In my comparative politics course this past semester, I ran my usual Gerkhania simulation on Discord as an experiment. Discord is a free social media platform that Amanda has discussed previously. It was a positive experience, for the following reasons:
I had never used Discord before, yet it was very easy to figure out. Discord’s design is very intuitive and setting up the simulation was very simple. Students also found Discord easy to learn.
Students interacted more with each other than they did last year when I used Webex, despite a similarly small class. Webex does not allow for spontaneous communication between participants except for one-to-one chat messages. When building the Discord server, I granted students access to different communication channels according to their roles in the simulation. For example, a student representing an ethnic Khan who practiced the Montian religion had access to channels devoted to each group and could automatically message other Khans or Montians at any time. As server host, I could observe and participate in these conversations in real time.
Discord permits text, voice, and video communication. I deliberately chose not to use its videoconferencing capability and none of the students used it either. We communicated with each other solely through text messages. I believe this enhanced rather than degraded the experience in comparison to Webex — no black boxes instead of faces, and no interrupted video or audio because of low-bandwidth internet connections. A user interface that facilitates text communication also means Discord is suitable for running a simulation like Gerkhania asynchronously rather synchronously, something that isn’t realistic with video-based platforms.
My use of Discord also meant that students automatically had a complete record of the simulation’s events that they could reference for the final exam. I did not have to take any additional steps, like create and share a recording, for the class to have a history of what had transpired.