Messaging with Slack Improves Class Communication

by Lauren Horn Griffin, Department of Religious Studies

I’ve been using Slack, a communication and collaboration tool, with the students in my Fall 2020 course REL310, “REL Goes to the Movies.” The app has given me more insight into student understanding and progress (those formative moments) than the live discussions where only some participate.

Due to COVID-19, we are not watching the movies in the same room together. How were we going to watch and discuss movies remotely? I still wanted to create a sense of community and a fun atmosphere on movie night. I decided that we would watch the movie at the same time and live-Slack the experience.

Here are the instructions I gave:

“You will post on Slack at least five times during the movie (this can be a combination of comments, questions, responses, and playful messages). You will post at least two more substantial comments immediately post-movie (seven Slack posts total).”

I also provided some examples as well as a short guide to the art of live-tweeting (or live-Slacking, in our case) that includes a list of some of the kinds of live messages that might be posted to enrich the discussion.

Live-Slacking during the film has gone even better than I imagined. It’s been great for collaborative, public note-taking and discussing the main themes of the film, but it’s also really helped create a community and fun interactive experience. Some students will post pictures of themselves with popcorn before the movie or post a fun GIF as we get started. The posts during the film range from funny notes to super insightful responses.

screenshot of slack dialogue, where students say they like using Slack

Using Slack this way provides a synchronous experience that is low-bandwidth (doesn’t fail like Zoom can) and provides space for everyone’s voice (requiring the set number of posts per person). I can see myself using the live-Slacking method for certain lectures, talks, or other content I might show in class.

In addition to live-Slacking in the movie class, I have been using Slack in my Intro to Religious Studies classes as well. It facilitates a back-and-forth chat that is much less smooth via email. Students can see that I am immediately available and text me directly without the formality of email. If their question needs more of a follow-up, we can hop on a quick Slack call and talk it out.

I’ve gotten some great feedback on Slack from students so far, completely unsolicited.

screenshot of Slack dialogue where students express more appreciation

Both the synchronous and asynchronous uses of tools like Slack and VoiceThread have given me more insight into student understanding and student progress. From basic communication with students to live-messaging sessions, I’m pleased with how Slack has worked for me and my students this semester.