Managing Student Questions with Piazza — Description

Instructors can reduce the volume of emailed student questions though the use of Piazza, a question and answer platform that can facilitate student-driven question and answer discussions

Instructors of large classes may find it difficult to handle large volumes of student questions via email, particularly when several students ask the same questions. This may become exacerbated in the remote environment, with the lessening of face to face opportunities for questions. Piazza is an online question and answer platform, integrated with the Canvas learning management system at UW-Madison that can help address and manage this need.

Affordances of Piazza

Students can:

  • Ask questions anonymously, or with their name,
  • Answer one another’s questions,
  • Collaborate on resolving questions,
  • Bring attention to questions for instructor/TA response,
  • Search and find answers to questions that have been addressed,
  • Get help at various times of day - not limited to instructor/TA email schedule, and 
  • share their understanding of course content or problem-solving processes.

Faculty or TAs can: 

  • Respond to questions,
  • Check for uniformity and common language among teaching team responses,
  • Review student responses, check comprehension and offer clarifications on misunderstandings,
  • Endorse correct student answers, 
  • Search for students who provide responses to classmates,
  • Facilitate course-wide communication, and
  • Save time by reducing the number of student questions by email.

Suggested Practices

  • Set up Piazza for your course before the semester starts 
  • Develop and communicate your course policy regarding student communication with you and/or TAs. Examples: 
    • No homework questions by email — use Piazza.
    • No email, except for emergency or confidential communications — use Piazza.
    • Offer demonstrations of Piazza use, or give a low-stakes assignment to practice use by creating and responding to introductory post.
    • Develop monitoring practices, such as:
      • Assign Piazza monitoring hours to TAs.
      • Set standards for expectations of TA responses.
      • Don't answer questions right away, give time for students to respond.
      • Require students to search first, before asking their questions.
      • Consider offering extra credit to students who post the correct responses to classmates’ questions.
      • Consider developing a FAQ or posts of resources in Piazza such as practice exams as a backup, in addition to the course.

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