Melissa Vosen Callens, North Dakota State University


my blended (hybrid) Critical Approaches to Popular Culture course, each week
students meet once face-to-face as well as “attend” one asynchronous online
class. Research suggests that a
primary component of effective online teaching is creating an environment where
students do not feel isolated and can interact with their instructor and other
students, supporting the belief that learning
is a social process (Harasim, Tu). Because interaction is important, I
ask students to engage in a weekly online discussion using Slack ( Slack
is an online messaging application that supports communication and
collaboration in the workplace. Not only does Slack help students feel
connected to a learning community, but it also helps them meet my course
outcomes, specifically the following:

  1. Students will identify how popular culture
    generates and articulates our understandings of gender, race, sexuality, class,
    and disability.
  2. Students will examine the production of popular
    culture and the homogenizing of content and limiting alternative viewpoints.
  3. Students will analyze current popular culture
    to see how it is consciously or unconsciously linked to larger stories in

For years,
I used the discussion board feature on our learning management system,
Blackboard. In 2016, I switched to Slack because it is user-friendly from both
an instructor and student standpoint. One of the best features of Slack is an
app that notifies users when someone responds to, or tags them in, a post.  

Educational Level

assignment can be used in all level of courses. While I have used Slack in
first-year courses, upper division undergraduate courses, honours courses, and
graduate courses, this chapter talks specifically about using Slack in an upper
division undergraduate course.

Writing Component          

week students are asked to write one original post, responding to my prompt,
and one question they wish to discuss; these posts are typically between 200-300
words. In addition to their original post, students are also expected to
respond meaningfully to at least two questions posted by peers. Responses
typically range from 100-200 words each.  

Tools / Technology

For this assignment, students must have a free Slack account. If they choose, they can also download the Slack mobile app. I do not, however, require it.

Group Size

assignment works best for classes with less than 35 students; my course is
typically between 25-35 students. If an instructor has more than 35 students,
it is possible to use Slack to facilitate an asynchronous class discussion with
added preparation. For larger classes, I recommend that instructors split the
class into groups, as it is hard to manage larger conversations (and could
potentially overwhelm students).


instructors interested in Slack, it is easy to set up a course “team” by
following the two-step process outlined on their website. After instructors
create a team, they can create new channels (threads) by clicking on the plus
sign under the channel header. After creating a channel, instructors are
prompted to name it and identify its purpose (or prompt). Finally, I recommend
that instructors adjust the workplace settings to include all channels as
“default” channels. This will ensure that students can see the channels
immediately upon account creation; if instructors do not select this option,
students will have to be manually added to each channel. From start-to-finish,
the setup is quick, taking only 10 minutes.

addition to setting up the team page and channels, I also record a short video,
which walks students through the process of setting up an account. The process
is not difficult, but by creating a video with concrete, step-by-step
instructions, fewer students have questions about the account creation process.

my course, I create a channel for each week. Each channel has a prompt that
encourages students to reflect on our weekly assigned course texts. Below are
some sample prompts. I try to ensure that each prompt is open-ended, allowing
students to fully explore the topic.Each
prompt is grounded in my three course objectives, noted in the overview portion
of this chapter.  

  • In the documentary, The Mask You Live In, Kimmel argues,
    “[…] being seen as weak as a sissy, in the eyes of other guys, starts in our
    earliest moments […].” Can you think of a time where you experienced/saw this
    teaching? What role does pop culture play? How can this narrative be changed?
    (Meets Course Objective 1)
  • How does the manic pixie
    stereotype perpetuate the idea of the muse, and why is this damaging? Provide
    one example that features a MPD girl. Finally, can you think of any reoccurring
    representation of men (Meets Course Objective 1)
  • Share your results of the
    Retail Alphabet Game:
    Reflect on the branded nature of our culture and the pervasiveness of images.
    (Meets Course Objective 2)
  • Find a film that features a
    LGBTQ character and watch it. As you are watching, analyze the movie using the
    Vito Russo test criteria. Report your findings here. (Meets Course Objective 3)


my experience, the only disadvantage of using Slack is that it is not linked to
Blackboard’s gradebook. I found that searching a channel for each student’s
name is the easiest way to assess student participation. After doing so, I
record grades in Blackboard.

students have responded positively. Not only have students told me they like
Slack, but they are also participating more. Below are student responses to the
question, “What specific thing has been particularly helpful to you as a
student in this course?”

  • Discussion
    board: We could share and see other ideas and thoughts. It helped me to understand
    each topic.
  • I
    think that the in class activities, journals, and online slack discussions were
    all helpful in regards to engraving the course material in my mind.
  • Slack
    discussion were great.
  • I
    think the discussion boards and group work were helpful because you got to hear
    other people’s perspectives and learn about new things and ideas.

one added bonus of using Slack is that it is used in many workplaces. Last
semester, a former student told me she was grateful she learned Slack in my class
because the company she interned for also used it. She found herself giving
tips on how to use it more effectively because she was comfortable with the platform.

assignment can be used in any course that already has a discussion board
assignment. For those who do not have a discussion board assignment but are
interested in improving participation and community, Slack is a great option. For
those interested, my assignment sheet is below.

Useful Resources

recommend tutorials to learn more about the app.

Works Cited

Harasim, Linda. “What Makes
Online Learning Communities Successful? The Role of

Learning in Social and Intellectual Development.” Distance Education

edited byCharalambos Vrasidas and Gene V. Glass, Information

Publishing, 2002, pp. 181-200.

Tu, Chih-Hsiung. “The Impacts
of Text-Based CMC on Online Social Presence.” Journal of

Online Learning
, vol. 1, no. 2, 2002, pp. 1-24.

Assignment Sheet

Post (Friday); Response to peers (Monday)

5 points per post

Discussion forums are
designed to facilitate conversations about a particular topic. Our discussion
forum is asynchronous in nature, which means you may enter the discussion when
it is convenient for you (be mindful, however, of due dates): read the
postings, add comments, and introduce new material related to the topic. The
purpose of a threaded discussion is to expand your knowledge through collective
research and comments on the topic. To be successful in online discussion, you
need to be actively engaged.

We will be using Slack for
our discussion ( Slack is a messaging application for teams and
classes. Unlike Blackboard, with Slack you will be able to tag classmates in
posts, receive instant notifications when you receive a reply or direct
message, and search current and archived discussions.  

Each week, we will have a new
“channel” for our discussions. At the top of each channel, you will see the
prompt for the week. Drawing on our course texts, you will be expected to
answer the prompt and ask a question related to the topic by Friday, end of day
(11:59 p.m.). By Monday, end of day, you must respond to at least two peers.

Tips for being successful:

  • Research
    the topic, adding constructive comments and information
  • Practice
    professionalism when communicating with peers
  • Post
    your contributions early so that others have time to respond
  • Stay
    on subject / share relevant experiences and external resources
  • Strive
    for quality more than quantity of postings
  • Include
    open-ended questions to encourage dialogue


2 points
1 point
0 points
Post – ideas are well developed
– clear references to readings
– answers prompt completely
– clear evidence of critical thinking
– ideas are mostly well developed, could be improved with stronger analysis
– Some references to the readings, but for the most part, references are indirect
– Answers most of the prmpt
– Some critical thinking is evident
Did not complete –/ 2
Questions   A question is provided at the end of your first post to promote discussion No question provided to promote discussion –/ 1
Responses Responses to peers (at least two) are well-developed and provide clear evidence of critical thinking. Responses to peers need additional deevelopment or do not show evidence of critical thinking, OR one response is missing, despite the first being well-developed Did not complete –/ 2