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Best ways to use Slack for teaching

These recommendations will help you determine if Slack is the right tool for your situation (Part 1 of 3)

Slack is a platform for individuals and groups to chat online, organize conversations, and share links and media synchronously or asynchronously. Slack at Stanford can provide you with a private workspace for your group of collaborators. Then you can create channels within that workspace for different topics. 

Slack has clear benefits for students who are working on projects as they might in a professional work setting. However, depending on your plans, it’s possible that Canvas or Ed Discussion could be a better fit for your teaching needs, particularly if your students are not already using Slack. 

Consider the following scenarios when deciding whether Slack is the best tool for your students. 

This article is part of a three-part series that will guide you through the process of integrating Slack into your teaching practice. 

  1. Best ways to use Slack for teaching
  2. Setting up a Slack workspace for your students
  3. Telling your students how to use your Slack workspace

Most effective Slack channel use cases

The more your classwork is like the collaborative work actually done by teams in the working world, the more your students will naturally gravitate to using Slack. The following use cases and channel types are a good fit for what Slack was designed to do.

  • Project Collaboration (e.g., #teamname or #projectname): Any student can create a private channel and invite other members of the workspace, including the instructor. 
  • Project Feedback (e.g., #getfeedback): Students can post links to prospective ideas, concepts, or works in progress or final projects and get feedback.
  • Teaching Team (e.g., #course-staff): The instructor creates a private channel and invites other staff for planning and communication.

Effective Slack use cases with some limitations

Slack can be a solution for the following instructional use cases. However, there are some limitations around anonymity, grading, and in-person chat. 

  • Question and Answer Forums (e.g., #help or #questions): Some instructors create one channel for all questions, while others set up channels by module, week, or assignment.  Depending on the nature of your course, students may be shy about asking a question in an open channel. Slack workspaces aren’t anonymous but you can add apps that will anonymize posts (search “anon” to see options, including at least one that is free to educational institutions). If you are considering Slack as a replacement to Piazza, we recommend Ed Discussion which is designed for Q&A and online discussion and comes with an anonymity option. Ed Discussion can be enabled for use with Canvas or used outside of Canvas as a standalone tool.
  • Graded Discussion (e.g., #discussion): Slack doesn’t have built-in features that let you assign and grade posts like Canvas Discussion does, which can be a pro or a con depending on the formality of the context.
  • In-person Chat (e.g., #chat or use an existing channel like #resources or #questions or channels named after module or week): Most courses used the chat and polls in Zoom during remote instruction, but as students return to on-campus learning, Slack might be used for a chat during a live class session.

Limited use cases

If your students are already using Slack for one of the reasons above, using it for an additional activity below could be a natural extension. If not, consider whether the benefits of Slack, such as speed, multimedia, and informality, outweigh the benefits of using something the students are already checking, such as Canvas or Google Drive, particularly if your students don’t routinely use Slack. 

  • Announcements (e.g., #general or #announcements). Check with students before deciding to make announcements exclusively in Slack; consolidating communication to Slack may be seen as beneficial or burdensome, depending on whether Slack is already widely adopted among your students. You can set it as an announcement-only channel so that students can only react and not post replies unless you want them to make announcements too.
  • Sharing Resources (e.g., #resources or channels named after a module or week): Students or instructors can informally share links related to the course or lecture topic. Make it clear whether this is optional or required so students can decide if they want to be notified about every post.

For additional help

Request a consultation from the Center for Teaching and Learning to further explore ways to engage your students and the benefits of one tool over another. If you have technical questions about Slack itself, contact UIT support. You can also view the Fall 2021 TEACH Symposium recording on this topic, Using Slack to Support Your Class (SUNet required).