Using Slack in the Classroom

Slack is a collaboration and messaging app.

I admit I didn’t come up with this myself.  At the start of last Spring semester, we had a great Open Conference on Teaching and Technology at GSU, where faculty members shared a lot of great stuff about what they were doing in their classes.
One of the participants, Fernando Rochaix, an Art Professor at GSU Perimeter’s Decatur Campus, who is light-years ahead of me in the use of mobile technology in the classroom.  He shared some awesome technology he was using in his classroom–including Google Cardboard and Slack.

I’m still looking into ways I can incorporate AR, VR, and Gamification into my own Literature and Writing courses, but in the meantime, but I wanted to play with Slack right away.


I’ll start with what Slack is (and what it is not!), and why I needed an app like this for my classes.

Slack is a collaboration platform for communication and sharing.  It is used primarily in business in order to limit the need for email.  It allows group and direct messaging, file sharing, and 3rd party app integrations.  It is also FREE! (Yeah!!)


The reason I needed an app like Slack is because I wanted to integrate more mobile technology into my classroom.  Every one of my students has a cell phone, and I want to leverage this technology toward classroom use.  I know we have an LMS for our classes, but it is clunky and students have to sign-in every time (even on their mobile device).  I was looking for something a bit lighter and easier to use.

I had already tried to use Facebook, Twitter as “back-channel” communication in my courses, but none of my students were very happy with any of those integrations in the past–mostly because they intermixed their own personal social network lives with class social network–a big no-no!  GroupMe was pretty good–but it notified via the student’s own text messaging, and this was also a bad intermix of class-life with personal-life.

Slack seemed different.  First of all, Slack notifies through the app–not through text messaging.  Also, none of my students had slack accounts, so it wasn’t poaching on their already-established social spaces.  A third advantage is that I could get my students familiar with an app that was already adopted by businesses all over the world–so they might have an advantage when they left my class and moved into the “real world.”

I also wanted to do more with mobile than provide back-channel communication in my course.  I also wanted to provide a way that students could easily reference files from my course when they were working in groups.  Slack provides a nice space where we can all upload files to share with one another.  We can also break into casual “teams” at any time and share files only with that team.  It is flexible and, I thought, intuitive.

The proof is in the pudding, however.  I wouldn’t know whether it was a fit for my course until I tried it out.  I wanted to start out slow and see how my students liked Slack.   So, as a test, I started using it in my relatively small English Comp class this summer.


OK, this wasn’t as smooth and professional as it sounds.  I just kind of announced that we would be using Slack in the classroom, and I pulled up the website on my class computer.  I did a brief explanation (very brief, because I wasn’t really a heavy user myself!), and I asked them to download the app on their phones and come up and add their “real” every-day email address to the slack group membership page.  I though to myself, “Yeah!  I’ve got this!” and I was patting myself on the back about how efficiently I had added everyone to the group–until I checked later and found out that only one student had been added!

InviteSlackApparently, after each addition, you have to click the green “Invite 1 Person” button.  My students didn’t do that.  Instead, they just typed their information over the information of the previous student.  So, only the last student was added when I pushed the button at the end of our “sign up” session.

So, I went into the student information system and looked up each student’s non-official email address and emailed the membership to them.

Most of my students didn’t check their email and never clicked on the invitation.

The next class, I asked them all to check their email to accept the invitation, and spent about 15 minutes helping individual students figure out how to join the class.  Sigh.

Woot!So, it wasn’t as easy as I thought to get them all added–but now they were in there and I could communicate with them and share files.


After the initial burp, the students seem to have accepted the app.  A few of them have commented that it is much better than GroupMe or Remind because they can easily share files, and they can choose how they want to communicate and with whom.  They can also use the app to make in-app phone calls to members of the team.  Mostly, they commented how they like that it is a separate app that doesn’t come through their regular text messaging.  When they see an alert there, they know it is class related and it is probably important.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 12.49.44 PMI have also been using the app in my teaching–telling students I have uploaded a handout as a JPG or PDF in Slack so that they can reference it while they work with a computer or another device or in group work in the class.  This saves me time–and I don’t have to use the crummy departmental copy machine, ever.

One of the best things with the app happens by accident.  A few weeks ago I had a Jewish Holiday, and was offline for three days.  My students have become accustomed to instantaneous casual communication with me, so this was a bit of a hardship–at first.  Fortunately, we are all on slack, and they handled it themselves, even when I was back online on Monday:




Getting Settled In–and Getting Some Work Done!

OK, I admit that I have been a bit jealous of the math professor a few cubicles down.  It seems there isn’t a day (or even an hour) that goes by that his students aren’t visiting his office for advice and support.  He patiently pours over their work, giving advice, asking questions, and enjoying some jokes.  He’s very amiable, and extremely kind.  If he were my math professor, I would probably visit him too–math isn’t my best subject, after all, and he seems so welcoming and supportive to his students!

“What am I doing (or not doing) that makes my students stay away?” I think.  Well, to be honest, maybe they aren’t “staying away. ”  Maybe they just have somewhere else to be . . . but still.  I wonder if I am being welcoming enough, if I am being supportive enough.  Or, maybe my students are so fulfilled, so well prepared for my lessons that they don’t feel the need to come see me. (Ha!  HaHaHaha!!  Yeah, right.)

So, what should I think about this office-hour king of the cubicles? Should I compare myself to him, or is he just an overwhelming exception?  I did have two students visit me so far, and another call and talk to me.  I guess that’s not too bad.  I mean, there must be some professors that never see a student all semester.  Perhaps I am just too sensitive to this whole issue.  It doesn’t seem to bother anyone else that they are alone during their office hours.  I guess I should just let this go.

I am getting some valuable work done during that time.  I have written a grant, so far, and gotten pretty far in the planning of a conference with that grant money.  And, I do spend a lot of my time alone preparing for my future classes.  I’m posting and writing and editing and grading–and, for one of the first times in 20 years of teaching, I feel pretty good about getting my students’ work back to them quickly.  That’s quite an accomplishment for an English teacher with five classes.

So, maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad about being all alone while I watch my colleague cheerfully and competently assisting so many fresh-faced math students.  Maybe he is looking over at me thinking, “What am I doing wrong that all these students are coming to me every day?”

Nah.  I don’t think so.  He’s just an amazing teacher, and that’s great.  Really.

English 1101 Annotated Bibliography Assignment


Write a prospectus paragraph and a 10 source annotated bibliography on your research topic.

Audiences: Anyone looking for background information on your author or work.


  • To develop your skills in using research tools.
  • To expand critical thinking skills by teaching how to decide upon a topic, narrow the topic into a research question, write a prospectus, and prepare research notes.
  • To provide practice in scholarly writing.


The prospectus and annotated bibliography are commonly used to propose a project and to keep the project notes organized while writing the paper.  It is important that you master the
annotated bibliography in order to plan, propose, organize, and research projects in college and beyond.

1.  Decide upon a research question

  1. Think of some aspect of the author or work you introduced to the class that interests you.  For example, if we had read Moby Dick, you might do a blog about whaling which might include information about different types of harpoons, the ships that were involved in whaling, and some of the environmental damage of whaling.
  2. Do some preliminary research by find out how much information is available on the topic you are considering. Sources you might use for this purpose include books, web sites, journals, audio and video files, and online encyclopedias.
  3. After you have some idea of the quality and quantity of research materials available, and the significant issues within that topic area, create a research question that will guide your search for information.  Think of a question that is narrow enough to answer in a simple blog.

2.   Write a prospectus paragraph (typically about a 1/2 page):  

The prospectus is the plan for your research project that you submit before actually completing the research or working on your project. It should contain the following elements:

  1. State the research topic and your research question: “In my research I want to examine the Whaling. Why was the whaling industry so important, and how did it effect the lives of people involved in it?”
  2. Delineate the main areas of your proposed research: “In order to answer this question, I will look at historical documents, websites, and read some historical journals to pinpoint specific aspects of what it was like to be a whaler.”

3.   Write the annotated bibliography:

  1. List the source in correct MLA format for sources.  Sources should be double-spaced with a hanging indent.  Sources should be organized in alphabetical order. I highly recommend using Zotero to complete this part of the assignment!
  2. Immediately following the source information, include two short paragraphs:
    • Paragraph 1:  1-2 sentences that summarize the information available in the source material.
    • Paragraph 2:  1-2 sentence explanation about how you will use that information to answer your research question.

Specific Requirements for This Assignment

This annotated bibliography assignment requires a total of ten sources in the following categories that will support your research.

Special Considerations

  1. The annotated bibliography is the first step completing a research project.  Think of this as the information gathering stage.
  2. The purpose of the preliminary research is to get an overview of the topic. The sources you consult during this step are not necessarily the ones you will use in the research for your paper; however, if you find more sources, you might want to include them in this annotated bibliography in order to keep track of them.
  3. Your research question should be narrow enough to answer in 5-7 pages but broad enough to support ten scholarly sources.
  4. In writing your annotations, do not repeat the source title in the description of the source or use the title as the explanation for how the source will help you answer the research question.

Resources to Help You with This Assignment

Interactive exercise on the Web: “How Do I Create an Annotated Bibliography?”(


Objectives of This Assignment

  1. Use the writing process to best advantage.
  2. Use technology for writing and research.
    • Select and use appropriate writing processes and strategies to produce academic writing that satisfies the needs of or can be adapted to writing in core curriculum courses.
    • Apply conventions of writing effectively in any given rhetorical context with particular regard for audience and purpose.
    • Display higher-level critical thinking skills (as defined in Bloom’s Taxonomy) in academic work.
    • Use assigned software and technological platforms.

Grading Rubric

Pts Rhetorical Situation Annotations Formatting Use of Language
100to90 Research question is appropriate for assignment; document satisfies audience expectations. Required information is provided and thorough for each source. All citations and all aspects of paper meet formatting specifications. Style, tone, and expression appropriate for academic writing; diction well chosen; syntax and mechanics virtually error-free.
89to80 Research question is sufficiently narrow but the document only partially responds to it. At least ¾ of the sources provide complete and thorough information. Occasional errors in citations and/or oversights in page formatting. Style and tone suitable for academic writing; syntax and mechanics have minor errors;  diction appropriate in most instances.
79to70 Research question lacks specificity or is too narrow or broad for audience and purpose. Half or fewer sources provide complete and thorough information. Frequent deviations from citation and/or page requirements. Style and tone fall short of academic standards; distracting usage, diction, and mechanical errors.
69to60 Research question does not address assignment or meet audience needs. Each source lacks part of required information. Formatting is of mixed styles or inconsistently used. Little resemblance to academic writing in most respects.
59to0 Research question missing or inadequate. Annotation missing or uninformative. Formatting is care­less or lacking. Frequent errors inhibit clarity and meaning.

Confessions of an Academic Platypus

imgresWOW. I have never been to an International Society of Technology and Education (ISTE) conference before.  In fact, I have never been a member of ISTE until now.  You see, ISTE is mostly a K-12 organization, so there were very few of us University Ivory Tower members there mixing with the hoi polloi of teaching.

But, I was there.  I was TOTALLY there.

Why? For the simple reason that K12 teachers are the change makers, the developers, the directors of the educational experiences our students have before entering college, and I wanted to see what they were up to, technologically. Also, frankly, I have somewhat lower expectations for what Higher Ed faculty are up to, technologically.

Innovation, Thy Name is K12.

I have come to the disturbing realization that most of the higher education establishment is dragging its heels on technology, and instead of being out in front of education (as we should be) and leading innovation, we spend our days hunched over the yellowed pages of bygone syllabi or lost in the netherworld of Learning Management Systems.

I can’t tell you how many times I have begged fellow faculty members to just take a quick look at what Google Drive can do, or how to use Zotero in the classroom.

It is difficult to explain to “Dean Scowl” (a.k.a. almost any Dean I have ever met) how important it is that I have adequate WIFI in my classroom so my students can build a PLN in Twitter, when Dean Scowl has never used Twitter (and doesn’t want to), doesn’t know what a PLN is (and doesn’t want to know), and spends our valuable 15 minutes together lecturing me on the importance of student confidentiality and the danger of using the internet.  Sigh.

EdTech-Higher Ed Edition

It was liberating, to say the least, to know that there is such a thing as a “Technology Coach” in K12, that those Technology Coaches are making real change possible in our school systems, and that both faculty and students are demonstrating daily (not just lecturing) that learning is a life-long process of: [innovate-attempt | innovate-fail | innovate-succeed | Repeat].  I would love to know when Technology Coaches are going to become something in the PostSecondary (i.e. HigherEd) world.  (I have the distinct impression that my skill-set is about five years ahead of the jobs–unfortunately!).

The Problem of Differentiation in Higher Education

There are two problems with differentiation in Higher Education:  One is that Higher Ed frowns on anyone who is out of their “niche,” . . . and the other is that the niches are ill-defined.

Let me explain.  First, I am always out of my niche (you guessed that, right?).  I’m SUPPOSED to be an English Professor. That means, of course, I should concern myself with literature and writing . . . but there is the problem.  Literature and writing have spilled out beyond the pages of books and onto screens.  It Continue reading

Mesopotamia: Lost Civilizations

In order to prepare us for our first discussion of World Literature, I would like you to have some context of not only the history of the literature, but the way in which that information was collected.

You will find that context in this Time-Life Video: Mesopotamia: Lost Civilizations.

It is approximately 50 minutes long, and will represent your first homework assignment of the semester:


Spring Break Destinations!!

Here are some places that my high tech students should visit during Spring Break to get some ideas about your project in Second Life.  These were compiled by Dr. Flowers for the use of WISE students.

Below you will find SLURLS (second life locations).

Have fun!!


Compiled by Dr. Flowers

The history sites in this batch are particularly relevant for us, since they represent three periods from CHIS 202WS. I’ve attached a separate Word file if you’d like to distribute the list to students.

Apollo 11 Landing Site. This Elon University “construction zone for science and math education projects” offers absolutely no information about the landing site or mission. But the combination of the moon’s surface color and texture; the black, star-studded sky; and the color scheme of the space module make the site itself beautiful and worth seeing for design ideas. Also, it’s an excellent example of how a small space can accommodate a project about a complex subject. Building allowed.

Etopia Eco Village. This sim’s compact parcels, devoted to socially and environmentally sustainable living, offer great models for multimedia projects which can easily be built in a small space. The several ways of getting around and seeing the island’s varied projects include an eco-train (my term) which stops at several stations so you don’t have to stay for the entire ride. Be sure to stop at the Pavilion and try out some of the many dances. Although many of them look alike, the numerous dances suggest a small project on social dance through the ages. While creating dance moves would require lots of scripting, the project could make an excellent team study for either history or sociology, especially with a team which includes a computer science major who is or will be studying scripting. Sandbox available. Continue reading