Tips on Using the Q&A Platform Piazza in the Classroom

Managing out-of-class communication can be time-consuming. After having experimented with different approaches to optimizing communication amongst students and myself, I was elected for the UvA Grassroots program to explore the educational Q&A platform Piazza. The post below summarizes the lessons I learned from the project, and shares some valuable tips and tricks if you’d like to try it out yourself (first published in Dutch on the UvA Grassroots blog).

Out-of-class communication

Over the past two and a half years I tutored sophomore Psychology students in executing and reporting empirical research. Given the intensity of the course, many students wished to communicate with the instructor and with one another, even when not in class. This gave two problems. First, communication between students often went through a closed Facebook environment. Because of this, I had no insight into the problems of the students and I wasn’t able to correct incorrect advice from peers. Moreover, it appeared to promote plagiarism. Second, their communication with me often went through email. This time the students didn’t know what their fellow students asked me, and so I sometimes received the same question twice, while some questions could be perfectly answered by the students themselves. It would thus be great if all online communication would be shared with the whole class, such that the pressure on my mailbox would be lowered, and I would be better able to anticipate the problems of my students.

Exploring Piazza

Having sought a solution in the form of a mailing group (even more pressure on my mailbox), the use of a forum on either Turnitin or Blackboard (very unintuitive for most students), and Facebook (not a professional environment), I decided to try out Piazza. Piazza is a Q&A website, designed to provide a platform for teachers and students for online communication. Piazza is free, very accessible, includes a mobile app, and is already used by many universities. In this post I give some pros and cons, and share some tips for teachers who’d like to start using it. On the Piazza website you may also find more benefits, examples, and a demonstration.




To conclude

Both my students and I were mostly enthusiastic about using Piazza and in future courses I will continue to use it. Since it is a new medium for many, it however requires a small investment. I would thus advise you to seek a medium that best suits your needs. You may for instance compare email, Blackboard, Facebook, Piazza, Edmodo (an alternative to Piazza), and any other option. If Piazza is your final choice, I hope the above tips will help you to keep the investment small and the experience great.