I remember when we discussed Piazza last year in Shelly’s class. When it was being presented, I felt that it potentially had some utility, but I have some issues with it. Some of these issues don’t apply in all situations, but I think they are worth exploring (or at least me voicing since I am, by in large, against using most forms of technology in the classroom).
– Many professors that use these technologies start making it mandatory that students participate. I know that one professor in my deparmtnet creates Flickr sites, etc. and makes students use them. Many students struggle with this because the tool itself takes awhile to understand, and thus the time investment is pretty high. Furthermore, they may not learn well from this tool, and so it doesn’t make sense to force them to use it.
– Using online forums is a terrible replacement for one-on-one contact. In many disciplines is really hard to explain something online, and so you will want to encourage them to come see you during office hours. If you start an online tool, then you may invite students to wait until the last minute to ask a question, and then they will not be able to get a satisfactory response because you really need to see that student in person. Also, I think Piazza invites confusion because it allows both students and the TA/professor to answer questions. So, a student might answer a question incorreectly at 8am, the entire class study that response, and then the instructor not have a chance to answer the question until much later, perhaps after the class. Do you really want to create a tool that forces you to be online all the time?
– I also think things like Piazza are not usually manned by major instructors, but instead are pawned off on TAs as something they need to keep active. Again, it makes it so that TAs have to constantly be at the computers, and are likely to get poor ratings unless they are explain everything in text and very quickly. I don’t like my odds if that’s the case.
– Again, what’s wrong with face-to-face communication? Sure, a student might not be comfortable with that, but what are they going to do in the real world if they can’t confront a boss about something they don’t understand? Those, too, are skills students are supposed to pick up in college.