Piazza is a free, online question-and-answer platform that blends the functionality of a discussion forum with that of a wiki. Piazza helps students ask and answer their own questions, under the guidance of their instructor or TAs. The question and answer process typically goes like this:

  • A student posts a question using a WYSIWYG editor that features math notation and code blocks. Any student or instructor can edit the question for clarity or detail. Thus, the question area, like the answer area, allows for collaborative content (like a wiki). Other students or the instructor have the option of tagging the post with the label “good question”.

  • Other students then attempt to answer the question. The instructor or a teaching assistant has the option of “endorsing” this answer, tagging it with the label “good answer.”

  • If needed, the instructor or  Teaching Assistant can supply an answer or comment on the answer provided by students.

  • Students then have the option to have a follow-up discussion pertaining to the solution. Follow-up discussions can be tagged with the label “resolved” or “unresolved.”

Piazza is integrated into LEARN. Over two hundred courses at Waterloo have used Piazza in disciplines such as Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, Engineering, and Accounting and Finance.

Benefits

As discussed in Doug McKee's (Cornell University) teaching blog, Piazza has the following benefits:

  1. Students can post anonymously.

  2. Students can answer each other’s questions

  3. Instructors can mark both questions and answers as "good" or provide their own answers.

  4. Instructors can mark questions as duplicates of other questions.

  5. Instructors can go straight to a list of all the unanswered questions or unresolved follow-up questions.

  6. It’s easy to put mathematical equations into posts using either a graphical interface or LaTeX math notation.·            

Evidence of Efficacy

Grasso (2017), surveyed 592 students enrolled in a large Biology class and found that Piazza enables student interactivity, content creation, and the formation of a knowledge community. Students also reported the following perceived benefits of using Piazza:

Access to information

  • 85% of survey participants reported that Piazza helped in their learning because of the ability to read what others had posted.

  • Students reported that the immediacy of replies and the knowledge that peers were on the site nearly 24 hours a day were valuable assets.

Clarity of peer explanations

  • In survey text responses and interviews, students stated that reading an explanation from a classmate made the information more accessible and easier to understand.

Community of Practice

  • Students reported that Piazza contributed to the perception of a community.

  • Overall, the students felt ownership of the Piazza site.

Empowerment in learning

  • Students reported that using Piazza helped them to take charge of their learning. They saw it as a risk-free space where they could assess their learning and check their understanding.  Students indicated this allowed them to feel more "in command" of their learning.

Respect and Safety

  • Students valued being able to post questions and answers anonymously indicating that it provided a sense of safety. They felt they could risk asking what might be perceived by some as “stupid” questions.

Best Practices

  • Set aside 5-10 minutes in class the day you introduce Piazza to demonstrate what Piazza is and why you’re using it.

    • Explain when it is appropriate to mail you privately and when posting on on Piazza (either publicly or privately) is preferable.

    • Explain that students have the option to be anonymous to peers.

    • Clarify your expectations.  Let students know if you will wait to respond in order to encourage collaboration allowing  students to work toward a single high-quality answer.

  • Break the ice with a fun or interesting question.

  • Be attentive/responsive to students in the first few days.

  • Endorse student questions and answers to guide participation.

  • Determine how often you want to receive email notifications for new activity.

  • Email students immediately for important announcements.

    Adapted from https://piazza.com/product/best_practices

Accessibility

It is important to consider accessibility when determining whether a technology fits the needs of your class. Piazza has provided information about accessibility considerations when using this technology.

References

Grasso, S. M. (2017). Use of a Social Question Answering Application in a Face-to-Face College Biology Class. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 49(3-4), 212-227. doi:10.1080/15391523.2017.1343692

Resources

teaching tipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Piazza. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.