Using Slack for Education

“My argument is that a LMS by default should support the learning activities that the students perform themselves…What I like about Slack — when thinking about learning — is that it’s by default an active environment. No matter where you are in Slack you can write, post, share, comment and more. Discussions is not an add-on element buried deep within the course — Slack is discussion. It is collaboration. And that’s really what a LMS should be like to support learning.” — Mathias Elmose, Is Slack the new LMS?

“Slack is IRC. It’s a fresh coat of paint on an idea that has been around since the late 80s. The question is: why now? Why does an idea that has been around for years gain traction now?” -Rands

What is Slack?

At its core, Slack is a messaging platform designed to promote connected discussion. Administrators in Slack can facilitate large and small-group discussion, hold private conversations, and manage in-platform file-sharing to support collaborative projects. Slack’s adaptable interface and application integrations enhance its potential as an LMS or supplemental discussion forum with students.

How is this tool used in educational settings?

“The term, ‘Learning Management System,’ has never sat right with me. To me, learning doesn’t seem like something that can be managed. I believe content can be managed; people can be managed; customers can be managed. And maybe putting content in front of people can help them learn something from it. But someone learns something themselves, not because a teacher ‘managed’ them into knowing something.” -Zach Whalen, Notes on Teaching with Slack

Slack can also link educators in conversation


How does Slack work?

If you’re completely new to Slack, I’d recommend reviewing their central guide hub for an overview of its features. There are video guides also!

Integrate apps with Slack to enhance its adaptability

You can integrate several apps with Slack. If you’re using Google Drive, Google Hangouts, Dropbox, Trello, IFTTT, Twitter, or many others, it’s worth taking a peek!

What about communication?

Communication in Slack takes place in Channels and Direct Messages.

“Channels are for conversations that are open to all team members. Messages posted to channels are archived and searchable to the entire team. Private channels are best used for topics that are sensitive or confidential, or limited to a small group of team members. A private channel and its contents are visible and searchable only to the channel members. Direct messages and group messages (DMs and group DMs) are useful for quick, private conversations between two or more team members. These conversations are visible and searchable only to you and the team members you DM.” -Slack

These tools enable both the possibility for small-group discussion (private channel or group message) and large-group chat channels focused around a task, theme, or purpose (e.g. course announcements, Q&A, or assignments).

Formatting options

There are many ways to format your messages to increase Slack’s functionality. You can use formatting to create to-do lists, add emphasis to text, and much more.

Slash commands = fast content and conversation management

Slash commands enable you to customize your activity in Slack. Using slash commands allows you to quickly set reminders, search for information, message other users, and facilitate conversation in your channels. You can also create custom commands for use within your team’s channels. Below are some examples:

  1. Learn more about how to set reminders 
    /remind help
  2. Get a list of the reminders you’ve set 
    /remind list
  3. Search Slack messages and files
    /search [your text]

How do I share, manage, and search for files?

Slackbot can serve as a course assistant

Slackbot serves as a primary assistant for all activity in Slack, and enables you to set reminders, manage and recall information, and communicate with your team. It seems natural to consider leveraging Slackbot as a course assistant, serving as both a personal assistant with Slack’s administrative tasks and as a supplemental assistant to students for various functions and communication within the platform. For example, you can set custom response messages enabling Slackbot to answer common questions with a consistent reply:

If Slackbot’s capabilities don’t quite achieve needs for course support, Slack provides an evolving list of additional bots which have been developed for different tasks. Adding these bots to your team can provide extra assistance with scheduling, attendance, polling, and more!


Additional thoughts

Slack offers a lot of powerful tools for communicating and connecting people outside of traditional email and LMS structures. Educators who use external services (like Google Drive, Google Hangouts, and Twitter) to manage coursework and communication may leverage Slack as a central hub, integrating these apps to enhance Slack’s existing functionality. While this tool will not be a great fit for all learners (or all educators), Slack could be very beneficial to users in educational environments which already utilize social media, connected learning, and online discussion. Slack’s adaptability enables it to serve as a stand-alone or a supplemental tool for communication, file-sharing, and collaborative learning.

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