Piazza is a free platform to help manage out-of-class communications with students. It can help reduce email overload as tutors can answer frequently asked questions (FAQs) just once for all the class to see.
Students can contribute answers to questions from fellow students and when additional clarification is needed, it is easy to ask follow-up questions.
Instructors can answer questions, endorse student answers, edit or delete any posted content, and control anonymity options for their class.
Piazza connects to module and programme sites in Blackboard, which means there is no need to remember a new password – just launch Piazza from within Blackboard and it knows if you are a student or instructor. It can also be used to connect several sites in Blackboard order to make a single FAQ/discussion space.
Unlike many forums, Piazza makes it easy to browse through and filter content. It lets you tag any question or answer for rapid sorting. It displays icons in your question feed so you can keep track of what’s new and what needs your attention.
Creating the Piazza link in Blackboard (staff only)
Once a Blackboard module is linked to Piazza any staff/student can easily access Piazza by clicking the link in Blackboard. There is no need to create a separate account or to sign in again.
To link Piazza with a Blackboard site follow the instructions below. You do this once only for each Blackboard site:
- Go to a content area in Blackboard (or create a new one) and choose Build Content > Web link.
- Enter a name for the link, such as ‘Piazza Q+A’.
- Enter this URL: https://piazza.com/connect
- Tick the box next to “This link is to a Tool Provider”.
- Optionally, add a description.
- Click Submit.
Staff and students will use the link created to access Piazza for this module.
How to create questions/announcements/polls (staff & students)
- On the ‘Q&A’ tab click the blue ‘New Post’ button.
- Choose the post type: Question, Note or Poll.
- Choose who to post it to: entire class or individual student(s)
- Select a folder for the post (these can be configured by Instructors on the ‘Manage Class’ tab)
- Enter a summary of the post.
- Enter the details of the post.
- Click the orange ‘Post My Note!’ button
How to respond to questions (staff & students)
There is a single space for ‘the students’ answer’ where students collectively construct a single answer (they can edit each other’s responses). There is also a single space for the ‘the instructors’ answer’ (instructors can edit each other’s answer). If several edits are made to answers the history of these can be seen via the Question History slider above the question.
- Select the question in the column on the left.
- Click in the field below the words ‘the instructors’ answer’ and enter your response.
- Click the blue ‘submit’ button.
To make follow up questions or comments click in the ‘followup discussions’ field.
How do I encourage students to use Piazza?
The easiest way to encourage students to use Piazza is to discourage them from directly emailing the teaching staff with questions. Below are some additional steps you can take to make Piazza your main way to communicate outside of class and office hours.
- Post some FAQs in the first week of class.
- If a student emails you a question, redirect them to Piazza.
- When you get good questions after class, post them to Piazza.
- Use Piazza to make class announcements (as Notes).
- Endorse good student answers and questions to encourage more student posts.
What control do I have as an instructor?
Piazza puts instructors in control of their class by giving them complete editing ability over class content. You can edit or delete any question or answer. If you approve of a student answer, you can endorse it to encourage students to take notice.
As an instructor, you can also manage other settings like course details, who is enrolled in your class, and whether students can make their posts anonymous to instructors. Edit these options under Settings in your dashboard toolbar.
In addition, you can monitor individual instructor and student participation under Statistics in your dashboard toolbar. Here you can get an idea of who the top contributors in your class are.
How does Piazza save instructors time?
Piazza saves instructors time in three ways:
1. Piazza lets you answer once. There are always problems that multiple students run into. With staff email lists, each of those students emails you and your staff separately, meaning you have to waste time answering small variations on the same question over and over again.
On Piazza, you can answer once and the whole class will be able to see it. At the same time, sensitive questions can always be made private to instructors via the private post option.
2. Piazza streamlines your workflow. On forums and newsgroups, there is no distinct notion of a question that needs attention. This means you have to sort through every updated question every time you want to help your students.
On Piazza, we clearly indicate whether a question is unanswered (it’s red!) or has a lingering, unresolved issue (“unresolved followup”) and provide a filter you can use to look at only these questions (the Unresolved filter). Log in, answer unresolved questions, and move on.
3. Piazza encourages students to answer for you. Students can answer questions on forums and newsgroups… but they hardly ever seem to.
Piazza allows instructors to endorse student answers, which essentially tells the class, “This answer is as good as what I would have written.” You don’t have to spend time rewriting the answer, and students have a new motive to answer again. We’ve seen students answering up to 50% of questions in their class by the end of the quarter when instructors frequently endorse answers.
How do I change the frequency of email notifications from Piazza?
Click the cog icon next to your name (top right of window) then click ‘Account/Email Settings’.
How do I allow/disallow anonymous posting?
(Staff only) On the ‘Manage Class’ tab scroll down to ‘Q&A Settings’.
How do I configure the folders available to post questions into?
(Staff only) On the ‘Manage Class’ tab scroll down to ‘Configure Class Folders’.
Image credit. flickr photo by Jacob Surland shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license