Distance learning thrives in Slack

Use Slack to connect campuses and keep students engaged, anywhere and everywhere

Del equipo de Slack16 de marzo de 2020Ilustración de Robert Samuel Hanson

Offering students digital learning opportunities isn’t a new trend, but as we grapple with the impact of a global health crisis, colleges and universities are transforming into distance-learning hubs almost overnight. This transition is no simple feat, but it can be done with the right tools and champions. 

More than 3,000 colleges and universities have already been using either a free or paid version of Slack to help facilitate their distance-learning environment. That’s a total of 1.2 million users who use Slack at least once per month. Slack customers such as Oregon State UniversityYale, New York University, the University of Southern California and U.C. Berkeley that have been using our channel-based messaging platform are now moving their day-to-day academic and educational operations into Slack to minimize disruption to students and faculty during these times. 

All to say: If your institution hasn’t yet made the transition to using Slack as your distance-learning environment, we are here to help get you up and running. Here are some pointers, as well as information on where to go for further support from us.  

In this post, we’ll cover how Slack can:

  • Create a connected distance-learning environment
  • Connect everyone to the tools they need
  • Keep the campus community engaged

Get classes and lectures online (in a hurry)

We’ve mentioned that Slack is a channel-based messaging platform. That means that students, professors and teaching assistants (TAs) can organize themselves into big and small groups, quickly. Channels can mirror real-world functions like lecture halls and classrooms, offices, and even areas for socializing and networking. 

In terms of schoolwork, some of the most common and successful examples of channels that we’ve seen are ones set up for:

Project-based learning and lectures

Gather students, professors and TAs into project- or lecture-based channels, like an #english-lit-101 channel (or what have you), and you’ll soon open up a space for rousing discussion. Thanks to features like search and pinning messages to channels, students can learn from the questions their peers have posted before them, saving teachers ample time while ensuring that students are getting the information they need.

Online office hours

An #office-hours channel, where students can drop in with questions just as they would during in-person office hours, is another great resource to offer students in Slack. Just be sure to use the channel purpose and topic to set expectations around when you’re available to answer questions and reassure students that questions posted outside of office hours will be addressed at a later time. 

Small group discussions

It’s not uncommon for lectures to be followed up by smaller group discussions. A private channel between a professor or TA and a small group of students may be just the thing to help you create a safe space to ask questions and share thoughts, ideas and assignments. 

Connect students and faculty to the tools they need

With more than 2,000 apps on our platform (and counting), Slack has deep integrations with most third-party apps used by students, faculty and staff. These include:

It’s worth noting that these are among our most popular integrations across a broad range of industries, pandemic or not. With these integrations, students and faculty can spend less time searching for information and more time getting their (home)work done.  

We’ve also seen schools use Workflow Builder—a feature that allows any user to create simple forms and automate workflows in Slack—to improve the way new students are introduced to their university community. For example, schools have built onboarding workflows that automatically greet new students when they join Slack and provide them with information, guidance and connections to their future classmates. 

RMIT online—an Australia-based university—is proof that automated student onboarding pays off long-term. When administrators began doing this for students in Slack, they found it prepared students for their courses earlier, which later improved how well students performed in the first two weeks of the course. 

Keep students engaged and focused

Going remote doesn’t mean sacrificing community and connection. If anything, now’s the time to be even more conscious about people feeling isolated. Remember that part of the fun of the campus experience is the camaraderie among peers and students, which can be hard to replicate online. Here’s where public and private channels create significant opportunities to garner a stronger sense of belonging. 

A good idea we learned from our academic customers is to encourage healthy interactions by creating channels for student-led activities. In doing so, you’re more likely to re-create some of the campus experience in Slack, thereby sustaining student engagement with the platform and, by extension, with their learning. Here are a few examples of student organizations that can be easily run in Slack channels:

  • Student government
  • Student newspapers and publications
  • Greek life
  • Faith-based communities 

Manage business and administrative functions in Slack

Slack isn’t just a distance-learning tool. Faculty working in administrative functions can also organize and streamline their work in Slack. You can create designated channels to triage academic advising questions, and research consortiums can take advantage of shared channels—channels that connect teams in two separate organizations—to easily collaborate with labs from other universities.

Speaking with our customers unearthed more great examples for how channel-based messaging has helped them organize other academic and business functions, like: 

  • University foundations
  • Alumni relations
  • Academic advising
  • Career services
  • Athletic departments
  • University publications and social media

Enterprise-grade security keeps your data on lock

Naturally, adding more and more users to your Slack workspace may raise some security considerations. Rest assured that our industry-leading security program, trusted by Fortune 500 companies and thousands of academic institutions, means you can focus on making a smooth and swift digital transition without worrying about the security of your data. If you’d like to get into the specifics, you can learn more about our security program here.

Slack provides the flexibility, scalability and proven engagement to support your institution through this challenging and unpredictable time, and for the years to come. Going digital overnight is a huge transition—in fact, we did it ourselves—and we’re here to (virtually) walk you through it all.

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


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