I attended a Piazza demo session yesterday. Considering the demo was only an hour and there was no time for clarification, my comments may not be entirely accurate. Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes.
Piazza is a lightweight Learning Management System which is available at https://piazza.com. It is much less comprehensive than D2L, more like Google Classroom but with a nicer interface for students (in my opinion).
It is not an entire LMS. It does not have a gradebook, but if you maintain your grades elsewhere it would be adequate.
The main screen is divided into Q&A, Resources, Statistics, and Manage Class. You will spend most of your time in the Q&A section, which is where the posts are.
It uses what they call a “folder” system to organize posts, but you can post in multiple folders so I would think of them as labels (similar to Google Keep) or #hashtags.
They suggest that teachers recommend to students to post questions instead of emailing the instructor for help. This is to encourage other students to provide feedback. A feature I really like is that students can endorse answers. Think of this as a Like button or Upvote.
Students can post anonymously (but the teacher still sees the student name) which would be good for students that are apprehensive about posting. I like this feature. Students can also be fully anonymous if this option is turned on, but I would never recommend this.
Posts can be one of three types: a note, a question, or a poll.
You can post in multiple folders/labels.
There is a codeblock editor, which is great for CS teachers.
You can pin posts in each folder/label.
Students can mark posts as Resolved or Unresolved.
The teacher can create groups.
The number of student postings/comments can be tracked easily.
A feature that might attract many teachers is that Piazza integrates with existing LMSes such as Moodle, Canvas, and even D2L, according to the person demonstrating. One prof that was in the session mentioned she uses it this way, with Canvas. She is doing this so she can manage the content in Piazza because it is apparently much simpler (or friendlier?) than Canvas.
I didn’t ask, but I don’t think it has any ability to email parents from the platform. (Just a hunch, given its target audience which is post-secondary.)
Piazza is being used in over 90 countries and has over 2 million students using it.
It is free. The funding comes from employer-partners (?) who participate in the “Piazza Network”, which gives those employers access to the profiles of students who choose to participate. Think of companies like Google who want to hire CS students.
This Piazza Network feature cannot be turned off, which for me is a dealbreaker for its use in anything other than post-secondary. I informed them of this and asked for the option to disable this, but of course that’s how they fund Piazza so I’m not hopeful.
Overall it looks like an excellent, albeit basic LMS. If I didn’t need to have an integrated gradebook, I would consider it over more complex LMSes such as D2L, Canvas, or Blackboard. Would I consider it over Google Classroom? I’m not sure. Perhaps as an experiment.
Sadly, for privacy reasons, the Piazza Network partnership prohibits its use in our elementary and secondary schools. It is not readily apparent to students that they can join this, but if they happen upon the URL to join there is no way the instructor can prevent it. Again, this is a deal-breaker for me.
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