In Fall 2019, we taught a Cardiovascular Engineering course using a blended approach: a mix between online instruction and face-to-face environment. This course is an interdisciplinary Innovation Based Learning (IBL) class that combines both undergraduate, graduate students, face-to-face and distance education students from different institutions. To foster student collaboration, we decided to use Slack for both instructor-to-student and student-to-student communication. This paper explores the impact of Slack on the course.
First, we compiled Slack analytics over the semester, such as the number of messages sent, channel activity, and student engagement. Second, we shared a comprehensive survey about Slack at the end of the course. Finally, we interpreted the latter in light of the former to draw our conclusions and formulate a number of recommendations regarding the use of Slack.
Our analytics showed students engaging on Slack throughout the semester, with activity intensifying as course deadlines approached. Other findings indicated students favored direct messages over public ones and a custom engagement metric highlighted the importance of informal Slack channels.
Our survey showed that students found Slack had a positive impact on the course. Students appreciated Slack being an all-in-one communication tool, they liked some of its features, and they thought that it struck a good balance between formality and informality.
However, students disliked certain aspects of Slack channels, reporting they had trouble finding older messages, and faced various technical issues. Most notably, students reported preferring email over Slack when it came to course announcements.
In light of our findings, we formulated a number of recommendations regarding the use of Slack in an educational setting. These include teaching students how to use Slack early on in the semester, having a predefined student-focused channel structure, and practicing “tough love” — that is, deliberately delaying feedback to encourage students to collaborate on solving problems.
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