Course Interaction Components External to the Learning Management System: Incorporating Slack Into Online Teaching.
By Madeline McCullough, OLFF 2016-2017
Within the Integrated Marketing Communication emphasis in the Elliott School of Communication at WSU we offer a fully online class, Advanced Copy Writing for Professionals. The class is offered as a continuum for undergraduates who have taken copy writing, know they want to work as copywriters, and are looking for an advanced online course. It is also offered to graduate students who are looking for an experiential course to complement their research courses. Through statewide and regional research, I discovered a need for an online course focusing on copy writing for people already working in the industry.
As an online offering, Ad Copy Writing for Professionals appeals to current copywriters working anywhere. With the asynchronous schedule and no traditional in-class expectations, it’s perfect for individuals who work full time and are looking for a shot in the arm to reboot their own creative processes.
Primarily, the course uses Blackboard for disseminating information and collecting assignments. Each week in the 16-week semester students have an assignment which includes several readings and a creative-writing exercise. Blackboard is fine for this, but I also wanted a way for students to interact asynchronously, learner-to-learner either with or without my input.
Students were asked to introduce themselves to the class and given guidance on where and how they should do so. Each of them recorded a video that they wrote — yes, script writing is part of advertising copy writing — and then uploaded to Blackboard in a Discussion Board thread. This helped to create a welcoming learning environment and a sense of community, however, I wanted more interaction between students.
What’s the new platform? People working in advertising are tasked with not only keeping up with new trends in products, services, consumer desires and changes in the market, but also with new technology and platforms of communication. Some of these platforms are public-facing and some are only used internally. (How many of us are members of a private Facebook group used as a communication platform within a closed group?) I had to wonder what new communication platform was being used by ad agencies. I knew it was not Blackboard Discussion Board!
I was looking for a way for students to interact asynchronously using a communication platform actually used by the advertising industry. For years I have given the Ad Copy Writing class an assignment to write haikus and post them on Twitter. What was the next big communication platform?
By contacting friends in the industry and asking about new communication platforms, I kept hearing about Slack. Slack is so new, I didn’t know anything about it, which at first seemed like a deal breaker. Then I realized that meant it would be perfect — a new platform, used by the industry that we could use asynchronously as an online, learner-to-learner class discussion tool.
Slack is a cloud-based team-collaboration tool. It began as an internal communication tool but was released publicly in August, 2013 and is now available to anyone for free. Slack teams allow communities, groups or teams to join through a specific URL or invitation sent by a team administrator, which could be me as the instructor of the online course. Public channels allow team members to communicate without the use of email or group texting. The channels are open to everyone in the chat provided they have been invited to join.
I decided to try Slack for one semester. All I had to do was think of an assignment that might generate discussion, could take advantage of Slack’s ability to post visuals, videos and graphics, and for all to be able to comment on each other’s posts. I decided to use Slack as a collection and discussion platform for and assignment I called “Badvertising.”
The assignment was to share one ad per week on Slack that students found so bad it qualified as “badvertising.” One of the learning objectives of the class is to be able to analytically critique “good/effective” and “bad/ineffective” advertising following certain criteria. To meet the course objective, students would comment on each other’s posts as well as their own. I did not plan to grade this assignment but rather, in compliance with FERPA, to simply award points privately on Blackboard for posting to Slack.
Slack took off. Of course, Slack is meant to be interactive and immediately the students started commenting on each other’s bad ads. The comments were funny and engaging and right before my eyes a real sense of community developed. We learned from each other but also about each other. We quickly learned who were our dog lovers — their badvertising often showed dogs in a bad light. Feminists, both male and female, revealed a keen sensitivity to gender discrimination as they posted groan-worthy ads that everyone seemed to comment on. Of course vegetarians, fashionistas, environmentalists, sports enthusiasts — a nice variety of psychographic and behavioral differences came out as the wide range of demographics represented in the class posted ads they found offensive or bad.
Slack is easy to use. Navigation is intuitive making uploads and comments easy to post. Students shared print ads and TV videos. Based on how quickly new posts generated comments, I would assume most students used their phone app for the assignment, which of course they loved.
What’s next? I like the idea of an interactive online component to my online course that also teaches a new platform. I will probably continue to use Slack, until the next new thing comes along.
I believe using Slack helped the class met Quality Matters Standards:
4.4: The instructional materials are current.
4.5 A variety of instructional materials is used in the course.
5.2 Learning activities provide opportunities for interaction that support active learning.
6.1 The tools used in the course support the learning objectives or competencies.
6.2 Course tools promote learner engagement and active learning.
6.3 Technologies required in the course are readily obtainable.
6.4 The course technologies are current.
Senior Lecturer, Elliott School of Communication
Bringing boots-on-the-ground experience to an academic setting, Madeline McCullough teaches integrated marketing communication in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University. Along with teaching traditional classes, she is the instructor in “Shocker Ad Lab” serving as the creative director and development director for this applied-learning opportunity within the Elliott School.
McCullough is a Coleman Fellow, integrating self-employment and entrepreneurship principles across her course curriculum. And, she serves as an Online Faculty Fellow, an ambassador for online learning at Wichita State.
Her professional experience includes 15 years as a regional photographer and feature writer overlapping with 15 years as a copywriter on national accounts at local agencies including Sullivan Higdon & Sink. Her copy writing, feature writing and photography have earned national and regional awards.
Research interests include the history of Kodak advertising, best practices in online teaching, expanding access to entrepreneurship outside the business school, and curriculum development based on a research- and skills-based approach to creativity. McCullough has presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the National and the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association conferences.