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January 27, 2013

Turn Q&A into Discusions in Your Online Class

QAI’ve talked about Piazza before, but that was before I really had a chance to use it. I introduced it to students in my online ENG102 course last semester, but I think students asked about 3 questions all semester. They resorted to texting and emailing me most of the semester, and I pretty much didn’t enforce the “Ask Piazza rule.” But this semester, not only am I insisting that students use Piazza to ask questions, I’m also using it for discussions. This is part of my MIL project I’m working on this semester.

Using Piazza is very easy, especially since Piazza has an LTI that lets you integrate the tool right into Canvas. So I have a button on the menu bar that opens Piazza right in the Canvas window. It also takes the user information from Canvas to authenticate the user in Piazza, so they only have to log in once (to Canvas) and then they can go straight to Piazza without having to log in again there. I think I’ve already talked about how the Q&A works in Piazza. This post is more about using it as a discussion forum.

In Piazza instructors and students can ask questions or post notes in the Q&A forum. If they post a question, users are prompted to supply an answer to the question. Instructors have a place to answer and students have a separate box to answer in. Student answers are like a wiki. Other students can edit the answer to try to improve it. The instructor can then mark the answer as a “Good Answer.” I plan to use this feature in some manner later down the road. For now, I’m using the “notes” posts for small group discussions. When you post a note, users are not prompted for an answer, but are encouraged to post “followup discussions.” Follow up discussions let students post their own responses and then let’s others reply. Each student can post a followup discussion within a note.


So to get students started and familiar with this new tool usage, I put them in groups of four and ask for them to discuss the topics they were considering for the research projects. I asked that they each run their topics by the four group members and then provide feedback to each other. These smaller discussions are easier to manage in this setting because it’s easy to create groups in Piazza. Students only see their own group discussions, and with only 4 students, the pressure is on to do their part and participate. At least that is the hope.

So far students are slow to share their ideas in these smaller groups. It’s early in the semester and I think most are still trying to feel their way around Canvas and the new class. Also they still have to learn good online course habits, like not waiting until the weekend (last minute) to do their work. Checking in on the last day of the week to do work can be overwhelming, and it doesn’t give them the chance to actually engage with the other students in the discussions. And that is the purpose of these small group discussions.

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