Cut Me Some Slack!

Slack caught my eye because it is a collaboration tool, and one of the areas of interest to me in my school leadership position is how to more effectively communicate in our fast-paced, never in the same place at the same time setting.  Be it academic, social/emotional, or discipline, our team is constantly moving from issue to issue, and collaboration, or communication, is an area of concern.

Slack presents as a set of collaboration tools and services, and is actually and acronym for “Searchable Log of All Conversations and Knowledge.”.  Looking through the website and what parts of the App I was able to interact with, I felt overwhelmed.  But, with most things, I assumed it was just the overload of information that I was trying to assimilate.

Organizationally, Slack hit the right buttons for me – albeit with some new lingo to pick up.  Channels – where your communication takes place, organized how you want it (or think you do) – by project, topic, team, or further.  For me, I started thinking about an academic channel, a school counseling channel, an admissions channel, and student discipline channel.  The list could go on and on.  All of these channels are searchable, so you would always have access to conversations, notes, attachments and results.  And the tool integrates with everything – you can add in other tools, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, so it allows you to organize and complement your work with other files.

The business side of my former life loved what I saw – the ability to collaborate and organize by client, project, or role was always something I wanted.  Specific threads for specific situations, with the right people at the right time.  Along the way, you are actually building a knowledge base for all users of the channel, with access to all of the tools that you need in one place.  As I started to dig more, I started to sense that in order for this to work for me, something would have to give.

And then it hit me, and my searching went in a different direction.  This tool, to be most successful, has to replace something that is critical to how we do things today – email.  The switching costs just got astronomically high for me.  In my quest to find something useful, I unearthed something much bigger.  But – maybe that is not a bad thing.

The YouTube video below is a nice walk through the process of Stephen Michaels, a Professor of Political Science at Sacred Heart University and explains how he set up Slack for one of his courses.  Listening to his approach, I was pulled back into feeling like I had shifted from looking for a collaboration tool to now learning about a Learning Management System (LMS) – not my original intent.



I have also included a couple of articles that give both sides of the argument – why use Slack and why to not use Slack.  These were two that I found readable and relative to the discussion.  Enjoy!

Thinking about the readings from Kelly and the video with Shirky, I was struck by a couple of items.  Kelly’s first three chapters had my head spinning.  Very futuristic, which for me is not yet a comfort zone.  But, his conversation on AI, and continuously getting better based on the knowledge it acquires stuck with me when reading about one of Slack’s features being the creation of a knowledge base around a project/team/client channel.  The end-users are creating the knowledge base, but for how long?  Shirky spoke in his video about success coming out of failure.  Slack was originally designed as an internal communication tool for the developers of Glitch (game).  When Glitch failed, they shifted gears and brought Slack to market, publicly launching as a company in 2013.  Success from failure.  For now.


11 thoughts on “Cut Me Some Slack!

  1. This looks like a pretty interesting tool. It seems as though the channels act as different thread categories? I can see this possibly replacing email (like you mentioned), where it would be much easier to follow a discussion (since its threaded). I also like that you can add files within a discussion. Do you know if it only supports certain file types?

    As you know, students do not like to communicate via email. The communication is not instant like instagram or twitter. Could you see teachers interacting with kids using Slack?


    1. Would love to experiment interally with this. Yes, each channel is a different thread of conversation, notes, files, etc. Seems really flexible with regard to use of other tools (Dropbox, Google Drive), so to your question about file types, I did not see limitations based on file type. Your assessment of our students and the need for immediate communication is both a positive and a negative aspect of the tool. The artitcles I found discused the chat-like experience, with participants joining and dropping off as needed – some people loved it, and others felt trapped by the constancy of the threads – each channel now potentially becoming a living session with notifcations coming in on a variety of topics at the same time. In my head, I likened it to the Red Zone channel for football – seeing 14 games being played at once across the country and being updated. To the untrained, or tech-phobic, could be overwhelming. We should continue to talk about a small-scale test at school.


      1. I like that idea, maybe at the Leadership level. I think it could be a useful tool to have dialogue prep and post meetings. If we knew the agenda ahead of time, we could set up channels for each agenda item prior to the meeting – almost like a flipped lesson…only a flipped meeting – having some pre-meeting dialogue. Just a thought…

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I know some organizations that use Slack..and it resembles a combination of email, Facebook, and Dropbox in one app. You can share content, links, files, and everything that is shared is also searchable by the team you organize. I do not have the comfort level (yet) with Slack…but one of my original thoughts for our course was to use Slack instead of blogging. I could see arguments either direction…but given the relatively short time frame of 8 weeks for a course, I felt blogging had a smaller learning curve than Slack did.


    1. I would agree with the learning curve comment! Plus, the blogging allows for individual freedoms with regard to organization and style. I am intrigued by what Slack could do for internal communications within my admin team, teachers, and students, but my limited exposure to Slack had me feeling that the learning curve, and adoption cycle would take a significant commitment across numerous constituencies. Not impossible, and still of interest, but not a quick solution.


  3. Before reading your post, I had never heard of Slack. There is part of me that was relieved when you said that this app demands too high a cost. If its effectiveness comes from getting your conversational partners off of email and onto Slack, then not only do you have to convince yourself it’s worth the switch, but others, as well.

    One of the issues that, in retrospect, I wish Kelly had covered was the effect of the giant (and growing) marketplace of ideas on users. At one point he says that all new inventions with follow a simple formula: X function + A.I. Will this probably lead to some natural selection, in which the best rise to the top? Yes, it’s likely, but when a user has to compartmentalize themselves between so many apps, media, and websites, the result is not always a positive one. At work I have Renweb, through Merrimack I have Blackboard, in my personal life I use GMail, I am also made up of digital bites on Facebook, Instagram, and Linked In. To my closest friends and family, I am a disembodied typist on iMessage, and in other organizations, a user of Trello. There are great products out there, and I’m sure Slack is one of them, but if the cost to the users is too high, some of those products might not be worth it.


    1. “…At one point he says that all new inventions with follow a simple formula: X function + A.I.” This will probably be true for some…but not all innovations. One of the most striking images for me is how cellphones were going in a bunch of different and unique directions…and then the iPhone came out. Not sure AI would have figured this one out!


      1. One thing I really enjoy about the iPhone is that it the single home for all of my digital presences — certainly a big help!

        It is funny to think of, but my mother recently told me that she is “sick of being a dinosaur,” and is ready to switch from a flip phone to a smart phone. I think what has won her over is not the management of multiple streams (like social media, etc. because she is not on them and is overall uninterested), but the immediacy of contact that facetime can provide and the feeling of being “in touch” that photo messages and group texting provides. In other words, I think she got tired of hearing/seeing things secondhand from my iPhone enabled father!


  4. My initial hesitation re:: switching costs/time come more from a position of that not being “in my lane” if you will from a responisbility point. As I talk about it more, conceptually, the idea still intrigues me, and Jodi and I may start a test of the product at our administration level (5 people) to see if it is a tool that might be useful for our group.

    Totally agree with the natural selection thought you bring forward from Kelly. I mentioned in another post that I feel like I have tried numerous products and they are all “great” until they aren’t, and I find a new shiny app to try. Like you, I get accused (mainly by younger family members) of not responding fast enough to texts – which grates against me a little – until I realize that their need for instant responses is just that – theirs.

    Have also started to look at Trello a little bit, as another member of our class is looking at it. Might also be a good fit for my needs – there I go again! New and shiny…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think your phrase “‘great’ until they aren’t” is perfect! Every once in a while I check all of the apps on my iPhone and Kindle that have been uninstalled in the past few years, and I am shocked by how much screen time and learning I burn through. That said, some apps I have completely fell down the rabbit-hole with, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to uninstall them because they are just too useful to me and my friends/family. It’s funny what sticks and what doesn’t, especially in the fast-pace of app development, updates, and replacements. Google outlasted Yahoo, AOL, and Ask Jeeves as homepage search engines go, maybe Slack will too.


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