Slack in the Classroom? Maybe Not.

I was planning on using Slack in my classroom this year.  A month in, and it’s not working out quite as well as I had hoped.

The Good Stuff

Guess I should start out with what it working well before getting into the snags. After all, Slack wasn’t built to be a classroom tool. So some of the snags I’m hitting are my fault for trying to shoehorn Slack into a world that it wasn’t designed for.

Feels Familiar

Slack looks a lot like text messaging, something students are already really familiar with.  It doesn’t take long for them to get used to the environment.

Mobile Apps

I love that I’m able to have the Slack app running on my phone and get notifications whenever there’s a new post.  Most posts can wait until I get to school the next day, but it’s great that I can respond to urgent messages when they come up.

Easy to Stay in Touch

Harvey blew through our area a few weeks ago. Several students used Slack to keep in touch and let me know how they were doing.

Since Slack is separate from email and the other online services that our district hosts it wasn’t affected with our admin offices flooded and the data center lost power for several hours.

Free Tier

It’s great that Slack offers a free tier. Sure, they want you to upgrade. But without the free tier I wouldn’t have even considered Slack.

Integrations

Posting a link to a GitHub Gist and Slack will import the code as text. A YouTube link becomes a playable video. It’s awesome that students don’t need to leave Slack to view these resources.

The Not So Good Stuff

Wall of Posts

Threads aren’t all that intuitive in Slack so most messages just fall onto a wall of text. That makes it tough to find what you’re looking for.

What I started out doing was post solutions and videos of lectures into Slack. Worked well until we got a few dozen posts in. I’d watch kids trying to find what they’re looking for and it almost always involved scrolling until they found it. Some would search, but that didn’t always help either.

This is probably what will wind up being the deal breaker for me and Slack. The other issues below I could probably work around. But I’ve got to find an easier way for students to find what they’re after.

Can’t Move Messages

I’ve got a channel setup for each of my courses, plus a couple of extra curriculars. What’s been happening is students will post a question in one channel that really belongs in a different one. The closest solution I could find was to quote the original message into the destination channel. That does’t really seem like a solution.

Message Limits

The free tier is just not enough with its limit of 10,000 messages. Can’t really fault Slack for this. The fact that they’re offering a free tier at all is awesome. But with 120 students it looks like we’ll hit the 10,000 message limit within a couple of months.

And it’s not that there are too many public messages. Students are using it to send private messages to each other. That, by itself, is a good thing as long as it’s class related. But 120 students sending messages back and forth generates a lot of posts.

Yes, upgrading to a paid plan would solve this problem. But paying 6 dollars a month each for 120 students isn’t realistic.

Another Login

Students already have to login to the network and then into Canvas. Slack is another account for them to keep up with.

I guess we could have Slack link to our LDAP server, but I doubt my district would allow that. It would also require bumping up to a paid account.

Another option that would be really slick would be if Slack could be an LTI provider and handle account creation and logins directly through connections with Canvas. This one is probably more of a pipe dream since Slack is geared more for development teams than classroom use.

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