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In Defense of: Piazza

If, like me, you got through half of your Princeton career without ever posting to Piazza, I would hazard a guess that, like me, you are a humanities major who has been steadfastly ignoring her QR requirement. (It would be nice if the two seconds I was in COS 126 were enough to make that requirement go away, but alas, that’s not how Princeton rolls.)


And you know what? Despite the fact that I start craving thin-crust every time a Piazza-generated email lands in my inbox (which is almost as often as I get emails from my college listserv), I think the professors of all these quantitative reasoning courses are onto something. Piazza is a piece of … greatness. Here are just a few reasons we think it’s brilliant.

1. Want to know how far ahead of you your classmates are on the homework? Poke around the student questions on Piazza, and you will likely find out where at least one student is in their problem set/exercises/assignment for the week. That is, you will find out that they started when you were still feverishly working on last week’s homework. Conversely, if you’d like to send your classmates into a cold sweat, all you have to do is casually post about how your planets are orbiting beautifully, but the only problem is the sound is slightly delayed — while everyone else is still doing “Hello world.” (As you can see, if there’s one thing I took away from my mercifully short experience with COS 126, it’s knowing when to smile grimly and ask, “N-body?”)

2. The “average response time” counter, which also tells you who answered what student question most recently, is a good way to keep tabs on when your instructors were last active on their computers — and by extension, when they last checked their emails and didn’t respond to that email you sent them. It’s the classroom equivalent of getting definitive proof that the person you messaged five days ago — who hasn’t viewed your message on Facebook but has posted multiple statuses and commented on even more photos — is ignoring you.

3. Not content to keep within just the arena of the classroom message board, Piazza has now made inroads into the industry of getting jobs for college students. They’ve clearly got a good read on the types of students who use their original product, because they post a lot of opportunities for tech roles. Which I’m sure is very helpful for the students who aren’t already getting their fill of offers from the recruiters who descend on campus every fall to plug their companies at career fairs and info sessions. Did you say you’re only in this class because you need a QR, and you want to ultimately work in something other than tech (or i-banking)? Uh, sorry — Piazza Careers can’t help you there.

4. Real talk: Sometimes it’s nice to be able to post really, really, really dumb questions — and then select “Anonymous to everyone” from the dropdown list next to “Show my name as” and know that no one will ever know it was you who posted it. It’s the classroom equivalent of Yik Yak. Basically Piazza is the classroom equivalent of every form of social media ever. (We double dog dare you to post the poop emoji at spaced-out intervals throughout the day.)

All in all, Piazza is a fine piece of technology. Next step: Getting humanities departments to adopt it. And then conduct seminars on it. Then, how much you’re able to contribute in class won’t be limited by how much you can get in before that kid who likes to interrupt people cuts you off, but rather by how fast you’re able to type. Which seems much more egalitarian. Technology: the great equalizer — are we right?