The University of Southampton has been trialling the use of Slack, informally among colleagues for about a year. We have used it within a group of specialist academics who have been focusing on innovation and also with student groups – in particular the student interns we employed this summer to support the digital literacies research, which is a joint venture between the Institute for Learning Innovation and Development and the Library. Slack is a web based communications tool that is easy to use, requires very little training on its functionality. This video describes how it’s used within an organisation.
No special hardware is required to use this cloud-based system. It also comes as an app and can be downloaded onto your machine, so that you can receive desktop notifications. These can be modified according to your preference.
Brief description of project scenario:
The teams we have used it with have been staff of about 17 people and the smaller, student and staff group that consisted of about 10 people in all. The first group, staff only, was initially very well received and many people were using it who would class themselves as complete technophobes. The interface is very friendly, no training or support was needed for either groups. We literally said ‘lets give this a go’ and off we went. The students have been using it and say that they really like it. It doesn’t do more than Facebook, but what it does do is keep it separate. No other distractions, links to drop box, and google drive- it is so simple and such a good user experience that the only barrier we had was when we didn’t have anything to say!
One thing that we did do with the student groups over the summer was split them into private groups within their communities. So we had one big group and added some resources and links for everyone to share and then we had the smaller groups, which only the people in the group could see and access the information. That worked very well as the students could find what we had posted very quickly.
Skill sets required and developed by learner:
The beautiful thing about not having to train people in how to use the application is that they can then get on with the task in hand very quickly and not get distracted by the technology.
Artefacts created as a result:
We have generated a massive amount of research over the summer for use within our reports, all of which is easily searchable. It is easy to see the conversations, track back and find documents. One of the most important aspects of Slack is its interface. There was a good user experience and that is important. No doubt there are many other tools that we can use to communicate, but the experience of using it was effortless and ‘satisfying’ that the uptake was 100% with the cohort we had this year.
What did the technology enable that could not be accomplished without it:
Without this tool we would have used Facebook or email. However, some of the staff involved with us wouldn’t have then participated because they either don’t have Facebook or they don’t want to draw any attention to their existing profile. It has meant that communication was much more efficient and effective than an email, as the record of the discussion is easy to read and comes with the all the documents (regardless of where they are stored) available through Slack.
Outcomes and aims realised:
We have managed to maintain our groups communication both with chatting and also to send private messages to each other. We have a real sense of community and a rich set of resources.
The students and staff who have used it really like it. It works the way you expect it to, which provides a sense of empowerment and instills confidence.
Main positives and negatives about the technology:
The main positives are that people wanted to use it and enjoyed it when they did. The only negative thing is that there was no institutional login, but then we could class that as first world problems. We will definitely be using this again and may even change how we use Facebook groups because of it.
Education Development Manager, SFHEA
Chair Association for Learning Technology (ALT)
Institute for Learning Innovation and Development (ILIaD)
University of Southampton
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