Piazzza - E2.0 in the Classroom
Andrew McAfee defines Enterprise 2.0 as "the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers." Piazzza provides E2.0 for interaction between fellow students and faculty. Interaction and emergence are at the heart of modern business, and ideally, modern teaching. I have used a threaded discussion approach for "course questions and comments" since 2000. Since 2001 I have been adamant that email is for health and personal grading issues only (for more on my thoughts on email, please see Kill Email). Questions and comments should be made where all can see, provide support, and gain value. My approach is an application of transparency for learning. Piazzza takes a big E2.0 step forward from a threaded-discussion list by being responsive to student needs and taking emergence to the next level. Pooja Nath (ex-Facebook developer, current Stanford Graduate School of Business student) approached me this Summer about being a beta site for Piazzza. Immediately I could see the value Piazzza provides to the students both from its base design and via the control it provides the students in terms of how they each individually experience the tool and the contributed information. In the threaded discussion approach (old form), students had one level of control -- they could either subscribe to the posts, or not. No option for digests. No option to only follow a particular thread. The result could be 20+ fragmented emails, and then a search through the website to find the full stream. Even the full streams were disorganized as students didn't always follow best practice in terms of sticking to a thread's topic. This was a nightmare and drove some students to ignore the material, which likely cost them some points and connections to useful information. Piazzza realizes that not all questions/discussion have the same value to each student. Piazzza allows students to make the subscription choice -- but at a more granular level. Once you've opted in, you see just the initial question/comment via email. At that point you get to choose whether or not to "bookmark" the question/comment. Only if bookmarked do you receive notification of the rest of the stream. (Piazzza.com is always available to see/search the full set of comments/questions.) All of us must be systems designers to be effective in our current environment. We must make our own choices about how to weave together technology, organization, and people dimensions of our work. I feel that Piazzza is giving my students greater opportunity to make the best design decisions for themselves. Neither the technology or our practices are silver bullets and Piazzza allows us to use the technology to design practice at the class level (how we promote particular uses in class) and at the level of the individual (how individuals choose to interact with the material). We are integrating the technology and the practice. Designed by a student, for students. Clean interface. Anonymity when needed, credit for providing answers to question. Engagement through tracking speed to answer. Ability to give thanks for answers. I'm a fan and the feedback from the students is that they are fans as well. We are still working on the organization/people intersection (anonymity means that not all the questions are well considered; students forget to search to see if the answer is already available). The students are also quick to add suggestions around the technical feature set -- recall that we are beta testers. For example, they wanted, and received, more control over the email flow and the ability to answer a question anonymously (I'm not sure how I feel about that -- but so far so good). They also wanted, and received, greater clarity around new items. Pooja and her team are right on the mark with their product. They ask for feedback, follow the use patterns, and are quick to make improvements. I'm looking forward to using Piazzza in all my classes!