Piazza (http://piazza.com) is an open source Q&A (Question & Answer) platform. It’s easy to use and free of charge for students, professors and universities. The company reports having over 30,000 professors and over 100,000 students globally subscribed. The system is FERPA compliant and integrates with all major LMSs, including Blackboard, Sakai, Moodle and Canvas.
A summary of Piazza’s core functionality is given on their website:
Piazza efficiently manage[s] class Q&A. Students can post questions and collaborate to edit responses to these questions. Instructors can also answer questions, endorse student answers, and edit or delete any posted content.
Piazza is designed to simulate real class discussion. It aims to get high quality answers to difficult questions, fast!
The name Piazza comes from the Italian word for plaza–a common city square where people can come together to share knowledge and ideas. We strive to recreate that communal atmosphere among students and instructors.
Rich media (pictures, videos and links to shared files) can be embedded in postings. Average response time for answers to questions is displayed with real time updating in the message area of the browser. The “endorse” widget–enabling Professors to earmark “quality” responses–works in a manner similar to Reddit’s upvoting feature.
Piazza uses a wiki-like interface metaphor. Professors or students can post questions or model responses/answers as “notes.” Subscribers can add threads to postings or start forks. A depiction of the basic screen elements is given, below.
The integrated polling widget is also quite useful. Polls are an alternative to postings. They allow professors to take the pulse of their class via a SurveyMonkey type interface, with histograms updated to reflect constituents’ responses. See screen capture, below.
Use in Teaching
Piazza is the perfect alternative to integrated discussion forums in LMSs. It can be used as a complete replacement for discussion forums via seamless integration through the Piazza API as depicted in the following graphic.
This is important, because discussions ensconced in proprietary LMSs:
- Take up space on the institution’s server.
- Are locked into the proprietary database of the LMS, and thus not accessible to students after the course (they are timely not timeless).
- As a consequence of (2), students cannot make discussion content engendered in the class part of their PLE (Personal Learning Network).
- Social connections in discussion forums are lost at semester’s end.
- The discussion as a Q&A repository is closed to the broader community (outside of the course).
In keeping with social constructionist pedagogical practice, student “ownership” of learning artifacts (for encoding, retrieval and transfer) is realized when they are given responsibility for warehousing course deliverables–most often in the form of an iPortfolio these days. This cannot happen unless these objects are student hosted or remain accessible to them via persistent external syndication platforms.
In keeping with the CODASYL tenet of program/data independence, data should be encoded in a standardized manner that is interoperable and transferable, hence supportive of alternative platform access.
This, curiously, resonates with the constructivist principle of ownership as a source of learner engagement.
Piazza—as a free and open source Q&A syndication platform—serves that need.
Most often Quora and Edmoto are cited as Piazza’s competitors in the education marketspace. StackOverflow has similar functionality in the computer programming space, and is often used by computer science students for rapid Q&A. Reddit serves a similar need in the citizen journalism space.
These forums are all comparable in ease of use.
What sets Piazza apart is its open source APIs that permit seamless integration into the instructor’s or institution’s LMS of choice. Forums may also be open for input from SMEs in the community at large.
Piazza is free and open to all. They are monetized by venture capital at present, and the founder (see https://piazza.com/mercury_news) conjectures that they might some how commodify in the corporate space.
That worries me a bit, but their rapid growth, extensive user-base and success in garnering investments supports the notion that they’ll be around.
A nascent monetization initiative is use of the platform as a recruiting tool for highly endorsed students.
The integrated Support Forum in Piazza is excellent, with context sensitive “bubble-help” pop-ups for first time users. There are also plenty of web-based textual and Youtube videos on all aspects of the product.
Piazza offers 365x24x7 technical support via email, text chat and 800-voice. I’ve chatted with their staff on extensions to the API and found them both knowledgeable and eager to help.
Most important is the product’s intrinsic ease-of-use. Like an iPad, a child can do it.