Remote teaching

Teaching tools: Piazza vs. discussion boards

Canvas and many other software apps can be used to encourage interaction and build communication spaces. In McKelvey, the two most straightforward approaches are Canvas Discussion Boards and Piazza. Each can accomplish similar goals; however, each also has its own capabilities.

Canvas Discussion Boards can create long discussion chains and foster a sense of student community. There are a number of ways to set up Canvas Discussion Boards.

The most straightforward approach is setting up a discussion board, posting a question, and letting the discussion flow from there. Faculty may also restrict the time frame in which the discussion board is available or prevent students from reading the board until AFTER they have posted an initial reply.

On the instructor side, here are some of the benefits for Canvas Discussion Boards:

  • They can foster community
  • They can be good spaces for students to post work for peer review and conversation
  • They are easy to grade in Canvas SpeedGrader
  • They can also be applied in Canvas Student Groups to provide space and structure to group projects

Nevertheless, Canvas Discussion Boards can be clunky, especially for FAQs. One alternative is Piazza. Piazza is a powerful Q&A platform that allows students to post anonymously or under their name. Instructors and other students can collaborate on answers and endorse the best answers.

The benefits of Piazza include:

  • Piazza functions more as a livestream, and, as such, is very responsive
  • Piazza encourages group answers to questions, allowing for less high-touch attentiveness from the instructor and more student collaboration
  • Piazza’s anonymous posting capabilities encourage shy students to participate
  • Piazza provides strong analytics to monitor student engagement
  • Piazza’s accessibility features are especially well suited for code

If you are interested in Piazza, here are a number of resources:

A start guide (Links to an external site.).

Piazza’s own YouTube channel.

And a somewhat older video from the University of Sydney walking instructors through the benefits of Piazza.

Clearly, both approaches have benefits and drawbacks, and the tool you choose should be tied to your teaching style.