Ed Tech #10: Piazza

What is it?

Piazza is a free online question-and-answer platform for use in college classes. Students and instructors can post and answer questions. It functions like a web-based discussion board, but more robust, since it allows better tracking of student participation and more student-driven conversation.

How does it work?

Anyone can post a question. Then, other students can respond in a wiki-style format. This means that, like a wikipedia page, students keep editing the “student response” post, so that each question will end up with only 1, high-quality student-written response. Student questions and responses can also be posted anonymously.

Instructors can “endorse” these student-written posts, which helps guide the class discussion and indicates to other students that the answer can be trusted. Instructors can also answer questions or edit/delete posts. Here’s an example of the question posting/answering (from Piazza’s demo classroom):

Screen shot of instructor and student answers in Piazza

You can also post notes and polls, and easily organize posts or files into folders (like “exam,” or “week 2 homework”). You can filter posts by unread, unresolved, following, etc. You can also track TA and student participation – Piazza will generate reports about your top contributors, or about overall class activity. (Instructors could use this, for example, as a way to assign a grade to student participation). As you can see in the example above, Piazza has an integrated LaTeX code equation editor, which is critical for discussion and questions in upper-level science, math, and programming type courses. It also integrates with Blackboard, Canvas, and other LMS and has iOS and Android apps.

Strengths, Limitations, and Applications

While Piazza is designed specifically to help instructors manage Q&A’s in large classes, I think it could also be quite useful in small or medium sized classes as well. Obviously, the LaTeX code equation editor makes it possible to have collaborative work in the math/science/computer classes, which I imagine is hard to do.

To me, what makes Piazza stand out from a regular LMS-based discussion board is the wiki-style student response feature. I imagine it would also be a real time-saver for professors – rather than answering disconnected student posts one-by-one (or even worse, responding to the same emailed question over and over again), they can just tell students to post all questions on Piazza, and then quickly check the cumulative student answer. It also allows students to work together to come up with a “class” answer to common questions, so it’s almost like every question can lead to class collaboration. I think there’s a lot of benefit in giving students the space to learn from one another, and Piazza offers an easy and intuitive way to do that.

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  1. This is neat. I also really like that you can come up with, essentially, a “class answer” That definitely helps when it comes to saving time. I’m curious about if it’s possible to set editing parameters for when students post. I know you mentioned this would be good for large college classes, but just thinking about how middle schoolers tend to push boundaries when it comes to answers that can be posted for everyone to see. Does the “instructor” have the ability to delete things from the student post? Or maybe this really is more for high schooler and college students 🙂

  2. I am so glad you found a resource for collage students. I think in all these weeks I have only found ones for K-12 grades so its nice to see that developers are thinking about post graduation students too.
    Is this done with a smart phone to post questions or do they questions need to be posted from a desktop computer?

    1. There are definitely a lot of tech resources for K-12 – I work in higher ed, so all of my blog posts have been about tools that can be used for college, and a few of them are specifically designed for college (and not really useful for K-12).. so there are plenty out there! Piazza does have iOS and Android apps.

  3. I would have loved this in my undergrad courses! And I can see using this in my English classes— or maybe only one or two, because as Amanda said, middle schoolers can push the boundaries of what’s acceptable. But I would like to try it, maybe with open-ended literature questions. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I like this – I could see using this in a class. I have thought about using a Wiki several times – I had to develop one for another graduate class. But I don’t really like them – I found them cumbersome. Have you used this yourself? How is this different from a blog?

    1. This is kind of like a blend between a blog and a discussion board (like the kind you’d see in Blackboard) – it has more features than a blog. And unlike a blog or a discussion board, it’s set up specifically for “question” and “answers.” I think you’d find it more intuitive than a wiki!

  5. I wonder if this was a brainchild of a college professor that was tired of answering the same questions over and over again. I could see the instructor giving extra credit for responses to questions. Saves them time and shows that they have learned the material.

  6. Could this be adapted for students younger than college aged? I think this would have been fun to try out in our college class. I like that anyone can post the question, but I would not want my students to answer anonymously.

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