fit for online learning, at least not first glance. But there are some substantial advantages to taking a more social media based approach to teaching over a meetings based model that Zoom offers.

By choosing to create a private social media server to host my course, I was able to build not only a classroom, but a community that allowed for students to have a more natural experience. The channel based separation of information made things easy to find, and also had the paradoxical benefit of the centralization of the virtual classroom platform allowed for class lectures, rubrics, links, documents and office hours to all be in one place.

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This allowed for the ability to include more into the class from external resources, as students never had to guess where to find them. But the most noticeable benefit was creating a community of students, as all courses shared the same online space, which allowed for younger students to see behaviors modeled by more experienced upperclassmen. These soft skills are critical to student success in a university setting.

Community building isn’t a natural feature of video conferencing software, but it is for a social platform. This critical aspect of facilitating engaging learning allows for students to learn in a way that gives them a connection to each other and a deeper understanding of the material. When in doubt, meet your students where they are.

The Student Perspective

“I’ve been using discord as a way to communicate with friends online for 5 years and I know the application like the back of my hand. So, when I used discord for one of my classes it was so easy and nice to work on the application. The way my professor set up the sever made it easy to find assignments, Lecture slides, and guidelines for projects. Zoom on the other hand is annoying to use I’ve been completely kicked out of the application many times and it leads to an unstable learning environment. The major difference between zoom and discord is that zoom does what you want it to do, it will host a class lecture, but discord will do what you want it to do and more, by having everything readily available on the server and being able to voice/video chat in the sever.”

– Matt Ayala