What is Slack?

Today we’re looking at Slack — a messaging app that aims to reduce the amount of email sent between people working in teams. The app is available for iOS, Android, Windows and MacOS. Although it’s aimed primarily for teams of people in the workplace, it’s applicable to teams working together on any project. The benefits of Slack will vary depending on how you and those you work with communicate: if you chat a lot, share files and thoughts, and like the fact that everything is searchable, then Slack might just be for you. We use it in the 12Apps office and we love it!

What does the app look like and how do I use it?

Slack requires you (or someone in your group) to take the lead and set up your team. This will be the place all of your communication is stored. Once you’ve done that you’ll need to invite the people you want to work with.

Slack organizes messages into what it calls channels. You’ll start off with some default channels, but it’s best to take the time to set up some of your own. Think of these as topics of conversation — in the 12Apps team we tend to set up a new channel for each project we are working on; this helps keep our chat on-topic and focused. Of course we all need a break so it’s also a good idea to create a channel for general off-topic chat, and perhaps even the occasional animated gif!

Notifications are extremely customisable in Slack. You can be notified for all messages, if you wish, but since that might become overwhelming there are options to reduce the amount of pop-ups you receive. You can instead choose to be notified only when your name is mentioned; or, which is what many of us in the 12Apps team do, you can enter keywords that notify you when they are used in messages by others. For example, if you were working on part of project that involved the use of Moodle, you could enter the keyword ‘Moodle’ and it would notify you when someone mentioned it. It’s a clever way of reducing the distractions that endless notifications can provide.

What’s crucial is that the app keeps everything up to date across all of your devices — that obviously includes your messages, but also the notification settings we have just looked at. These are all adjustable on one device and then they populate across to the other devices on which you have Slack installed.

How could this app help me?

Setting up open channels to discuss projects (or distinct parts of projects) has meant our team has been able to share much more of what we are working on with each other; this has helped us contribute ideas and thoughts to projects that we wouldn’t necessarily have been involved with before.

Having all your ideas about a project in one place proves to be convenient when you realise you need to search through your chat history for a specific exchange or file you sent to another team member a some time ago. Slack’s aim is that you spend less time searching for files and content, and spend more time creating — hence it’s tagline: ‘Be less busy’.

This is one of those apps where you get out what you put in — so if there’s a group of you who need to work together, give it a go!

Ideas for using the app:

  • Students can use the app to collaborate with other team members on their group work.
  • Staff could use the app to set up a team for a unit or subject area, to share ideas or work.
  • Really anything you need to communicate on, you could use Slack.

To find out more about Slack, check out how the TEL team are using Slack in ‘Is your team ‘slack’ing when it comes to communication ? ‘