Thursday, February 9, 2012

Piazza - Not Just Another Message Board System

Over the years I've reviewed quite a few services that offer teachers the ability to create private message boards for use in their courses. Here's a handful of those services. Today, I learned about one that tops all of those services.

Piazza is a free service that teachers can use to create message boards for their courses. Piazza message boards offer more than just the standard question and answer format found in the old free Ning packages, but not quite as many features as a paid service like Blackboard. Some of the highlights of Piazza are tracking of student use, options for having multiple instructors and or teaching assistants in each course, and collaborative editing of messages. Piazza also offers the things that you might expect like basic announcement posting.

When students response to a question posted by a teacher they can work with other students to edit that response. So rather than having a bunch of similar responses to sort through students can work together to develop a cohesive response. Teachers can weigh-in directly on each student response with a simple thumbs-up or they can actually comment and edit student responses. And like any good message board system, responses to messages in Piazza can be threaded.

To help instructors keep track of unanswered questions from students, Piazza offers great filtering tools. When they sign into their courses, just like in email, they can click to instantly see the latest unread messages, latest replies, and latest unresolved questions.

Applications for Education
For educators that are looking for a little more than a bare-bones message board system, but don't have the resources for a system like Blackboard, Piazza could be the end of that quest. To help teachers and students stay connected from just about anywhere, Piazza offers free Android and iPhone apps.

I learned about Piazza through Jessica Cam Wong's excellent Make Use Of post about the service. She wrote about it from the perspective of a student.