A woman joins a classroom remotely

Universities keep class in session with channels

How UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business and California State University, East Bay are using Slack to provide instruction and support students

Author: Lauren JohnsonMarch 26th, 2020Illustration by Abbey Lossing

This story is part of an ongoing series exploring how organizations are supporting remote work during the Covid-19 crisis. We hope these stories provide actionable tips and inspiration that organizations can use to make this transition a little bit smoother.

From study buddy to teacher’s assistant, we’ve watched Slack pull up a seat in university classrooms and administrative offices across the U.S. Now that educational institutions are moving their courses online in response to Covid-19, programs are leaning on Slack to help deliver curriculum and support students.

We recently shared strategies and best practices for educational institutions transitioning from the physical classroom to distance learning in Slack. But we also wanted to know how different institutions were using Slack channels— virtual spaces for organizations to share messages, tools and files—to make the shift. So we reached out to two major programs. Both schools were eager to expound on the ways they’ve relied on Slack to support student queries, keep faculty aligned and swiftly respond to coronavirus safety concerns.

Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

Using Slack to build an empowering hub for students

The Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley frequently tops lists of the best business schools in the country. It also has a reputation for opening doors for its students by plugging them into supportive networks, such as the Career Management Group’s (CMG) technology career community.

CMG’s technology career community is a student cohort dedicated to keeping its fingers on the pulse of the tech industry. While this community has always supported face-to-face connections, the group adopted Slack to have a centralized digital space that students could tap into to receive support, guidance and advice. With a Slack workspace, students can create Slack channels, share messages, and access tools and files.

The CMG Slack community plugs new students into the Berkeley Haas community on day one, allowing them to get the support they need right out of the gate.

“I’m able to build connections in Slack with students that I was unable to get before in email,” says Pierre Chew, associate CIO of the Haas School of Business. “It allows me to get better insight into their world and guide them to get answers, and they’re so grateful for that.”

The CMG community also uses Slack to help connect students pursuing technology careers with alumni, CMG staff, professional clubs and campus representatives. Within Slack, members can:

  • Create channels for technology industry announcements, networking, clubs, events, internship opportunities, job postings and career resources
  • Hold monthly alumni-led fireside chats and ask me anything (AMAs) sessions
  • Capture questions, replies and upvotes during AMAs with the Slido app
  • Utilize the Polly survey app to quickly gauge interest and feedback from students on upcoming events

Recently, CMG expanded its community-building efforts in Slack by creating additional channels for students pursuing careers in health care, mobility and energy.

Pierre Chew, Haas School of Business

“I’m able to build connections in Slack with students that I was unable to get before in email.”

Pierre ChewAssociate CIO, Haas School of Business

California State University, East Bay, Department of Health Sciences

Breaking out of the inbox to support student engagement

Last year, CSU East Bay’s Department of Health Sciences faced a communication conundrum. Email—with its one-size-fits-all approach to messaging—wasn’t the best way to reach everyone across the large department.

With email, information often slipped through the cracks, and students weren’t always able to get the information they needed. Without a standard platform, it was challenging for the department to foster collaboration among students and to develop their teamwork skills.

So, the department decided to try Slack instead.

Slack in the classroom

Some professors experimented with running courses on Slack’s Enterprise Grid. Students supported each other in Q&A channels, commented on articles, participated in polls and received one-on-one assistance from their professors in #office-hours channels.

Jason Smith, CSU

“In addition to supporting our day-to-day functions, Slack has given us a place to interact with students and provide advice for staying healthy while working at home.”

Jason SmithAssociate Professor and Chair, CSU East Bay, Department of Health Sciences

After the program successfully kicked off, 88% of the health sciences faculty and staff said they saw internal email exchanges drop. Two-thirds of the health sciences students reported that they felt more engaged with the department since using Slack in the classroom.

Responding to Covid-19

The pivot to Slack became an essential part of the department’s coronavirus response plan as classes were moved to an entirely online format. Faculty used dedicated channels to share guidance on facilitating online classes.

“Slack was instrumental as we rapidly switched to online instruction and then closed physical offices entirely due to Covid-19,” says Jason Smith, associate professor and chair of CSU East Bay’s Department of Health Sciences. “In addition to supporting our day-to-day functions, it’s given us a place to interact with students and provide advice for staying healthy while working at home.”

The academic experience is largely shaped by students’ interactions with peers and faculty, both inside and outside the classroom. While, without a doubt, Covid-19 will affect the way campus communities connect, these stories demonstrate that the best parts of a university education can and will continue to thrive online and in channels.

If you’d like some personalized help around using Slack with your newly remote team, we’re happy to hop on a quick call with you. Click here to schedule a time.

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