Piazza – for better communication with and between students

Piazza is useful because it facilitates tutor-student and student-student communication. One of the key benefits of this for tutors is that it is likely to reduce the number of emails in your inbox and will cut the number of duplicate answers you write answering similar questions. There are several benefits beyond this for staff and students alike.

The Piazza environment is more akin to the online social media spaces that students often use outside of those provided by their university to talk about their studies. It feels less like an institutionally provided space and more like a space students can call their own.

Shy students who find it difficult to ask questions in lectures or small groups can pose questions in writing for their tutors and/or peers. Questions can be asked anonymously – good for students who might be embarrassed to ask a basic question that might display their lack of understanding to others. For students who are always asking questions it enables everyone to benefit from the answers and for a variety of answers to be displayed, whether they are provided by staff or other students.

Anyone can provide an answer, anonymously if they choose, which speeds up response times (Piazza displays the average response time for all questions) and the questioner does not need to wait for a tutor’s reply or ‘office hours’ if other students provide a suitable response first.

Enabling and encouraging students to answer each other’s questions promotes a sense of community and greater engagement and participation. Tutors’ responses are highlighted so they stand out from students’ responses. They can also mark questions as good questions; equally they can mark answers as good answers.

Posts are edited ‘wikipedia style’, so your students can collaborate on the best response, allowing students to gain greater clarity on questions and problems and removing ambiguity and confusion. They can even have follow up discussions ‘for lingering questions and comments’.

Piazza supports multimedia embedding so images, diagrams and videos can be included in questions and answers, including those taken on a mobile phone (requires the Piazza mobile App – free of charge and available for Apple and Android devices). This is good for sharing diagrams, graphs, equations and handwriting on paper or a whiteboard, for example, or for photographs taken on field trips.

Piazza also highlights code syntax (HTML, PHP etc.) which is useful for computer science students and includes a LaTeX equation editor which is useful for students of mathematics.

Take a look at the image below (click to enlarge) to see how many of the Piazza features mentioned in this post you can find – you should also be able to spot a few that have not been mentioned.

Example of question and responses in Piazza
Example of question and responses in Piazza

For further details and help integrating Piazza in your Blackboard module contact Oli Haslam in the FET Learning Innovation Unit.

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