Arizona State University's campus
Transformation

How ASU powers the modern learning experience with Slack

A new report by Deloitte explores how Arizona State University is driving innovation in higher education

Author: Nic VargusAugust 12th, 2020

Arizona State University has always been a little different.

In fact, it’s been ranked as the most innovative school in the U.S. for five years straight, beating out schools like Stanford and MIT. It’s a forward-thinking place.

That’s probably why ASU is also the very first university to adopt Slack campuswide, rolling it out to five campuses and 200,000 users, including students, faculty and administrators. Slack is used to host classroom discussions, develop new courses and support students—both on campus and at home. 

Deloitte partnered with ASU and Slack to better understand how the university is evolving its model to meet today’s demands and prepare the Sun Devils for the workforce of the future. The results have just been released in a new report titled, “Higher education reimagined: embracing and shaping the future of work.” Take a deeper look at how ASU is using Slack to connect its digital campus here, then check out the free report.

ASU’s trident true learning strategy

For ASU CIO Lev Gonick, going wall-to-wall with Slack made perfect sense. Why? Because pretty much everyone was already using it. “We observed a large population of Sun Devil Nation already leveraging Slack,” he says. “Listening to next-generation voices has been key in our inclusive strategies as ASU continues to architect the most innovative digital campus.” 

A campus photo of Arizona State University

To take one example, that strategy’s paid off for the university’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Journalism students use Slack channels—virtual spaces to share messages, digital tools and files—to coordinate the publication of new stories. For instance, in #digprod, students post edited stories, with accompanying photos and media, so their classmates can quickly turn the content into digital assets and social media.

When news is breaking, student journalists whip up a new channel to coordinate coverage across the newsroom’s broadcast, digital and social media platforms. Reporters at the scene use Slack’s mobile app to send photos, B-roll and updates back to the newsroom. The students use the channel to collaborate on the content in real time, simulating the fast-paced, hyperconnected newsrooms they’ll encounter in their careers. 

A photo of students walking through campus at W.P. Carey School of Business
The Arizona State University sign in front of several cactuses.

What’s more, Slack enables students to gain crucial on-the-ground reporting experience while maintaining ties to their instructors in the Cronkite News newsroom. For instance, when students visited Oklahoma on a reporting trip, they had a spontaneous opportunity to visit the Cherokee Nation. With Slack, the students received approval and guidance from their professors throughout the trip—quick, fluid feedback that simply wasn’t possible on email. 

Improving a class act

Before Slack, there was no easy way to share lesson plans or ideas among faculty, much less to solicit timely student feedback. So once Slack rolled out, ASU faculty started asking for input from colleagues and students in channels. That continuous feedback loop has allowed them to fine-tune courses throughout the semester. 

“We hadn't seen the new course implemented. We just envisioned it and put it together. And Slack was this great foundation for us to be able to share the evolution of that vision.”

Jodie DonnerLead Technology Strategist, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, ASU

Jodie Donner, a lead technology strategist for ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, and two colleagues helped pioneer this collaborative teaching strategy in Slack. When they introduced a newly designed version of Technology Literacy, the three faculty members relied on Slack to adjust the curriculum. Rather than making incremental improvements to the course individually, the instructors used #edt180 to exchange resources, ideas and lesson plans. “We hadn’t seen the new course implemented. We just envisioned it and put it together,” says Donner. “And Slack was this great foundation for us to be able to share the evolution of that vision.” 

Within the channel, instructors shared what worked (or didn’t) so the others could adjust on the fly. “The transformational aspect was this instructor group. It became a really strong community,” says Punya Mishra, who also teaches the course and is the associate dean of scholarship and innovation at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “I don’t think this class would have been as good if it weren’t for that Slack channel. It became a survival tool.”

“Slack became this really invaluable channel for all the instructors to share ideas along the way.”

Punya MishraAssociate Dean of Scholarship and Innovation, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, ASU

Collecting classroom feedback in real time with channels 

Giving students access to Slack doesn’t just help the students. As Phil Simon, a lecturer at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, explains, it helps the professors too.

“I’m a professor who enjoys communicating and collaborating with my students,” he says. “At the same time, though, I won’t spend my morning reviewing 150 emails, just answering the same query 18 different times.” Instead, Simon sets up topic-specific Slack channels. 

For his Introduction to Information Systems sections, he’ll share job postings and advice in #careers, relevant news stories in #tech_in_the_news and helpful hints for software applications in #techtips, to name a few.

Simon also uses the Simple Poll integration, which creates quick surveys in Slack. This allows him to gauge student interest and retention of new material. “I can take the temperature of the room anonymously. This makes it safe for students to address potentially controversial themes,” he says. Perhaps most importantly, it empowers students to take initiative. When a student asked Simon for a list of books mentioned during his lectures, he urged the student to create his own Slack channel where the book titles could be shared. Some 20 students immediately joined. 

“One of the things I love about Slack is that it’s not top down. It could be bottom up or side to side,” he says. “There’s so much you can do with it.”

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