Published February 17, 2021
COVID-19 forced many if not all classes to transition to an online format. As an educator, were you prepared? Did you have what you needed to be successful in online teaching?
As one of the Learning Designers at the University at Buffalo's Center for Educational Innovation, I teach UB faculty best classroom pedagogical techniques, strategies and methods. Faculty have overwhelmingly told me that they were not prepared to teach online and many felt that they did not have the tools needed to teach online. As such, I regurlarly mention to them that our Learning Management System, UB Learns is well equipped with all the tools needed to teach online. Besides the tools within UB Learns itself, UB Learns has installed several vendor and third-party integrations to extend the use and functionality of UB Learns. In your spare time (what spare time?), consider learning a new tech tool and you may just realize there might be an easier way to teach in the online world.
One of the tools that proves extremely helpful in engaging students quite effectively and easily is a tool called Piazza.
Piazza is an intuitive platform for instructors to efficiently manage class Q&A. Piazza is also an online platform that facilitates interaction among students and instructors in an efficient and intuitive manner. Students can post questions and collaborate to edit responses to the questions. Instructors can also answer questions, endorse student answers, and edit or delete any posted content. Piazza is designed to simulate real class discussion. It aims to quickly provide high quality answers to difficult questions. On Piazza, students can ask questions, and instructors and fellow classmates can answer. You can allow your students to participate anonymously, to encourage participation from even the shyest of students.
The Piazza platform is very intuitive to use, so it’s easy for TAs and students to start using it right away. Posts are created in a wiki format where everyone contributes to one common answer – this is what really saves time because then you don’t have to read through a giant thread of comments. The general structure of a question posted to Piazza consists of three parts: the question, the students’ collective answer, and the instructors’ answer. Due to the wiki-like environment, all students can add to and refine the text of the question and the students’ answer while instructors can contribute to all three parts. After a question is posted, students and instructors can endorse it as a good question.
Piazza supports LaTex, often used for mathematics formulas and equations. It’s hard to type a formula or equation using regular keyboard characters. Having a collaborative tool like Piazza that supports LaTeX has proven quite beneficial to disciplines that use formulas and equations regularly.
The ability to use tags to organize content and to endorse student responses with one click are key features. The search feature makes it easy to quickly locate relevant posts. Piazza facilitates tagging and categorizing posts.
Piazza can provide an opportunity for students to ask questions that may not otherwise have been asked. Maybe students couldn’t make it to office hours; or get the chance to talk to a TA. Piazza provides opportunity for class discussion to occur.
Piazza could be used in large classes during class as a “back channel” if you have TAs or co-instructors to monitor the incoming posts. In synchronous distance learning courses students could use Piazza to stay connected.
Piazza strives to recreate that communal atmosphere among students and instructors.