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Slack: A Powerful, Private (Free) Team Tool That Educators are Adopting

by Kelly Walsh on November 16, 2016

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Powerful Communication and Collaboration Features, Privacy, Device Independence, and Other Features are Bringing Slack Into the Classroom

A few months ago I was introduced to Slack through my role as Community Administrator for the Flipped Learning Network. We started using the platform as a communication, content sharing, and engagement resource for the flipped learning community.

At first I was a little reluctant to have yet another app to deal with, but I quickly came to appreciate the powerful simplicity of the platform. A Google search made it obvious that educators are embracing the platform as well (more an that below).

So, What is Slack?

Slack is a messaging and content sharing app for teams, with a breadth of rich functionality. This video provides a good, brief overview:

So, as you saw in the video, Slack enables you to:

  • Create a unique, private* online place for your team or group (private in the sense that only invited participants can access the content, but also secure – Slack content and communications are encrypted).
  • Create ‘public’ or private channels for communication and content, to help keep content organized (the public channels are open to anyone in that Slack team, whereas the private channels require an invitation to participate).
  • Share a wide variety of content: drag and drop files, share links, etc.
  • Access Slack from just about any device, with ease. There are apps for iOS and Android, Windows, the Mac, even Linux! You can also access it on the web, but I’ve found that installing the desktop app makes it so much easier to access and use.
  • Communicate privately with any other member of your team: You can easily connect with anyone in your Slack team and communicate and exchange content, etc., privately.
  • Easy search: When you search in Slack, it looks at all your team’s content – you don’t have to poke around each channel to find things (of course, if something was shared privately and you don’t have access, you won’t see it).

Slack in the Classroom and Course Setting

So, as I mentioned above, if you Google search for phrases like “Slack in the classroom”, you’re going to find lots of examples of teachers, bloggers, and journalists, writing about how the tool is being incorporated into teaching and learning. Here are a handful of examples:

  • Notes On Teaching With Slack” by Zach Whalen: The Associate Professor at the University of Mary Washington writes about his increasing adoption of the tool, providing insights into various classroom needs and how the tool can be used to meet them, often reflecting on how certain needs might be better met with his LMS (he is a Canvas user) or by using Slack.
  • Give Teachers Some Slack: A Tool for Connecting Educators” by Danny Ferniany. This Noodle article provides a broad look at Slack and how it getting adopted by teachers. (I also learned of SlackEDU here and asked to join!).
  • Using Slack in the Classroom” by Jeremy Bradbury. This University of Ontario Institute of Technology teacher provides perspective on his use of the tool, organized into sections including “Before Slack”, “How I Use Slack in my Classes”, and “After Slack – the Breakdown”.
  • Using Slack in a High School Class” by Brent Simpson. This is brief post, but I wanted to make sure it was clear that it isn’t only higher ed adopting this platform. It can work fine in high schools as well, and potentially middle schools (I’m not a big fan of heavy tech use in younger grades, and this is rich “always on” platform).
  • Instructors Encourage Slack-ing in the Classroom” by Stacy Forster. Among the points made in this article is the idea that when teachers and students are adopting Slack in their classrooms, “it was a case of the classroom taking cues from the professional world — one of my students had read about its collaborative capabilities, and a couple had used Slack at internships and jobs in media organizations.”

One last comment – I mentioned this above, but want to re-emphasize it: when you use Slack from a desktop or laptop, be sure to download the app. I just found it so much easier and more efficient to use (and you can have a system tray icon in Windows, with an indicator to let you know if anyone has reached out to you).

So that’s it … it’s now officially okay to be a Slack-er! (Sorry couldn’t resist). Learn more about Slack here

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester, in White Plains, NY, where he also teaches. In 2009, Walsh founded EmergingEdTech.com. He frequently delivers presentations and training on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. His eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book is available here. Walsh became the Community Administrator for the Flipped Learning Network in June of 2016. In his "spare time" he also writes, records, and performs original music ... stop by kwalshmusic.com and have a listen!

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, or those of other writers, and not those of my employer. - K. Walsh]

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