Best Practice

Enhancing student communication

Written by Laura Linares and Craig Neville

What is Slack?

Slack, a cloud-based communication platform which has become a popular tool in the corporate sector, is gaining increasingly more attention in academia (see below for a few useful links). As an integrated messaging platform, Slack combines the flexibility and dynamism of social media but with greater privacy and other useful features such as document and calendar sharing. As we experienced in our MA module LL6018: Contemporary Translation Theory and Practice taken by students in Semester One 2017, Slack can facilitate continued dialogic interaction between lecturers and peers outside of the classroom as well as encourage collaboration to ensure the proper assimilation of theoretical paradigms in Translation Studies. After all, the key tenet of understanding theory is through exploration and application.

In previous years, Blackboard and its chat room tool had been the main communication platform, but both students and facilitators found that it was too rigid and cumbersome to encourage proper, fluid communication.

 

What are the advantages of using Slack?

The reasons we chose Slack as our platform for online exchanges were manifold:

  • Its intuitive platform: for many people, using streamlined, social media platforms is part and parcel of everyday life. Slack manages to combine the ease of social media communication with the professional expectations of the workplace.
  • Its ubiquity in the professional setting: large and small companies use Slack in a professional setting to facilitate national and international communication. By using Slack, we felt that we were providing students with another technical skill to boost their portfolio.
  • Privacy settings: The privacy of the exchanges was a welcome factor, as we did not want to force our students to engage in public discussions on social media.
  • Variety of functions: As a communication platform, Slack is a brilliant tool but it is the ability to integrate other functions (see below) that makes this a fantastic professional and pedagogical tool.

 

How did we incorporate Slack?

In order to get students acquainted with the tool, we installed it on our laptops; however,  there are other apps available for other platforms and devices such as Android, Apple and Windows. We then invited them to the workspace and decided to start the semester with an introductory activity in which they had to introduce themselves and respond or react to others’ publications, mimicking the communication flows of other social networks. Along with this, some of the most successful activities in the semester included

  • a poll on approaches to translation depending on the type of text and context;
  • writing a collaborative definition of what ‘equivalence’ was;
  • a video lecture to make up for a class missed due to weather conditions;
  • a task in which they had to record a podcast of a discussion about a translation and
  • a collaborative document annotation through the combination of Slack and the app is.

 

What went well:

  1. Greater communication with students: its dynamic and collaborative nature contributed to continue class discussions outside of the classroom,
  2. A record of learning outside of the classroom: all students participated actively both by completing the tasks and, as the semester advanced, by posting interesting links and thoughts about translation in the general channel. As facilitators, we could also pick up on threads where misconceptions, misunderstandings or difficulties were arising and feed these back to students in the following lecture. It was also essential that the discussions undertaken outside the classroom were picked up in the lecture to make them meaningful and link them to the new learning.
  3. Personal/Professional Learning Network: Ultimately, our Slack community for LL6018 evidences the features and qualities of a high-quality PLN.
  4. Positive feedback from students: they highlighted that the tool facilitated their engagement with lecturers and peers and that it fostered communication and created a safe space to voice their opinions and thoughts on complex theoretical issues, as well as encouraging collaborative learning and helping them acquire new technological skills.

Even better if:

  • A preference for face-to-face contact: students indicated that they still preferred face-to-face contact, which shows that no matter how good online tools are, personal contact is paramount in the learning process.
  • Workload: they also found that the workload was too high, which will be one of the main things that we will have to rethink for the design of next year’s module. This may have been due to our enthusiasm for the platform and the discussion!
  • Email dependence: we would also like to try with our next cohort to keep communication within Slack as much as possible (students were still using email heavily this year), reconfigure our channel system so that communication flows even better and explore other app integrations that might open other possibilities for future activities.

 

Our concluding thoughts:

All in all, our experience with Slack has been very positive and we highly recommend it for courses that want to facilitate communication outside of the classroom whilst also documenting this in some way.

 

Useful links: