I’m bringing Slack to one of my summer courses and I couldn't be more excited.
Michael Ramon Hicks

How’d it go with Slack? (Or, Why I had it all wrong.)

First, let me say that using Slack for two courses allowed me a great opportunity to informally measure how it could possibly enhance my teaching. I can honestly say that for one of the two class, it made the experiences for everyone (myself included) more enjoyable. We set up a channel with ground rules for using it that coincided with the moral and ethical culture of our campus, we established when we could use it (they could message me 24/7, but I would only post from 8AM — 5PM, unless responding to a DM) and though we started with more formality than less, we’ve ended up with a professional yet casual tone on our Slack.

I’ve offered to deactivate that Slack team, but the students from that course still use it (over Kikk or text messaging or Snapchat or whatever else they use) to stay in touch with me and with each other. They share pics of their new cars, tell stories about classmates they each know, support and encourage each other with other classes, post happy birthday expressions, link to Youtube videos of the their sorority stroll, talk about non schoolish things that are appropriate because the prof may be reading, and other, often corny subjects. They are learning to communicate professionally and they are learning collegiality in a time where crude oversharing is the norm. I’m glad that they accepted Slack into our class. I feel honored to still be “in the loop” with these students and I hope Slack makes it easier for them to utilize me as a resource as they begin their careers.

Here’s when it didn’t work -

I don’t usually finalize my syllabi until I have met with the class at least once and gotten to know the students a bit. Everyone’s technical ability and resources may be different, so I need to know that from the start. Slack was great for two classes (especially for the one mentioned above.) There was a third class that I planned to use Slack with, but it never materialized. When I introduced the concept of us using a “team platform” to create this virtual classroom that would extend beyond our physical space and time for class meetings, I was met with that collective “Dear God, not again!! Man, just give us the date for the midterm and tell us how many assignments we need to turn in to get a B!”

I know that look well. I probably gave it umpteen times as an undergraduate at Morehouse. I knew that if I forced Slack on them, I’d be no better than the profs I had learned from whom liked or disliked Moodle, who loved or hated blackboard, and whose teaching style was forever changed when they got that “powerpoint” thing. *I liked moodle — I thought the teachers who didn’t use it were lazy and I thought the ones who used Blackboard were insane.*

For this particular group of students, at this particular time, Slack (or any other platform) might have hindered my connection with them — and here is where I got Slack all wrong by approaching it as a new LMS….

Here’s (Exactly) How I got it all wrong

Slack worked best for me as a student/teacher engagement platform, not as a new learning management system platform. Had I approached it in that way from the beginning, I might have had the same success with all three attempts to use it. There are several very well written articles and posts all over the internet that more precisely explain why Slack is or is not appropriate as a LMS. It’s new and shiny (a plus for college students) it’s fast and well thought out UI makes it fun to use, and it can offer quick access to the instructor, or to each other. I will add here that Slack was perfect for one of the three classes I attempted to use it with, and it helped me become even more aware that a) teaching and learning can always be enhanced (especially my own teaching and learning), b) not every technological tool will work well for every group of undergraduates for-countless reasons, and c) I kinda like seeing pics of my students’ new rides. Makes me low-key jealous.

*I learned to use “low-key” from my students’ messages on Slack. If you need the urban dictionary explanation — you can get it here.

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