Mobility

How to connect apps to Slack for use in the classroom

Users can centralize notifications and links when they integrate apps with Slack. Here's how.

Slack is making a name for itself as a business messaging tool, but it is also gaining traction in other types of organizations as well.

Earlier, I shared how I used Slack as the main communication tool with a university class that I teach. (See Slack goes to college: How it can improve the classroom experience to learn how we used Slack and other apps.) My students and I especially appreciated Slack's mobile messaging and search features.

However, Slack also connects to other apps. The free version, which was what I used with my class, allows for up to 10 service integrations. In my case, 10 was more than enough. Need to connect to more services? Upgrade to a paid version of Slack to remove the limit.

Apps used

In my first semester with Slack, I focused on two integrations: Google Drive and Lucidchart.

I connected Google Drive to Slack. Then, I would post a link to a file from Drive into a Slack channel. Slack indexed the Google document text to support search. When students followed the link in Slack, they would see the current version of the document, complete with any changes I'd made.

SEE: Tips: What are the best ways to use Slack for business? (TechRepublic)

Student-posted links sometimes presented search and share setting problems. I'd neglected to walk each student through the process of connecting their Slack setup to Google Drive. Additionally, not every student adjusted document share settings to allow "anyone with the link" to access a file. Next year, I'll make sure each student connects Slack with Google Drive—and knows how to adjust share settings.

The Lucidchart integration added Slack-specific sharing options within the Lucidchart web-based app. Once connected, I could share my Lucidchart document to any of my Slack channels—without leaving the Lucidchart web app. It's a nice addition: Lucidchart "knows" my Slack channels and adds the channels as potential share destinations.

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Once integrated with Slack, share a Lucidchart file from your browser to a Slack channel.

Apps added

After the semester ended, I added two more apps that I plan use next year.

First, I connected Slack to a Google Calendar I created for my class. I configured the calendar to post a reminder to the #syllabus channel two days before class. My students will receive a calendar reminder posted to Slack on Monday evenings at 6 p.m., two days before we meet. As a result, no assignment will ever be late again. (OK, maybe not. I'll admit that technology can't solve everything.)

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Configure a Google Calendar to post reminders to a Slack channel.

Next, I set up a Twitter account configured to post tweets to the #general channel in Slack. The Twitter to Slack integration solves a problem I've struggled with for years: How to share something in public on Twitter, without requiring a student to sign up for Twitter. With this connection, those who choose to use Twitter can, and those who prefer not to use Twitter will still see the content.

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Post Tweets from a Twitter account to a Slack channel.

System integration apps

There are three other Slack app integrations I'd love to use, but can't for various reasons.

Google offers Hangouts integration with Slack. Once added, type /hangout to start a Hangout. It works well, but the university hasn't enabled Hangouts for student accounts.

Google also offers admins the ability to configure Single Sign-On (SSO) to Slack from a Google Account thanks to Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML). Slack understandably limits that authenticated access to paid accounts.

And Quip released an integration to allow Slack users to create, share, and track updates to Quip documents in Slack. Quip limits the integration to teams and business accounts. (My students and I will stick to cutting-and-pasting Quip links, since paid accounts are beyond the range of my class technology budget.)

Suggested Slack app integrations?

What apps have you used that work well with Slack? Have you found Android or iOS apps—other than the Slack app—that add significant functionality to Slack once connected? What creative app connections have you explored?

Also see

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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