Module 3 is about investigating ISTE Student Standard 4: Innovative Designer – “students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.” In response to Innovative Designer Indicator 4b, “students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks,” where digital tools are defined as “brainstorming tools, flow charts, drawing or mark-up tools, 2D or 3D design software, note-taking tools, project-management tools,” I asked the investigation question:
What project management tools are there?
My investigation question is fairly narrow, and my answer is even narrower…but I am so excited about it! At the suggestion of program director, Dr. Wicks, I looked into slack.com which is a communication management tool. It’s basically a place to create discussion channels (i.e., chat rooms) for group/project/team members. And these channels are only available through invite – the world doesn’t have access to them.
When it comes to group communication, I’m a huge fan of FB, and until Slack, nothing else has been able to compete. But as a student, I have observed that students tend to keep their FB activity fairly separate from their school activities, and some students don’t want to be on FB. In my experience, communication between peers often happens through texts, emails, comments within Google Docs, and LMSs like Blackboard and Canvas. Rather than go through what I think the disadvantages of these platforms are for group communication, I’ll jump right into…
What I love about Slack for online, group communication (from 5 days of playing with it):
- Notifications and tagging – two communication features which I think are an absolute must if you want to foster a sense of community or “teamness” during online interactions. The notifications are super customizable, and I’ll just note that you can even tell Slack to notify you when a specific word or phrase is said! What?! Love it.
- The apps – I’ll mention this right now because notifications are most effective, I think, when they come from an app. There are desktop and phone apps; I have both.
- Threaded comments – if notifications and tagging are a first-tier must, threaded comments is a second-tier must. It’s just super necessary for discussion organization.
- Edit your comments – in a school setting, when I find a typo in my post/comment and can’t edit it, it drives me bonkers.
- /remind – you can set a reminder for yourself…OR someone else! Even more conveniently, with the click of a button you can also have Slack remind you about a specific message.
- “Apps and integrations” – Not to be confused with the Slack apps themselves, there are tons of things that you can add to your Slack group, like polls (I recommend Polly), RSS feeds (I recommend RSS), dice rolling, and calendars.
- Other convenient features: star messages, see all starred messages, see all things you were tagged in, private messages, multiple channels, and search discussions.
Slack is super easy learn and very intuitive – getting started is a breeze. There is a lot to explore and Slack just keeps surprising me with cool things!
Regarding any downsides or limitations (that I’ve seen within these 5 days):
- I wish the apps and integrations had user ratings. I sent them /feedback about that from within Slack (super cool feature) and they quickly got back to me – they’re working on how to do that well.
- Slack uses a non-trivial amount of computer memory in order to run (~375,000K for desktop app; ~475,000K in Chrome), but what can you do? So does running FB (~501,000K in Firefox).
- There are free and paid versions of Slack. Limitations on the free version are: search limited to the 10,000 most recent messages, storage capacity limited to 5GB, only 10 apps or integrations, and voice and video calls limited to two people. For a list of differences based on version look here.
The limitations don’t deter me – they are what they are and something to keep in mind. If Slack were integrated into a 10 week college course, a class of 30 students could go past 10,000 messages if they’re very active. They’d have to average over 33 messages per student, per week. Regarding storage, 5gigs is quite a bit of space. That’s about 16 hours of some .mp4 video files I have, twice as much space as I have on my free Dropbox account, and way more space than the 100MB of storage that Google Sites gives you! 10 apps/integrations is quite a bit, and there are other ways to do free group voice/video calls.
Tying Together Slack and ISTE Student Standard 4d
Aside from using Slack to manage project communication, the apps and integrations (which I will now just refer to as “apps”) within Slack seem to help corral other design and project management tools by keeping extra tools linked in one place. However, it can take some time to find apps that are actually free, so if I were suggesting Slack to my future students, I think it would be nice to give them a head start with a variety of suggested apps.
quickly browsed the app store, looking for apps that could support collaboration and the goals of ISTE Student Standard 4d. Below are some functionalities I saw, with apps I feel confident suggesting:
- Create diagrams (It has some limitations, but I checked out Lucidchart enough to know it is free. You can make flow charts, Venn diagrams, etc.)
- Project management (Trello and Trello Alerts, which is free)
- To-do lists (To-do bot)
- File management (Dropbox, Google Drive)
- Calendars (Google Calendar)
Between apps like these and Slack itself, I can see ways for students to brainstorm, make flow charts, take notes, and track project tasks, timelines, expenditures, materials, and potential obstacles. I think this makes for a pretty nice set of tools. Or at least it does in theory. I have yet to try it all out with a real project, so I can’t speak from experience, but I’d love to give it a go!
Using/Moving Over to Slack
Getting a group of people to use a new communication product can be a little challenging. It’s another thing to log into and check, another program to download and run, another app to put on your phone. Another thing to learn. But to me it seems worth it. Among other groups that could benefit from Slack, I think it could be a great tool to help students manage project communication as they work on their innovative designs.
ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students-2016
Lucidchart. (2017). Help center: Account types. Retrieved from https://lucidchart.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/207300296-Account-Types
Slack. (2017). App directory. Retrieved from https://slack.com/apps
Slack. (2017). Pricing guide. Retrieved from https://slack.com/pricing