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Slack enhances communication for students

Wed Mar 30, 2022 at 02:06 PM

Do you Slack? Not as in being lazy or lacking creativity or activity, but as in using the communication tool Slack. This application, often used for business communication, is being used by several Oakland University faculty members in their classes, including the classes of Kimmie Parker, assistant professor of graphic design. 

Parker started using Slack in her classes in spring 2020 when Oakland University moved to remote learning. 

“I needed a more organic space for students to chat back and forth,” said Parker. In graphic design, Parker knew her students needed a place where they could look at each other’s work and provide feedback. “Moodle wasn’t going to be the tool for that. We could post comments, but the back and forth aspect of it was pretty clunky.”

Parker said students in her in-person class work on projects, talking amongst themselves while they explore the topic. She said that aspect of her classes is difficult to recreate online, but using Slack helps. 

“The students post the work they are doing, the in-progress stuff. They can chat and comment back and forth but also have visibility into everyone’s progress. Now that we are back in person, I’m still using it the same way. Students who miss a class still have visibility into our discussions,” said Parker. 

Slack has also been useful for engaging students with different learning styles. 

“Some students are super chatty in the classroom and they want to talk through the projects verbally. Other students are really shy and introverted, they are the ones who use Slack to write long, thought-out paragraph responses,” said Parker. 

Parker said using Slack meant she had another tool to learn and monitor, however, having multimodal ways for students to engage was worth the extra work. 

How does she set up her Slack for her students?

  • Each project the students do has its own channel in Slack
  • Students post pictures of their in-progress work to the appropriate channel, and their peers respond with questions, comments, and suggestions.
  • Parker gives prompts for the assignments in Moodle. 

Parker said she also has a course news channel, which is just one more way to reach students if there is a change to the course. 

“A student might not receive a Moodle alert if there is a change to the class. With Slack, they will get an alert through the app. I can say ‘thumbs up if you receive this’ and I know who has seen the message,” said Parker.

Parker said she also creates a random or just-for-fun channel in each of her classes, however, she doesn’t have a lot of interaction in those channels. She encourages her students to use Slack to interact, get to know each other and build community. 

She said many students often send her private messages, which she can answer directly and quickly from anywhere as Slack can be used as a phone app or a desktop application.

“I ask them if they need clarity or have a technical question, please post it in the general questions channel so that everybody can see it. It saves me so much time answering the same questions,” said Parker. 

However, she said it’s important to set boundaries. Parker said she responds to messages up to 8 p.m. at night, unless it’s something she can answer easily and quickly. She prefers to respond via Slack as it is a quick communication tool. 

Parker said many of the students in her classes hadn’t used Slack, but they picked it up quickly. To help them learn the tools, Parker created a Moodle book with information about setting up accounts and some tutorials. 

Slack doesn’t take the place of Moodle. 

“The course outline, the day’s activities, and all of the other class information is all in Moodle. Slack is just for the interactive portion of the class. I’m not using discussion forums in Moodle, I’m using Slack in place of that feature,” said Parker. 

It was almost a decade ago that Parker was introduced to Slack through a national group of graphic designers. They used Slack to communicate with each other. 

“There were thousands of people in there and I hated it. I wasn’t good at managing notifications and it was just ping-ping-ping all the time with random gifs. When the pandemic started and we were looking for a way to interact with students, visiting assistant professor Lindsey Larson started an OU graphic design Slack channel and it worked so well. Then, associate professor Meaghan Barry suggested we use it in a course that we are team-teaching. Now I’m using it for every class, every semester,” said Parker. 

Parker said she can see Slack being used in other areas as well, for study groups, extra problems and more. 

The main takeaway for me is that there are all different kinds of students, with different ways of communicating. Having different ways for them to interact with each other and with me during the course is a good thing. No other tool that I have used yet has worked this well,” said Parker.