New communication medium picks up Slack

by Celia Carbone / Beacon Correspondent • November 3, 2016

As a happy medium between email and text message, one Emerson department is using a popular messaging application to keep students connected.   

Journalism chair Paul Niwa and other faculty in the department introduced Slack to the freshman class this semester in an effort to improve communication between faculty and students.

Slack is promoted as “team communication for the 21st century,” according to its website. The app features direct messaging and channels for public and private group chats. Users can select from various notification options, including email and smartphone push notifications.

This software supplements the CreativityKit all freshman journalism majors received this year, including a MacBook Air preloaded with programs like FinalCut and the Adobe Creative Suite. Slack can be downloaded from the App Store for laptops and smartphones.

Assistant journalism professor Tim Riley said Slack is a more direct way to communicate with his students.

“Everyone is overrun with emails,” Riley said. “Many emails sent by professors were not being noticed or taken seriously.”

Journalism professor Janet Kolodzy said Slack is an effective way to see if the department can adapt its communication habit.

“[The goal of using Slack is] understanding that communication has to be done in as many ways as possible,” she said. “It’s not merely a one-way, but it is multidirectional.”

Slack is already being used across campus, Kolodzy said, but this is its first year in the journalism department.

Freshman journalism major Kayla LaRosa said she prefers to use Slack to communicate with her professor and classmates outside of the classroom, as opposed to using email or Canvas.

It took her a couple weeks to get used to checking Slack in addition to her other notifications, but it soon became part of her routine, LaRosa said.

“Slack is an effective form of communication,” LaRosa said, “but needs to be embraced by everyone.”

Associate professor of journalism Mark Leccese said he sends reminders to his students before exams with hints and passages to pay careful attention to.

Leccese compared Slack to Twitter because he can address his Discovering Journalism students in one centralized channel, whereas if he were to create a hashtag on Twitter, it would get lost. He said he prefers Slack because exchanging cell phone numbers with over 30 students is not the most practical way to communicate.

“Slack is easy to use, intuitive, and powerful,” Leccese said.

The main concern, Riley said, is to get students to tune into another channel for their notifications. He said some students may still choose to ignore the Slack notifications, but it will give them easier access to the information and avoid the clutter of email.

Freshman journalism major Samantha Shaffer said that she does not see the need to use Slack to communicate.

“I already check my email and Canvas,” she said. “I do not need to log into Slack to get information when it is just as easy to send an email that I know I will check.”

This pilot program is only being used by freshman journalism students so far, Kolodzy said. She said the department is asking faculty to encourage their students to communicate using the app. If professors find Slack to be an effective form of communication, Kolodzy said the department will expand the program to all classes in the coming semesters.

“What I think is most interesting is how students themselves use Slack to coordinate and communicate with each other,” Kolodzy said. “[The app] is dependent on how involved the students want to be, and it has been very successful so far.”