Class Q&A Tool Gains Popularity with Faculty

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There’s nothing worse than responding to email after email from students who are all asking the same question.

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There’s nothing worse than responding to email after email from students who are all asking the same question.

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  • Piazza Piazza
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There’s nothing worse than responding to email after email from students who are all asking the same question.

That’s why Piazza, a free online class question-and-answer tool that is geared toward classes with large enrollments, is gaining popularity among faculty members at Georgia Tech. According to the Piazza website, 92 classes at Tech currently use the tool.

“Because the site encourages students to respond to one another’s questions, you can often endorse and answer without ever having to type a response in,” said Kristin Marsicano, a lecturer in the College of Computing who has used Piazza in her 300-plus person classes for the past year.

The software offers a Facebook-like gathering place where students can ask and answer questions regarding a course — under the watchful eye of their instructors. In turn, instructors can easily answer questions or endorse student answers that are correct.

Ed Greco, an instructor who coordinates half of the introductory courses in the School of Physics, started using Piazza this semester after receiving an email from the tool alerting him to the fact that several students had requested that he join.

Although T-Square offers chat room and forum features that serve a similar purpose, Greco prefers Piazza.

“For some reason, students just weren’t using the forum,” he said. “And I think the chat room lacks a lot of the functionality that you have in Piazza.”

For example, posts are tagged, which organizes them based on the most popular topics and themes. There’s a notification area, which provides real-time updates to the questions that students or instructors are following.

Chrissy Spencer, a faculty member in the School of Biology, appreciates that it’s easy to set up new discussion threads on Piazza and that the class screen is both aesthetically appealing and easy to navigate.  

The other benefit is that Piazza has its own mobile phone app for both iPhones and Droids, said Spencer, who has used the tool since fall 2011 and teaches large-enrollment lecture courses.

Of course, Piazza isn’t perfect, and Marsicano, Greco and Spencer all point out that instructors have to take the time to ensure that questions are getting answered. They each suggest assigning teaching assistants to the task of regularly sifting through responses to make sure no one is left hanging. However, the instructor should also be regularly checking the class page.  

“At the beginning of the semester, I usually check on the site daily, which tapers off to about two to three times a week,” Marsicano said. “I will read through to see what students are saying and will add information here and there. Doing this really helps me to understand what the students are thinking.”

Also, be wary of choosing the setting that makes all posters anonymous.

“I did this initially so students wouldn’t worry about being judged,” Greco said. “But after a few days, some students started to post things that were disrespectful to students and the instructors.”

To remedy the situation, he altered the settings so that postings are anonymous to students, but not to instructors.

To use Piazza effectively, Spencer recommends introducing students to the tool during the first class. Have them use it in class so they become familiar with it, she added.

The Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning is supporting the creation of a community of faculty members who use Piazza. For more information, contact Chaohua Ou.

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Keywords
Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, piazza, software, student engagement
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  • Created By: Amelia Pavlik
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Feb 20, 2012 - 9:53am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:10pm