Gaming communication platform becomes 24/7 tutoring

Students help students through a digital helpline

By Miya Liu

Continuing last year’s routine, physics club holds regular test review Kahoots for physics students, but now they have expanded their test prep to an over 130 student-wide tutoring system through a popular gaming communication platform known as Discord.

“Physics is a really hard subject for a lot of people,” senior and physics club secretary Richard Huang said in a Zoom interview. “Over distance learning, especially with [the flipped classroom], it’s even harder.” 

Senior Emily Blake said she used Discord for the first time for help in her AP physics 1 class, in which she said she and a lot of her friends were struggling. Blake said she uses Discord to ask questions she doesn’t get to ask during the limited class time.

Tutors like Richard can offer support to tutees like Emily as needed. (Photos courtesy of Emily Blake and Richard Huang)

“There’re a lot of great tutors,” Blake said, “who swoop in heroically when I have trouble with homework.”

Those interested in becoming a tutor are verified and assigned a “tutor” role based on their experience, so they will get a specific notification if someone pings (mentions you using the “@” symbol) their role, Huang said. 

At first, Blake said she was hesitant to reach out to the group of tutors available. 

“It’s scary to take the first step and message [all the tutors] at once,” Blake said. “But it makes a lot more sense to have my peers explain it. I feel good when I get helped.”

Another advantage of Discord is the ability to mute channels. For example, physics teacher Kathleen Shreve will not get notifications unless someone pings her, and then she answers quickly. This leaves most of the interactions between students only. It’s also an additional resource, so it’s easier on the teachers, Blake said.

Senior Shishir Iyer is one of the tutors who helps take the load off of teachers, he said. He took the test for AP physics C: mechanics in sophomore year and electricity and magnetism the following year and said he likes how quickly people can respond. He appreciates the convenience of Discord, he said. 

“It’s easier to help multiple people at the same time and have a larger conversation,” Iyer said. “When you’re in person, you might only be able to help one person at the same time and not as many people can ask follow-up questions.”

Iyer said he also enjoys the challenge of tutoring, especially when he does not have an answer right at the top of his head.

“Sometimes people ask really insightful questions about topics that I’ve never really thought about,” Iyer said, “so I have to think about it and as I give an answer, I realize that I understand that topic a lot better than I did when I was actually in class. So by answering these questions, I’m continuing to learn more.”

In addition to both teaching and learning new skills, tutoring also gives Iyer a greater sense of satisfaction, he said, joking about his sense of accomplishment.

“Other than feeling a sense of superiority,” Iyer said, “I feel happy that my knowledge was actually of use to someone other than myself.”

This is what Huang said he intended when he created this Discord server: a place where students could help other students. Huang also manages servers for statistics, biology, cubing club, and chess club, he said, adding that he chose this platform so people would feel more comfortable reaching out for help. 

“When I was writing the guidelines, the first rule is no judgment for a reason,” Huang said. 

Huang said he has created a sense of community virtually and like Blake and Iyer, he said he shares a similar sentiment regarding the learning process.

“It makes you feel good,” Huang said. “It makes you feel so happy that you’re helping someone.”

The success of this system has inspired other clubs to adopt it as well, Blake said. As the public relations officer of French club and FNHS, she is in charge of communications with the club, and has worked closely with Huang to set up a server for her club as well, she said. 

“I wanted a system where you could get instant notifications because [the French teachers] need tutors pretty regularly,” Blake said.

The platform is also the closest to an environment where people can hang out, with voice channels and shared music channels, Blake said. 

“We wanted a place where french people could communicate with each other and just chat,” Blake said, “and have a bit more normalcy and social socialization we don’t get.”

Huang said he aims to use Discord to create a club culture where people can be more like a giant friend group, not separated by positions. He said the discord has accomplished this.

“This is what we want in the club,” Huang said. “We want people to be themselves and have a safe environment.”

To join the physics Discord, visit: https://discord.gg/BjRzTS5

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