Slacking Off in Class: Applications & Integrations

Apps and bots are ways to enrich and improve the Slack experience both for learning and community. There’s no shortage of “best Slack apps” posts out there, but this list is specifically geared toward apps that can help you and your students work together better. I also want to remind you, dear reader, that the purpose of Slacking Off in Class is to provide you with ideas and tools. Making a successful community among your students and colleagues is no small feat. It takes effort and understanding of good pedagogy. Having said that, the following integrations can help you automate some of the Slack experience, thereby freeing up your time to do what you’re best at.

Email

I want to start off with the one that’s most counter-intuitive. You might ask, “Aren’t we using Slack to get away from email?” And you’d be right, that’s partially why. But, there are still lots of reasons to need to incorporate email into your Slack team, like calls for papers that come through newsletters or grant/scholarship opportunities sent out by your administration. By adding the Email integration (paid tiers, only) you can get unique, secret addresses that publish directly to individual channels. Beware of giving these addresses out, though, as there’s no way to limit who can send to them.

Slackbot

Specifically, Slackbot’s automatic response option. This is really only limited by your imagination, but here are a few to get you started.

  1. Whenever someone types syllabus, Slackbot can respond with a link to the syllabus online.
  2. Type class tonight or classtime and students can get a response with the time class is held and the URL for the online meeting room.
  3. Type is due and students can get a response that links them to the schedule in the LMS or to the class calendar.
  4. Type textbook and link students to the eBook you’re using as required reading.

See where I’m going with this?

IFTTT

While one day I might make an entire post on “IFTTT and Slack for Education,” right now I just want to mention its general use and two inventive ways to use it.

First, for those that aren’t familiar, IFTTT stands for “IF This, Then That” and it’s used to create connections between different services. Changing your Facebook picture automatically changes your Twitter picture, for example. Or a stock closes and you get an email or push notification. That kind of thing. Super duper handy to have in your toolkit, I assure you. Take a look at IFTTT’s Slack channel to see what all it can do. Currently it’s limited to other services triggering a post to a particular channel, but that’s really all you need. (For more in-depth options, there’s always Zapier.)

Instagram

One really neat idea I had for using IFTTT and a University- or campus-based Slack team is to integrate it with Instagram. Using the Instagram to Slack connection, you can, for instance, automatically post any pictures taken in a geographic location to a #social Slack channel.

A concrete example? Find the location of your commencement or a conference using the Instagram “New photo by you in area” trigger. Make that recipe public, send it out to your Slackmates, and turn it on for the duration of that event. Hey-presto, an instant photolog of graduation or your presentation!

Note: there used to be a “New photo in an area” that watched for pictures from anyone, which was a better choice to accomplish this, but Instagram recently changed their API and that’s no longer an option. Very unfortunate.

Twitter

While you can accomplish some of this using the native Slack integration, using the IFTTT integration gives you more flexibility (displaying full tweets in Slack channels and automatically sharing posts to/from individual accounts, so adding the official integration is encouraged). The Twitter integration, for example, is a great way to bring all those class-based hashtags into your class’s Slack channel or to put your campus or college’s official Twitter account’s post into your #social channel or even (bringing it back to the Instagram example above) take all the Tweets from an area and share them in Slack.

Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, etc.

Adding this/these integration(s) can improve the user experience for your students. Essentially, they turn links to documents in those services into richer examples of what’s actually linked. It’s not a game-changer, but it definitely improves things, making this

look like this

Google Calendar

I’ve found the Google Calendar integration to be probably the most useful, though it takes a bit of a hack to get it working with the LMS we have (BrightSpace). Basically, you need to find the calendar iCal link in your LMS for your class’s calendar (be careful, as sometimes you’ll get an iCal link for all your classes if you don’t go back and select just the one). Take that into Google Calendar and “Add by URL” to the account you’ve connected to your Slack team via this integration. Now you can move on to actually setting up the integrations. You can choose any of the following and multiple times:

  1. Post reminders before an event starts
  2. Post summaries of the current day’s and week’s events
  3. Post updates when an event has changed

Here’s a rundown of what I have done with this:

  • A weekly summary on Sunday evenings of all the class-related items for that week to a private class channel. That includes assignment due dates, classtimes, etc.
  • A daily summary at 8am on the day things are due or we have class, also to that private class channel.
  • A weekly summary of items on the official academic calendar posted to a public #info channel. This is a great way to remind students about registration or financially relevant deadlines.

I’ve heard from students that these kinds of reminders have been very helpful. One caveat, though, that I’ve talked to the Slack team about and just have to live with for now: on days where there are no events scheduled, the integration will still post a “No events today.” message. It can get a little spammy, but to me it seems worth it.

Google Hangouts

Remember when, earlier in this Slacking Off in Class series, I mentioned that part of why my students have told me they like using Slack is that it provides a kind of surrogate for dropping by and sticking your head in your professor’s door to see if they’re available to chat? This goes along with that. It’s also even more convenient if your institution uses Google Apps for Education and your Slack team is set up to use Google OAuth to sign in, as everything flows together simply. Here’s an example scenario:

Student via a DM: “Hey, got a minute to talk?”
Me: “Sure, what’s up?”
Student: “Can we do a video call instead?”
Me: “Absolutely.”
Me: /hangout

Voila, we’re video chatting and sharing screens. It’s incredibly convenient for me and my students.

RSS

To me, RSS has never seemed to get the attention it deserved. I don’t want to go into what RSS feeds are, but rather just throw out some ideas for how you might integrate them into your Slack team:

  1. Find the feed for your class’s Announcements in your LMS and have them published in your class’s private Slack channel.
  2. If your library has an Interlibrary Loan service, often your ILL updates and requests have a feed. Publish that to your own user account in Slack to get reminders.
  3. Grab automated database searches for newly published journal articles. For example, here’s how to get them through EBSCO and PubMed.
  4. Grab stories from a Medium publication and send them directly to Slack.
  5. Snag notifications of new issues published by a relevant journal, like this feed for the British Journal of Educational Technology.
  6. If you integrate blogs for reflective writing in your classes, you can easily add the blog feeds to a channel to collect everyone’s posts in one place that is then also searchable.

I’m always finding new and interesting ways to use feeds and am saddened to see many of the sites and services I love just no longer supporting them.

GIPHY

Finally, what better way to celebrate your article acceptance with your co-author than some dancing breakfast? (Just be sure to set your GIPHY content rating to PG.)

Justin Gammon | Design + Illustration