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What are channels in Modern Chat Applications?

Also, what is my student doing on Discord?

Crash course to modern messaging systems: use of channels (focusing on Discord*) caa 2022

SMS and ungrouped messaging systems like WhatsApp (caa Oct 2022 prior to the new WhatsApp Community Feature) was something intuitive for the longest time. There is a person you talk to and all the messages are nested and grouped by person.

A little late to the game but as of late Nov it is possible to message yourself on WhatsApp(: Why would you do that? Think of it as a way to save messages quickly

Cognitively, group messages is also not a stretch - it remains fundamentally familiar that we still organize messages by persons/ people.

When running a recent teacher workshop, I realized that the above remains largely a communication norm for the teaching fraternity. There is a marked divergence between what is used by teens and what is used in startups. Surprisingly there are more similarities between teens and startups*.

*taking Discord to be representative of teens and Slack to be representative of startups

A significant shift would be the introduction of channels that organizes messages by concerns or topics.

What are channels?

Image taken from Lela Benet

In Discord, the way information is organized is:

Server > Category > Channel > Individual messages

Why should I bother with Channels?

Channels offer more flexible interactions for users who self-select into various topic areas.

Suppose you teach a class on Math, you may organize your channels based on the topics you teach so students (across your classes) can ask questions on #vectors, #statistics, #sequencesandseries.

Channels are typically denoted by a hashtag in front of it - the same notation is used in. similar business communication tool/ messaging app known as Slack.

Voice vs Text Channels

The complication that Discord introduces which confuses new users but is well loved by gamers is the offering of voice channels. This allows users to hear each other. It can also accommodate text in that same channel.

Think of a voice channel is just a perpetual call that anyone can join.

Private vs Public Channels

As you organize information, you can also determine levels of access by adjusting the privacy of channels.

I have used this to segment sensitive work groups while still doing community management. For instance, for different work groups doing paper setting that required some degree of privacy/ opacity, they were kept in locked channels with key stakeholders.

Parting thoughts/ How can I use channels?

The idea of channels permeates modern chat apps like MS Teams, Discord, Slack and more.

I personally use channels to organise a few concerns:

  • A) Topics and themes relevant to my teaching subject (e.g. Aggregrate Demand - Aggregate Supply)

  • B) White space for self-initiated projects (so students can "jio" each other)

  • C) Career Guidance (sharing of relevant talks, speakers and industry exposure)

  • D) History of the Discipline (Economic history is fairly interesting to me to explain how theories came to be. This is not exactly examinable material but provided some grounding to why we learn what we learn)

Channels ultimately is a sustained mental exercise of organizing information that can change the workflow of your team (and classes).

While apps like Discord is typically associated with streaming and gaming, it still presents interesting applications in education.

Whether you are a manager or a classroom teacher, I think there are ample good use cases to consider advanced functions like bots, workflow automation and more here. Workflow automation and integration companies like Workato build entire HR, finance and product workflows for business communication tools such as Slack and MS Teams and that holds immense promise to reduce admin for our sector.

We will have a EduTech build sprint @ 2 Linden Drive (inside Nanyang Girls' High School) this coming Sat on 10 Dec from 9am to 5pm, join us if you can!

See you next time(: