The agony and the ecstasy of discussion boards, redux

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 5.32.34 PMMy last post was a rant exploration of the highs and lows of using discussion boards like Piazza in a large online class. Much of my frustration interest came from this Spring quarter’s experience, in which Piazza did not become the community-building tool and place it has been in pretty much every other class I have used it in.

While I tore my hair out all quarter and thought of the failure of my pedagogical tool – students had a completely different experience. Above is and illustration of the answers to one of the questions in a end-of-the quarter feedback questionnaire. We had 106  respondents (out of 135 students who made it to week 10) and 96 answered this specific question.

Look carefully : what is the #1 favorite element of the class that they want MORE of? Piazza posts! PIAZZA. Jaw on the floor. If I didn’t know better I thought they we punking me, and if they are – well done. That being said – maybe the options biased their answer. What sane student would ask for more readings or quizzes? But in another follow-up question that allowed them to share feedback and thoughts on the class, many students expressed that they enjoyed “seeing what others answered in Piazza”, and they liked “the out-of-the-box questions that they had to answer each week”.

Clearly I have to amend my position. There is more than one purpose to discussion boards. As a massive, assignment/opinion sharing tool it allows students to see each other’s work – and the lurking becomes part of the exercise. Setting things up that way limits the board’s use as a discussion space, but it performs an unintentional, and perhaps just as beneficial function. Students DID get to know each other, and viewed each other’s posts. They did not do it because they had to comment to get a grade – and most did not comment. But they probably did it because  – why not? And more importantly, it seems it may have generate a sense of community – even if it was a community that stayed largely silent.

How will I deal with Piazza in the future? TBD. I am not so keen on the firehose experience we just had – but I do want to generate enough traffic to provide some opportunities for passive community building.

Look for a forthcoming redux part 2 at the end of the 2015.

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