What a Tech Start-Up’s Data Say About What Works in Classroom Forums

Founded by Stanford MBA Pooja Sankar, Piazza is  threaded discussion board tool aimed at the college market that also enables real-time discussions, polling, and anonymous question posting.The tool gets high marks from users for its simplicity and feature set — and it’s free. The tool’s naming metaphor (“piazza”) is of an Italian city’s square as a gathering place. — Kelly Searsmith

by Jeffrey R. Young / Chronicle Wired Campus Blog / 21 August 2012

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa, Italy

’s big talk these days about “big data” in education—looking for patterns of behavior as students click through online classrooms and using the insights to improve instruction. One start-up company that manages online discussion forums for thousands of courses recently performed its first major analysis of behavioral trends among students, and found what its leaders say amounts to advice for instructors.

The company, Piazza, shared the analysis with The Chronicle, without identifying any of the professors or students involved. The data set included online interactions among students and professors in 3,600 courses at 545 colleges and universities over a period of 18 months.

Professors may want to think carefully before giving formal grades for participation in online discussions, the data suggest. When professors required a set number of discussion posts, the number of submissions was higher than in courses where professors left participation up to students. But instructors reported the highest gains in student understanding when discussion was less strictly marked.

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