Using SLACK in the Classroom Spring 2017

Setting up your SLACK team

Go to http://www.slack.com to set up your team.

Most of the features you'll need are probably available with the free version. Note that IHEs can get subscriptions for $12/pp/year per team.

You'll need to give SLACK some information about your team. If you already have a SLACK team, then you'll enter your email address (for new users, this will set up a SLACK account).

SLACK will send you an email with a code to enter. This helps to confirm your email address. They'll also ask for your name (first, last) and username for this team. Hint: You can have different user names for each team you participate in (e.g. be Professor Nelson in one team but Terri in another).

On the page where you are asked to invite people, you'll have the option to allow anyone from domains that you list. If you choose that option, then you can have a sign-up URL. The sign-up URL is a great option for classes! List the email domain used by your students (i.e. their campus email)-- the "domain" is the part after the @ symbol. Then put the URL to join your Slack team on your syllabus, in your LMS (i.e. Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle) or on the blackboard.

Understanding your SLACK interface

On the far LEFT are icons for each of your SLACK teams (the red notifications indicate new messages). The name of the team you are currently seeing is shown in the second column (purple) above the channels and direct messages.

Decoding the Sidebar

All teams (far left) and Current team (righ)

Channels are of two types:

  • Private (shown with a lock): Private channels are good for group/faction work. Only designated individuals can access private channels.
  • Public (shown with "#"): Public channels allow you to designate specific topics of discussion. Hint: Keep the #random channel for information not directly related to the class or assignments.

Direct Messages (DM) can be between two or more people.

Hints:

  • Use the DM to yourself for taking notes, preparing a message that you can copy to another channel later, composing ideas.

Decoding the Header

There's a lot of information in the Current Channel Header.

Header (from left to right):

  • The name of this channel is #public_square. If you type #public_square anywhere else in this team, it will create a link.
  • If you click the Star, this channel will become a favorite. This can be useful for students to know– especially if they are working in groups. Starred channels will show up on the top of the list of channels.
  • There are 39 members in my team. If I click on this icon, a team list will show up in the far right column.
  • Ten items have been pinned in this channel. If I click on this icon, pinned items will show up in the far right column. Pin items that are important for quick and easy access.
  • "Add a topic" is where you can post the reason for this channel. For example, if you want a new channel for each module of a course or to discuss a particular question/theme, you can list it here.
  • The phone icon is to make VOIP phone calls through SLACK (i.e. Skype without the video). You do NOT need to install additional software to do this but you do need a mic (internal to your device or connected external device). You need a paid subscription to do this.
  • Gear / Settings Icon (see below)
  • Channel Details: This icon opens the far right sidebar (see below)
  • Search: Search for anything here. To search for a specific user, use the @ sign. Additional search terms include: from [@username], after [date], before [date], during [month or year], on [date], in [#channel]
  • @ icon: Mentions. Shows a list of any posts that have mentioned you and/or uses one of your highlighted words.
  • Star icon: Brings up a list of any items you have starred. Hint: Mark posts and messages that you need to go back to with a Star so that you can find them quickly using this icon. After you've completed the task, un-star the item. This makes for a quick and easy "To Do" list!
  • Three vertical dots: More (see below)

Setting your personal preferences

By clicking on your username (underneath the team name), you can access a variety of tools.

  • Set your status: Several suggested status types are available (e.g. In a meeting, Out sick, etc.) but you could also type in your own status à la Facebook: Tired of grading, Enjoying summer vacation, Back on August 15, etc.
  • Profile & account: Edit your information here, including your photo
  • Preferences: Links to your online account page. You can customize 7 categories. (1) Notifications: You can determine when & how notifications are received or set Do Not Disturb hours. (2) Messages & media: Customize the presentation of information (applies to all team members). (3) Sidebar theme: Choose your favorite color scheme (applies to all team members; two "accessible" color schemes are provided). (4) Search: Choose which channels can be searched (if you don't want Slack to search all channels). (5) Mark as read: Slack can help you keep track of what you've read and what you haven't yet read! (6) Accessibility options: Zoom preferences and Animated Emojis (off/on) (7) Advanced: Even more options.
  • Set yourself to away...: Slack puts a green dot next to team members that are currently logged in. If you choose this option, you can lurk unseen.
  • Help & feedback: More information.

Managing your team

Besides inviting (or disinviting) team members, you can change a variety of other things about your team's Slack interface here.

  • Team Settings: This will take you to the Settings & Preferences for your team account (on the Slack website). Four tabs are available:
  1. Settings: Many, many options are available here. Some of the options are only available to paid plans. Particularly useful to the classroom setting are: (a) Team Sign-Up Mode: Distribute a URL to have team members sign-up. (b) Username Guidelines Do you have any specific way you want them to create their usernames? (N.B. Team members can change their usernames later– very helpful for role-playing!)
  2. Permissions: Choose who has access to what. A link to Statistics about your team is found here.
  3. Authentication: You can force everyone to reset their passwords. (Paid version only.)
  4. Attachments: Slack automatically posts an image ("preview") when someone posts a link to a youTube video, URL, etc. Don't want anyone posting links to Wikipedia (or any other website)? You can blacklist specific domains here!
  • Apps & Integrations: Slack can link to a lot of other websites and tools. Favorites include:
  1. Google Drive: Create a team Google drive for collaborative work.
  2. Google Calendar: You can create automatic notifications for events on a Class Calendar. I had Slack send out a weekly notification every Sunday PLUS another notification 48 hours before an assignment was due!
  3. Polling apps: if you don't want to limit yourself to multiple choice polls based on emojis, there are a wide variety of free and paid apps to conduct polls on Slack.
  4. MailClark: This app will allow people to email messages directly to specific Slack team channels.

Customize your team!

  • Emojis: Need a guillotine? a syringe? a microscope? or some other emoji? Upload your custom emojis here!
  • Slackbot: Create automatic responses to words in posts. For example, if someone types "achoo", you can have Slack respond with "Gesundheit!" :-) I have Slackbot responses for (a) due/due date – provides a link to the course calendar, (b) bonjour – Slackbot replies Bonjour! Ça va?, (c) game bulletin – Slackboat provides information about this course item.
  • Loading Messages: Slack has motivational quotes while it loads. Why not change those to trivia related to your course subject? Vocabulary definitions? Other info? Hint: Keep the items relatively short because Slack usually loads quickly.
  • Team Icon: Upload an image to represent your team here. (I've used a cocarde to symbolize the French Revolution game.)

Search

Type in your search term or use one of the preset items suggested here. Note that "Mute [channel]" turns off Notifications for a specific channel. It does not close the channel to users.

Three vertical dots

Get quick access to Your Files, All Files, Team Directory, Help, What's New (in Slack) and Downloads.

Right Sidebar

The Right sidebar provides quick access to channel details, pinned items, member list, shared files and notifications.

Posting in Slack

When you post in Slack, the time and date are automatically recorded (use Preferences to determine whether or not you see the time). Note the following:

  • The Star icon near the name of the person posting is one way to mark favorite messages and/or items you want to return to. If you then click the big Star icon on the right side of the header, all posts & files marked with a star will show up in the right sidebar.
  • The username (or name, depending on your preferences) is linked to the user's profile. Just click on it.
  • Although you can see the images directly in Slack (you'd also see a preview image for a URL link or a youTube video link), these are actually files. You can search files by team member, type, name, etc.
  • If you click on the box/arrow icon next to the file name, you'll go to the file on the Slack website (i.e. larger photo, document, etc.) If team members post .pdf documents, they can be read within the Slack app (Word docs must be downloaded).
  • A variety of options become available if you hover the mouse over a post: (a) add a reaction (emoji), (b) add a comment (creates a threaded discussion), (c) Share message (in direct message, another channel, etc.); You can add a comment to the shared message; (d) additional options which include (1) Pinning the message to this channel (making it immediately accessible) and (2) Remind me about this message [in time frame: from hours to next week]

That's all there is to it! 

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