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Learning with a slice of Piazza

April 9, 2012

piazza logoTwo engineering faculty members independently suggested exploring Piazza, so today I took a look. According to the website, Piazza [PYAHT – sah] is a “social learning network” that provides a space where students can pose questions and receive answers from instructors or other students. It looks something like a cross between a wiki and an online discussion forum

Here’s how it works: one person poses a question, others suggest answers, and then the instructor either approves a student answer or enters one herself. The system lets students work together in real time with classmates and instructors. Any user can contribute, but the instructor controls the answers. Users can attach external files, use LaTeX formatting, and add follow-up questions. They can also receive email notifications of new content or view a post’s history. Instructors are in full editorial control, though, and they own the class content.

Piazza - my course site

The interface includes of a dynamic list of posts on the left, a central area for viewing or contributing to question posts, and a menu bar at the top. Unlike the typical discussion forum Piazza offers real-time updates. The instructor can also choose to allow students to post anonymously. Piazza tracks statistics on number of contributions, original posts, instructor responses, student response, and average response time. Piazza also offers convenient apps for iPhone and Android. It’s free, easy to set up, and FERPA-friendly. The following slideshow from Piazza provides more in-depth information.

Piazza has been widely used at Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, Cornell, and elsewhere — in some cases replacing a course mailing list. Instructors at Duke reported extremely high levels of student participation and engagement, as well as time savings. Here are a few ways one might use the system:

  • Instructor poses questions for students to answer as an assignment or for extra credit
  • Students informally pose questions for other students in a virtual study group
  • During a large lecture class, students pose questions for TAs to answer (could this get out of hand?)
  • The class deliberately and collaboratively builds a knowledge base

I tend to use my class email list as a place for answering student questions outside of my small class, but I could see Piazza being useful with larger classes – and ones which are more oriented to problem sets or cases. I’m not surprised that my engineer friends thought it could be useful. Do any readers have experiences with Piazza which they would like to share?

Learn more: Using Piazza to Encourage Interaction (ProfHacker)

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