In Italian, the word Piazza means open-air marketplace, but the word has taken on a different meaning at the University.
The word also describes a new question and answer forum being implemented by University professors that fosters assistance with homework problems between students and instructors. The online forum enables students to pose questions about homework problems or confusing concepts from lecture, which is then organized into a thread that shows student and instructor responses to each question.
Piazza is being used in 22 science-related classes this semester such as biology, physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, computer science and nursing. The program is particularly conducive to the sciences since it allows users to insert symbols and equations in the correct format and also imbed images.
Physics Prof. Gregory Tarle said he was surprised by the success he’s experienced with Piazza so far. At first, he dismissed it as “one more thing” to deal with at the beginning of the semester and feared that it would be similar to the CTools chat room, in which his students would give away answers by telling others to simply plug in numbers to a formula.
However, Tarle said Piazza is more organized than the CTools chat room because questions are sorted into color-coded threads, making it easier to discern which responses are from the instructor, the graduate student instructors or other students.
The instructor can also “endorse” a particular answer that he or she has deemed correct and that other students should use as guidance.
He added that students’ questions get answered almost immediately since he and his GSIs check the forum frequently throughout the day to provide answers and explanations.
“It’s easy to get your questions answered without a lot of one-on-one time,” Tarle stated.
Tarle said using Piazza is beneficial for facilitating discussion among students that help them learn. While the program sends him e-mail notifications when a post has been made, he said by the time he logs on, a student in the class has often already provided the correct answer to the problem.
Tarle added that he spends significantly less time answering questions in office hours or by e-mail because of the program.
“It definitely has reduced the amount of work I have to do meeting with a lot of students and individually taking them through problems,” Tarle stated.
Rackham student Holly Tederington, electrical engineering and computer science instructor, agrees that Piazza has been easier to use than the CTools chat room — which has caused problems for students in the past because users could not determine which responses were posted by an instructor.
Tederington said another helpful feature for students is the option to post a private question so only the instructors can view the question and provide responses.
“It’s basically a way of sharing their work with us without exposing it to the rest of the students and still being able to ask office hour-style questions without coming to office hours,” Tederington stated.
Of the 402 students enrolled in EECS 280, the course Tederington teaches, she said 363 students use Piazza, and the average response time for each question is 15 minutes, as GSIs and instructors check it often during the day.
LSA junior Jacquelyn Cosgrove uses Piazza in her Physics 235 class, and she said it provides valuable interactions between instructors and students so students can see if they’re “on the right track or totally lost.”
Cosgrove often goes on Piazza to look at the discussions, and said it’s especially helpful for students who don’t want to ask questions in person.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Cosgrove said. “That way, people who don’t feel comfortable asking questions don’t necessarily have to do it in person, or they can be anonymous.”
LSA junior Logan Powell, also a Physics 235 student, said the iPhone application for Piazza has been particularly helpful for him. He has asked two questions in the forum, and when someone posts a response, he receives notifications similar to a text message so he can view it immediately.
“It’s just nice to have a forum to use,” Powell stated. “It’s better than the chat room that CTools has because you can put in symbols.”