Slack 4 ELT

The coronavirus has thrown many schools and teachers into the deep end of the digital teaching swimming pool. Many schools are looking for a digital / online solution to communicate with and manage students and also teach students. What to do? Where to turn? How to transition, quickly?

I’ve been at the lead when it comes to educational technology over the years – even building a few LMSs, online curriculum platforms and even a video conference platform. So I’d like to share the advice I’m giving schools and teachers regarding an online management and teaching solution. If you would like some more formal training or consultation – don’t hesitate to contact me here at ELT Buzz.

[*Caveat – all institutional and teacher needs are unique. We all have differing expectations, experience levels, technological environments and delivery specifications. So I’m not advocating a one size fits all approach. This is what I see as the goal standard as an LMS for the reasons I outline. However, evaluate for your own school and teaching needs.]

First, please see all the ELT Buzz related reference articles regarding teaching during the coronavirus health emergence. Secondly, jump to the bottom of this post for a full list of important articles expanding on using Slack as an LMS and teaching tool. They expand a lot and most of what I’m saying here. Thirdly, see this huge LinkedIN discussion I moderate with a lot of thoughts and advice. Lastly, download this tutorial presentation I created for helping teachers understand #Slack.

I’ve been advising schools and teachers making the transition to online teaching to use Slack. ( Download my overview presentation ). It’s simple and simply works. The gold standard for communication among teams – and our class IS a team. And that’s the point – language teaching is all about communication and meeting our students somewhere that makes communication job #1.

Many think of Slack as just a messaging system like Whatsapp – couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a powerful tool for “presence” and keeping in touch, managing students, communicating with students. At a minimum, Slack should be your staff room, a communication tool for all teachers at your school. It’s perfect for that – no more email confusion!

Many teachers are simply just using Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts or some video conference suite where they invite students and begin teaching. That’s fine and might work for some. However, it is much better to add on a communication tool like Slack and share/store files, have discussions, manage information + add in Zoom or other video conferencing apps ontop (in Slack you add Apps and activate them with “/” ex. /zoom creates a link to the zoom classroom and all students are notified. I like /see – another video conference solution that allows for more users free). It’s important that there isn’t just a delivery portion of your online solution but also a management tool.

There are many “flat” LMSs (Learning Management Systems) out there offering different functionality. Blackboard, Moodle etc … A lot of consultants and companies that will build you a custom platform (mostly using some kind of template). However, they just don’t facilitate learning. Yeah, they focus on teaching but here’s the thing – what’s important is student learning what students are doing.

Slack is a constructivist not a teacher-directed tool. Students just like it, it feels like things are happening. It’s not a message board where you visit once a day / week and post something to just meet the class requirements. It facilitates discussion in bursts and as one teacher stated ““It’s psychological. You feel like you are more present and in an active environment.”. That is sooooo important – this aspect of engagement that so many online teaching tools are lacking, fully lacking.

Further, Slack has a proven track record. It is top of the line tech. Servers never go down, everything work perfectly. It’s “lite” and fast. Fully mobile ready. It allows you to focus on the teaching. Slack offers almost every possible integration as apps. Here for example are the voice-video apps available to be integrated right into it.

Apps I consider as important:

Google Docs – share your teaching documents and resources from your google drive.

Google Calendar – set up a class calendar and students are notified of every day/week class event or activity that happens online or off.

Simple Polls – with a few words, pull in and set up a poll to evaluate students and assess student needs. Also Polly app for making quizzes, surveys.

Jibble – get instant reports of all student activity on Slack. Time in and out. Know that they are attending and working on Slack.

There are so many more apps – I could go on and on. Find what works for your class (team in Slack jargon). There also are a lot of tricks and a learning curve to using Slack but nothing jaw-dropping. I will hold tutorial sessions every Wed. at 9am EST (in Zoom) – but in the meantime join the test Slack workplace I set up Slack4ELT and get the student view and poke around. I’ll also upgrade all teachers to Admin so you can play around as a teacher would.

Or go to Slack and set up your own test work(class) place. It’s simple. Just add your email, give your class a name and start setting up your channels – parts of your course where the activity takes place.

Now you are probably have already asked – “Is this free?”. The answer is YES. Unlimited students. Of course, there are restrictions but the standard Slack will work for most schools and teachers. Some Apps may have paid restrictions but there are enough workarounds available.

I really hope schools and teachers will think hard about what they choose as their online learning “go to” platform for interacting with and teaching students. I hope they’ll go with something social, constructivist and which faciltates communication and participation like Slack does – to the nth degree. It’s also a tool many students will need to use in their future careers, especially now given the explosion of remote work.

These articles and videos below I highly recommend. Much better written than my own description and argument above! They say important things about Slack and why it works for education – especially language education.

So see you any Wednesday, 9am EST where I’ll join you in Slack 4 ELT with /zoom and show you around, answer questions.

Next week I hope to blog about online curriculum options for teachers. Something I’m totally passionate about!

Articles, Videos, References about Slack 4 Education and as an LMS.

Using Slack For Education. https://medium.com/@dubinskybrie/using-slack-for-education-9bf30f18d585

How Slack will change the way you teach. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2018/09/19/four-reasons-slack-will-change-how-you-teach-opinion

Slack is the new LMS. Why Slack really gets students learning. https://medium.com/synapse/is-slack-the-new-lms-7d1c15ff964f

Slack basic overview and registration. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYpA0eBzGKk

Example course set up. How a teacher uses Slack. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfmy6EYoM_Y

Slack mobile app tutorial. Install app. Join team and register with your phone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ_aEuIZ0ZQ


Also published on Medium.

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