RMIT Online is using Slack as part of its Future Skills short courses to replicate physical learning environments, collect feedback to inform course delivery and streamline pre-class preparations.
RMIT Online marketing and student acquisition director Anshu Arora told Salesforce Live Melbourne last week that using technology to enhance learning-from-home had been a core priority of the online course provider for several years.
“Working remotely was something we had been doing at RMIT Online, and tools like Slack have been invaluable for us to collaborate with not only our internal teams, but also our broader community of industry partners, mentors and students,” Arora said.
As well as digitising engagement between the tutor and their class in Slack channels, Slack’s impromptu audio or video meetings feature – Slack Huddle – had enabled online, spontanious interactions between a teacher and one or a few students.
“It’s like walking up to someone’s desk and having a bit of a chat. And again, it’s really up to the individual as to whether they want to engage with you or not, but it’s just a really quick way of being able to capture a whole group of different people, and to really swarm around the problem and try and solve it like you would in the office,” Arora said.
Unlike scheduled calls, Huddles have no set agenda and are open to anyone in the Slack workspace.
Huddles also let all participants finish on the same page by automatically saving shared content like links, notes and chats in a message thread in the channel or the DM where it was launched.
The RMIT subsidiary piloted Slack in 2018 “across all internal departments of RMIT Online before introducing it to the students who enrol in our Future Skills short courses,” Arora said.
Integrating the now Salesforce-owned instant messaging program into RMIT Online’s learning management system Canvas was necessary to both reduce inbox traffic and to make student-to-tutor and student-to-student engagement more interactive.
“Collaboration comes down to really open lines of communication,” Arora said.
Arora said Slack’s surveys, polls and other features that collect user feedback made students and staff more comfortable transitioning to Slack because they felt that their views were being considered in how the new platform was deployed and rolled out.
“We did lots of polls, we have a very engaged team and they always like to give us feedback. So we proactively go and ask for that feedback,” Arora said.
“But then we actually act on it and refine it, so that helps them to feel invested in that collaboration; to feel like they’re part of that decision, which makes the embracing of the technology easier.”
The poll or survey can be anonymous or public, scheduled or spontaneous, recurring or one-off. Arora said consulting students on course delivery made them more engaged.
“The best type of collaboration is really around that final fix for your company and your people, and opening up and giving people space to provide feedback on: is this working for us? I’m looking at how we change and tweak that.”
Arora said when choosing a collaboration tool, Slack was an attractive option because the main demographic who enrol in RMIT Online’s Future Skills short courses have already used the platform.
“Given the online nature of the courses we deliver, the majority of students are familiar with Slack…Students who enrol in these courses are typically 25-plus and working professionals.
“We always endeavour to meet our students where they are, as well as provide access to industry relevant tools that they are already using or are likely to use in a future workplace.”
To both reduce the amount of human resources required to manage enrolments and make admission less time-consuming for students, RMIT Online let students “use their personal emails to connect with Slack,” Arora said.
This spared RMIT Online’s IT team from provisioning thousands of email IDs and productivity suites, and students the inconvenience of managing multiple email accounts.
“Our audience is what we call a ‘lifelong learner’. They are typically working professionals who need an increased level of flexibility, and may login during their commute, or in a lunch break, or after a full day’s work,” Arora said.
Slack also made the enrolment process more efficient by sending automated emails prompting students to join class-specific and broader student community channels before courses started.
This made students more prepared for the semester because they could make friends, ask peers and tutors questions and share resources.
“Online learning should never be done in isolation, and Slack has been an important tool for us to foster community within the study experience. It allows them to connect with mentors, crowdsource problems, and get support from our student success team.”