Discussion Tool saught

Hello all,

I'm looking for one or more tools to facilitate ongoing, asynchronous discussions among youth in a customer service class. Since going fully-remote, synchronous class time has decreased to less than half. We are now spending most of our Zoom time creating work documents and our customer service content has been delegated to self-study.

While just about everything else possible is still on the table to re-introduce the debriefing of their readings, I'm looking today for a platform to host asynchronous "discussions" (or some new semblance thereof). I loved the discussions in Schoology, but we are no longer allowed to use that platform. Right now I'm using Google Chat and it's not working for me. I can say more about why if it would help.

I know there's something out there that would work. As a techie, I suspect that there are ways of going about this using new tools that I've never even heard of yet. I also know that the standard operating procedure of applying a new tool is half the battle of it working, and the "go to the chat and respond" will get one response each but nothing more. Learning how to turn the culture into one that embraces ongoing discussion is also my job. I need to learn how to do that, too.

I'm not often the one on my team with no ideas, but here we are.

I'd appreciate any ideas that anyone has!


Shelly, as I was reading about what you need a tool to do, the online free tool called Discord came to mind. Discord is often looked at as a voice tool for synchronous voice discussions but it has a rich ability for asynchronous text discussions. You could set up categories for each discussion and within a discussion you can even make sub threads that can contain discussions the focus in on specifics. 

Discord is free, requires a registration with email, allows for both voice and text, allows for individuals to be able to privately message each other and is one of the lower bandwidth tools out there that have these features, which is why many in the gaming community are very familiar with Discord. The person that sets up the Discord channels has all sort administration rights that allows for customization of what people have available to them for use within the channel. 

If you wanted to share some kind of outline or sketch of the kinds of set up you imagine, I could explore different ways you might facilitate that in Discord if you are interested. 

Hello Edward. Thank you for your idea. The main group I want to use this tool with is youth, so many of them probably already use Discord. I'm interested in hearing more about how it might work.

I'm looking for a way that my students can have asynchronous discussions about materials that we post. Right now I use Google Chat, but I find the UI confusing and the Room model, which does not subdivide, not useful. The Room model in Chat is hard for them to find in the first place, I have to add them to rooms every time I get a new student, and many times they can't figure out how to access Chat because they're redirected to their default Google account from the link, can't find the Room, or can't find the questions they're supposed to answer. Finally, the material they are responding to has been posted elsewhere and they have to navigate back and forth.

My classes are open entry and in some of them the modules loop. I'd like to set up questions once, if possible, and have students answer them throughout the course as they are assigned. (One five week class I do has about 20 questions over the course of the course.) I'd also like to have a tool that helps me encourage them to revisit the conversations so they can respond to their peers' contributions and keep conversations going. I think this is the feature I'd most like to address.

I know that part of my problem is the fact that I'm trying to recreate the teaching methods that worked for in Schoology with a not-Schoology tool. I'm open to hearing other ways that people are having asynchronous discussions, or "discussions", with students.

Hi Shelly and everyone. I tried to set up a simple discord server that would somewhat demonstrate a few options. If people have a discord account (it is free to sign up on discord's webpage) you can click on this link to join the Adult Education Demo Discord channel I threw together in a few minutes.

Please note: the link provided expires in 7 days, if you are reading this beyond the 7 days, you can private message me or email me (ohgeer@gmail.com) and I can refresh the link. When a discord server is set up and being used, there are permanent links available. Since this is just a demonstration server I am just offering links that expire. 

This is not an exhaustive example and if someone wanted to share detailed course content specifics, I am sure we could build up one of these spaces to fit most needs. 

If you catch someone in any of the voice channels (the ones with the speaker icon), click in that channel and say "Hi"

The top General Text section is a place for people to leave either text questions ("help") or general discussion that learners and teachers might engage in face to face that are "off topic" or more social in nature. Likewise, the General Voice channel is for people to meet and greet and have discussions that may not be focused on any particular topic. My rule of thumb is, if you want to talk to someone about something specific and we have a voice channel for it, move on down to that voice channel so the general discussion does not get too cluttered with random discussions. 

The Math section I threw in there to show how educators could list tools or notes or any other text supports they wish. You could have a text channel in there with Problem of the Week or maybe a channel with open ended Math problems that encourage learners to offer solutions with their mathematical justifications. The voice channels could be used for tutoring especially if used in conjunction with collaborative whiteboard spaces that are online. 

I offered a most content specific example in the Catcher In The Rye section and it is by no means a complete unit. Rather, it helps illustrate how critical questions can be asked in such a way that students build in responses over time. The key is to ask questions that get learners relating their life experiences or ambitions to those illustrated in the literature they are studying. Simple questions like, "How did the main character dispose of the body?" are ones that you will not get a variety of input from. People will simply look it up in a text or online and spit it out. Learners jumping in later will see the finite answer is already provided and likely will not engage in discussion at all. 

Finally, I set up the Resume section to illustrate how instructors can sometimes just set the stage and let learners populate the learning resources. Giving learners the task of finding helpful Resume writing resources, posting them to #student-resume-links channel, and providing rational as to how that resource was helpful becomes a great scavenger hunt and a social collaboration of resources. Having a channel where learners can post links to their writing, especially when shared from Google Docs where commenting is easy to integrate, provides opportunities for others to share input with each other asynchronously and for authors to respond back. 

Do others have suggestions or any reactions to this kind of tool? Are there things you would want to include? Please share and I can see if I can come up with something that meets that need within this Discord environment. 

Hi Ed. Thank you so much! I've just spent a few minutes looking at the sample you set up. Discord has many of the features I'm looking for, if not all of them. I put some questions in there, and I thought I put a question on LINCS asking you to renew the link for seven more days so I can keep playing around with it. Have you had any issues getting permission to use Discord with students?

Has anyone else used Discord with students? I'm interested to know how it's going.

The nice thing about Discord is that once you have the link to get into the discord... you can be there off and on as much as you like until you either decide to leave that discord connection or unless someone kicks or bans you from that discord channel. So it is a sort of one time key to get into the space. 

For those that are interested and did not get in on the first 7 day key entry I offer another link to get to the discord space that Shelly, David and others have poked around in. In fact I set this link up to not expire at all.

As far as issues with Discord, I feel they are similar issues to what any shared space may encounter. Setting up what acceptable norms are is important!

For example, something many people like to do is to flood a text channel with tons of mems. While some of these images, animations or shot clips may be amusing, their abuse can quickly flood a discussion and distract. To resolve this, I usually make a group within the class to encourage people to post their memes there. It is very similar to how effective cities find it to give skateboarders a safe space to practice their craft instead of threatening pedestrians all over town. 

For some people, learning any new tool is difficult and can take time and nurturing. Be sure to share with others simple hits or, "Did you know that you can do ....by just ...." These little hints and tips build competency quickly and I often find peer support quickly is established with any group I run on Discord. 

I have used this one with a website I created through Google Sites. It embedded beautifully. I guess it depends on how you plan on implementing the discussion.

Hi Shelly,

I like Ed's suggestion, and here are two more:

Google groups are free, relatively easy to use, can be set -- by default -- to have discussion come to users' email addresses, offer threaded discussions, and can be private, and set up so the only way one knows about the group is through an invitation sent by the host (e.g. you, the teacher). I have found that they work very well with gmail addresses, and some (but not all) other email addresses.

Slack is a free work group that includes a threaded discussion feature. If you want a combination of work projects and discussions, this might be better suited.

Anyone else have suggestions for Shelly?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group



Hi David. Thank you for your ideas. I just set up a Google Groups to test it out. As it turns out, I was already part of a group for classroom teachers but no one has ever used it. I'm going to post a conversation to see if it reaches anyone. We are GSuite users, so students all have Gmail addresses from us, so that part won't be a problem with Groups. I will also look into Slack. I like the idea of the conversations being around workgroups. One of my programs is a WIOA-funded youth program and any time we can simulate the work environment that's a plus.

Hi David. Thank you for your ideas. I've started looking at Google Groups. We use Google for everything. so it would be convenient if it works. One of my supervisors has heard of Slack, and I'm also going to check that out. I like the idea of a collaborative tool for projects. Going in that direction might help me move away from a modified-from-in-person curriculum to more of a web2.0 version.

Hi Shelly,

Padlet also has a backchannel layout that can work well for forums. 

And probably not so helpful for what you're looking for, but I've just been playing around with DotStorming which allows participants to up and down vote other participants' responses, something I've seen used at conferences when moderators are gathering questions from the crowd.  




Hello Nell,

I'm glad to see your input. I've looked at Padlet and while I think it would be a good tool for backchannel chat, the way that threads relate to each other feels disjointed for what I'm looking for for a discussion tool. Also, I would definitely need the paid version to use it like I'm picturing. I do like it for the photos, though. I'd like to try it (or something like it) with my English Language Learners classes for projects where we use images and short texts. I'm going to have a look at DotStorming, too. If it doesn't work for my discussion activities it might work for something else.

Hi Shelly. There are a lot of great options offered already. I was trying to think about tools I already use, and Nearpod might be an option as well. I thought I would create one just for your discussion to see how it would and to see if you might want to check it out. I used the Nearpod collaborative feature:

You can get to the Nearpod discussion one of two ways - 

I think you have a lot of options, but I am going to keep eye open. We might consider Go Formative as well though I have never used it that way, but I might look into it.

I know you said you used Schoology before... are you using any sort of an LMS now? I have found most of them have discussion boards of some sort on their platforms. I know a lot of educators have used REMIND or WhatsApp as well for these type of activities.

Thank you for your ideas. I know a solution is out there somewhere!

I'll explain what I'm using now as a way to further define what I'm looking for.

We are using GSuite now. It's been very frustrating after coming from a complete LMS. Google help suggests using gmail or Google Chat for discussions since there isn't a tool for them right in Google Classroom. Of course, gmail isn't a discussion board. I'm using Chat now but it's very confusing to navigate. It's difficult to quickly see who is in a room, and with open enrollment, I need to manage every room every week. To mitigate that issue, I started using one room for each course that I teach and I code questions so they can find the ones that are current to our spot in the curriculum. Students still answer the wrong questions, or all of them, or none of them. They can't figure out what I'm talking about with my questions because the instruction/resource is somewhere else and they may or may not have already see it. The threads are never where they were when students visited last because of the "newest on top" organization.

I've used Remind for announcements, but it won't work for multiple, ongoing threads that respond to posted content. We have looked into WhatsApp and because we aren't able to share our personal phone numbers we aren't able to use that one with students.


Okay, I am definitely seeing your frustration. G-Suite has it's benefits, but it really depends what you are using it for. I will keep my eye open for you. I have tried the Question feature on GC as well, but I wasn't a fan of it, and I doubt it will work for what you are wanting. Please let us know if you find something in the meantime.