Since 2017, RMIT Online has operated as a 100% cloud-based tech stack to deliver its online learning programs as an extension of RMIT’s university operations. With three years of runway into the pandemic, they had the skills and technologies in place to shift quickly for top quality learning delivered remotely. Choosing the right collaboration tool was essential for creating the ideal online experience.
“Some online learning courses have simply been Powerpoints and lecture recordings uploaded online. For RMIT Online, it was crucial that students knew the difference between hastily thrown-together courses and truly immersive, tailored, asynchronous and flexible learning experiences,” says RMIT Online technology and enablement director, Will Calvert.
“Adapting to the new norm of hybrid learning wasn’t as challenging for RMIT Online staff as other universities and private education providers. And the way we foster collaboration and engagement has been with Slack - which has become a vital link in maintaining the culture and connection between staff, students and partners.”
RMIT Online has made Slack part of its ‘digital campus’, a suite of platforms where students connect, collaborate, access resources, and stay up to date on news, projects and class discussions. Students can also access learning on the RMITO learning platforms in “bite-sized chunks” from any device, while having constant access to peer and staff support asynchronously through Slack.
“Rather than waiting for the first day of class, students get access to Slack as soon as they enrol in their course,” says Calvert. “This gives them immediate access to industry experts, mentors and peers. This also allows for quick access into supporting materials, online orientation, and our ‘Personal Learning Profile’ which maps students learning habits, and tailors their experience to ensure success. It’s like an open day on campus from the comfort of your device. By the time the course starts, students are ready to hit the ground running.”
RMIT Online has found that this constant access to peers and mentors beyond standard campus hours makes collaboration on projects and assignments easier for all involved. On average there are around 2,000 users per week in its Slack environment with adoption growing 20% over the last 6 months, all managed via Slack Enterprise Grid. This allows provisioning separate workspaces for different user groups while centrally managing all required security and governance controls.
Across administration, teachers, course coordinators, and mentors, users are assigned different personas and roles to meet security and privacy needs. Students will only have visibility into the specific resources and staff they need for their course – not across the whole organisation. At their onboarding, all users are also given clear guidelines on how to use RMIT Online’s Slack correctly and effectively. And staff are encouraged to self-organise by creating their own channels to give them room to shape their own team cultures organically. This has seen organic growth of several new Slack collaboration features (particularly by students) such as huddles (123% growth in 3 months), voice messages, and search. Students in particular are finding the answers they need, and collaborating via whatever mode suits their need late into the evening, when they tend to study most.
As an internal toolset for all staff, Slack has now fully embedded within the organisation from CI/CD through to course building and interdepartmental collaboration. And when virtual meetings were overloading people’s diaries during lockdowns, RMIT Online moved several WIPs and standups into asynchronous updates shared via video and audio messages on Slack.
“Not only did this method save time and reduce virtual meetings, it added some fun and variety to the workday,” says Calvert. “Innovation is often about finding new ways to do things. For us, we’ve hit on something great with Slack Huddles. Even though we have Zoom and webinar tools, there’s something about the ad hoc nature of a huddle that’s really resonating for us. No need to schedule a meeting to ask a quick question or get a fast answer. It’s reducing even more of those meetings and creating space for productive conversations.”
Calvert also emphasises that Slack goes beyond collaboration at RMIT Online and acts as “a watchtower”. They use many app integrations to get alerts and data insights all in the one place, from successful sales to IT outages – all brought into one place with the tools they need to manage notification overload. But Will’s careful to emphasise that you can’t just put everything in one place and expect it to work seamlessly.
“You need to start with your own product experiences and work backwards. This will give you a better idea of what tools and staff you need to deliver products and experiences that resonate with your audience and deliver results,” he says.
“The pandemic pushed digital literacy in consumers forward by five years, setting a high bar for businesses. It’s important to meet customers and employees where they are and provide them with an experience that feels like second nature to them. For RMIT Online, Slack has proven to be invaluable because it complements the nature of our products and the tech-savvy customer base we attract.”