This is a question I plan to self answer, but answers from others are very welcome too.

This term, I am teaching group and Galois theory. This is a heavily IBL course, where almost all the time is spent on group problem solving. You can see the course webpage, with all of our problems, here (and the previous term's webpage here .) Like everyone, we have been told to move our teaching and office hours online.

I asked my students what tools they use to discuss math online, and several of them mentioned discord. I am currently setting up a Discord channel for office hours and course meetings. I am planning to use this to document what I have learned so far, and hope others will help.

I would like to thank the denizens of the "homework help" channel on Discord for their help! We academics criticize online homework help sites a lot, but this could be their moment to shine!

Questions which I plan to write answers to, if others don't:

  • How do I log onto discord? How do I invite my students?

  • How do they add themselves to voice and text chats? How can I break them into smaller groups for group discussion, and how can I monitor those groups.

  • How can I and students type math in discord, if we know LaTeX?

  • How can I and students embed photographed images or hand drawn sketches in Discord?

  • What are other useful things to know?

So far, the advice in this post is based on one test run with 6 students. I'll continue to update once our course comes online.

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    What does IBL stand for? – GoodDeeds Mar 13 '20 at 16:23
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    Thanks for reminding me that this is math educator jargon; see link I just added. – David E Speyer Mar 13 '20 at 16:24
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    Not sure how relevant it is for your particular purposes, but Discord also recently announced that they are increasing the number of people able to watch live streams through their "Go Live" from 10 to 50 for the time being to help facilitate online collaboration. – Tobias Kildetoft Mar 13 '20 at 18:21
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    @MichaelBächtold Others may have better answers. Discord does have a live stream feature; I am going to look into it later today. – David E Speyer Mar 13 '20 at 19:34
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    What is the particular question you want to get answered, here? I can see five. – nick012000 Mar 14 '20 at 11:39

Answer to "How do I log onto discord? How do I invite my students?"

Head to https://discordapp.com/ and follow the quick directions to make an account. You should then see a screen that looks like this:

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Discord is broken up into "servers", which are subdivided into "channels". There is a list of servers you are currently logged into on the left bar. Click the plus icon to make a new channel. You'll see a screen like this:

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Click "create a server". You'll see the following screen, where you can name your server:

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You'll then see this. If you have interacted with people on Discord before, it will suggest you invite them to your class. (I've blacked out the names of the people I've chatted with.) Instead, select the shown link and e-mail it to your students. The channel will remain in existence and be permanently available.

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Answer to "How do they add themselves to voice and text channels? How can I break them into smaller groups for group discussion, and how can I monitor those groups."

Each server is subdivided into channels. Voice channels play in your headphones and listen to your microphone; text channels are chat windows. You can only have one of each active at once, but you can easily switch between them; simply click on the name of a channel to switch to it. The list of your channels looks like this; each voice channel displays under it (scribbled out in the image) who is in that channel.

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What I've done is made two channels of each type and asked students to split themselves among them. I click back and forth to eavesdrop on and join conversations.

Note that the past history of the text stream is continually available. So, if students have been typing a lot, it is quick for you to scroll back and see what has been said. I would suggest you encourage students to type, the same way you would encourage them to write things down when doing group work in person.

Answer to "How can I and students type math in discord, if we know LaTeX?"

You can add bots to Discord channels. The way I know to do this is, after you have already created the channel, go to the webpage associated to the bot and click on the invite button; invite it to your channel. For example, go to https://top.gg/bot/510789298321096704 and click on the Invite button as noted here:

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MathBot provides a quick text interface to LaTeX, a basic calculator and WolframAlpha. If you type =tex before something, MathBot will render it in LaTeX mathmode. Beware that this means that, if you want to mix text and equations, you'll need to say something like

=tex \textrm{Let}\ k \textrm{be a field and let}\ S \textrm{be the polynomial ring}\ k[x_1, \ldots, x_n]

Preceeding a line with =calc will access a simple built in calculator, for example, =calc 9*43 should produce 387. Using =wolf should pass whatever you type along to WolframAlpha.

TeXit allows people to type LaTeX (demarcated with dollar or double dollar signs) and have it turned in to TeX. This is far more user friendly than the TeX feature in Mathbot: Simply typing Let $k$ be a field and let $S$ be the polynomial ring $k[x_1, \ldots, x_n]$ should work with TeXit running.

For more help regarding TeXit's commands (which also include a calculator and WolframAlpha), type ,help and it will send you a direct message.

Answer to "How can I and students embed photographed images or hand drawn sketches in Discord?"

You can also drag and drop files into a Discord channel. PDFs turn into links; standard image files such as JPG, PNG, GIF are embedded in the stream. See here. This could be useful if your students have tablets, or have paper and cell phone cameras, so they can take pictures of their work and upload it.

I will report, however, that in a recent test run, most students found the "make image, transfer to desktop, drag-and-drop to Discord" workflow to be clunky and awkward. We are considering whether we want to use shared whiteboard software as an alternative. Other suggestions are welcome.

An easier way to share quick sketches is by pasting images directly into discord. You can draw a sketch in MSPaint or some other program, copy it the image itself from within the program (no need to save it as a file), and then paste the image into any text channel. This is also convenient way to share screenshots; Windows can snip portions of the screen with Win+Shift+S, and Mac and Linux have similar features. After taking a screenshot into your clipboard like this, it can be instantly pasted into Discord.

For more complex things, you can share your screen in realtime if you are using the desktop Discord application. Simply click the "Go Live" button in the bottom left:

Go Live button

You can then share either a specific application or your entire screen. Others can watch by clicking your username (it will have a bright red indication that you're live), and then clicking Join Stream.

More information here.

What are some other tips?

  • Note that you can mute your microphone when you are not talking, to cut down on static. If you frequently forget to do this, Discord's "push to talk" feature makes it so your microphone is only on when you hold down a specific key on your keyboard. See here for more.

  • A protocol which has worked well in large VOIP calls I have been in in the past is that, if someone else is talking and you want to talk next, type the letter "Q" in the chat window. When they finish, all the people with Q's speak before anyone else starts. That wasn't much of a problem for my class today, but I plan to enforce this protocol if it seems like some people are never getting a word in edgewise.

  • You can adjust the volumes of other people in the chat individually. See here.

  • You can edit past messages to remove typos. Click on the ellipses in the upper right of the message, then click on the edit option. Other options here are to pin a message, so it is permenantly at the top, or delete it.

enter image description here

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    This answer is community wiki, in hopes that others will contribute. – David E Speyer Mar 13 '20 at 16:20
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    First, thank you for your effort, much appreciated. I was wondering whether it would be better, to improve readability and ease maintainability, to split this in different answers, one for each section. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 13 '20 at 21:38
  • @MassimoOrtolano perhaps keep this as an overview and make section answers each with more detail. Just a thought... – Solar Mike Mar 14 '20 at 4:38
  • Thanks a lot, it's really helpful! Do you know if there are big differences with Riot (about.riot.im), which seems to be an opensource equivalent ? – Gagar Mar 14 '20 at 13:52
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    I have used Adobe Connect last week (after my University got locked down due to the coronavirus). We ran into an issue quickly, that there were not enough licenses available. I therefore encouraged my students to share the stream on other channels. My teaching assistant were quick to establish a stream to discord and twitch.tv. I also created accounts there and followed in the chat. Now I am prepared to stream and share from one service to the other. Thanks to David's answer, I also can use LaTeX now in the chat. Adobe Connect has the advantage of whiteboards and polls. Students can be allowed – letsfetz Mar 14 '20 at 20:02

Discord is for gaming and the existing networks of friends will prove too distracting. I recommend Slack. Slack is also a platform with 116 apps listed on AlternativeTo. Browse all 116 apps for Slack. You get ten free integrations on a free account.

  • Thanks! Will you start up a similar CW quesiton introducing people to Slack? – David E Speyer Mar 14 '20 at 13:00
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    @DavidESpeyer I think this might get out of control if we have a question for each service. I think this question could be made more generic, and then an answer for each answer. – Tim Mar 14 '20 at 15:47
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    @Tim , that is a good suggestion. I'm going to wait a few hours to see if someone makes a better one, but having one question for intro's to all the learning platforms sounds like a good idea and I can revise the intro to this accordingly. – David E Speyer Mar 14 '20 at 16:07
  • Sounds interesting. Does Slack allow for easy audio and video calls between participants, as well as screen streaming? – Michael Bächtold Mar 14 '20 at 16:47

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