Saturday, April 11, 2020

Online Tools for Education: Slack is Demanding But Usable

Currently I am mentoring a team in the  Australian Computer Society's Flatten the Curve hackathon, to develop prototypes in 48 hours to counter the  COVID-19 Coronavirus. Participants have until 6pm, to demonstrate a working product, or at least an idea of what it could do. This is the first purely online hackerthon I have been involved with. Previous ones have been at one venue, or at a number of networked venues. It is challenging to work with organizers, fellow mentors, and a team, who I have only ever see on screen.  The primary tool being used is Slack, an instant messaging platform. This is the largest scale use of Slack I have been involved with. 

Previously I have helped teach teams of ANU TechLauncher students who use Slack to coordinate their project. But there each team operates independently. Here Slack is being used by all teams and organizers. There are almost a hundred channels, and I am following a dozen of them. I have to be careful who the audience is in each channel, as there are ones just for mentors, and others the participants read.

One surprise was that Slack, usually text based, also does video conferences. The audio quality is not as good as I have found with Zoom, and it seems to use twice as much bandwidth, but it is conveniently integrated with the forums. I got so comfortable with the integration that I was sitting in Slack wondering where everyone was, and then realized this particular meeting was happening in Zoom. I then had to scramble to find the details.

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