In an era dominated by social media and instant messaging, it was only a matter of time before these platforms found their way into the educational sphere. Jeffrey R. Young, in his article from EdSurge.com, discusses how these technological tools have seamlessly integrated into the educational landscape. As technology continues to evolve, both educators and students have been quick to adapt, integrating various communication tools into their academic routines. But the question arises: Are these platforms being used as educators intended?
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- The rise of digital platforms like Discord, GroupMe, and Slack in the academic world has been accelerated by the pandemic, with students using them to connect, discuss assignments, and sometimes share answers.
- While some educators see these platforms as positive spaces for student interaction and venting, there’s a significant concern about potential breaches of academic integrity.
- Incidents of cheating on these platforms have been reported, leading to debates about the role of educators in monitoring or joining these student groups.
- Despite the challenges, these platforms have also been instrumental in building virtual communities, especially during times when face-to-face interactions were limited.
With the onset of the pandemic and the subsequent shift to online learning, students sought ways to maintain connections with their peers and keep up with curricula. This led to the creation of private group chats on platforms like Discord, GroupMe, and Slack. Initially designed for gaming or professional communication, these platforms quickly became hubs for academic discussions.
Educators have mixed feelings about this trend. While some see it as a positive way for students to vent and connect, others express concerns about potential breaches of academic integrity. Aaron Zachmeier, from the University of California at Santa Cruz, even suggests that faculty should assume there’s a Discord group for every course they teach. The message is clear: if you can’t beat them, join them, and many faculty members actively set up their Discord servers or join those created by their students.
Megan McNamara, a lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, offers a personal perspective on this phenomenon. She used Discord as a student and found it a valuable space for building relationships and engaging in meaningful conversations.
“I loved it. What gave me my feeling of being in a relationship with anyone else in the class was the conversations I had there.”
These platforms have also become places where students can ask questions they might be too embarrassed to pose to their professors directly or when they can get certain answers from peers earlier than they would receive them from their instructors.
Joseph Ching, from James Madison University, observed that students often turn to these platforms out of frustration, seeking timely feedback and assistance. The allure of anonymity also plays a role, as students can interact without revealing their true identities, fostering a sense of community.
Mixed Reactions Within Teachers
However, this shift to online interaction has its drawbacks. McNamara notes an increase in social anxiety among students post-pandemic, with many preferring online interactions over face-to-face conversations. This reliance on digital communication might also be contributing to decreased physical attendance in classes.
Additionally, the integration of digital platforms into the academic domain has brought with it a significant concern: cheating. As students find solace in the anonymity and convenience of platforms like Discord and GroupMe, educators are grappling with the potential misuse of these channels for academic dishonesty.
Zachmeier and McNamara both acknowledge the growing apprehension among professors regarding these unofficial online platforms. The primary worry? Students might be using them to share answers on assignments or exams.
“While the loudest discussions about student cheating these days revolve around the use of new AI tools like ChatGPT, student Discord servers and other unofficial online forums can allow students to trade specific answers or work together in ways that might be even harder to catch,” they noted.
A few glaring incidents have brought this issue to the limelight. In 2019, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at Austin took a stern step. He emailed 70 students, informing them they would receive an F on an assignment. The reason? They were part of a GroupMe chat group sharing exam answers.
This incident and others like it have spurred discussions on online forums about the risks associated with these platforms. One Reddit user advised students against joining GroupMe sections for their classes, stating,
“If you are looking to cheat, then this is honestly the worst way to do it. With everything online there’s much better ways to get answers without leaving a huge trail and risking other people’s academic records.”
Perry Evans, a senior at James Madison University, had similar thoughts. He mentioned a “big scare” among his peers about using GroupMe, fueled by fears that the platform might share chat information with professors. Although Evans uses Discord for gaming, he steers clear of it for academic purposes, believing he receives adequate feedback from professors and teaching assistants.
Educators’ Attempts to Response
In an attempt to mitigate these concerns, some educators have tried to become part of student Discord servers or even set them up themselves to monitor activities. However, this approach has its critics. Tony Phan Vo, a California State University at Fullerton student, firmly believes that “Discord is for students, not professors.” He argues that student autonomy is compromised when professors take charge of these platforms.
McNamara, of UC Santa Cruz, offers a word of caution to educators considering joining these platforms. She believes that setting clear expectations is crucial, especially regarding response times to student queries.
“If you set yourself up to be responsive and you aren’t responsive, it’s worse than if you didn’t say you’d use it,” she warns.
Essentially, the digital age presents a double-edged sword for educators. While it offers unprecedented opportunities for connection and collaboration, it also brings with it challenges that require careful navigation. The onus is on both educators and students to use these platforms responsibly and ethically.
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