Deliverable Report

Milestone 1

Milestone 1

Problem Proposal

In many computer science classes across the U.S., Piazza is used as a tool both in and out of the classroom in order to foster discussion. However, there are significant problems with Piazza's user interface, making it an inefficient tool for active collaboration in the classroom. This becomes an issue for face to face instruction where work is limited by time constraints of the class period. By active collaboration, we mean activities in the classroom in which students are synchronously discussing a prompt in a way that can be continued outside the class.

The system image of the Piazza interface is not only disorganized but also difficult to navigate. One particular issue that comes up frequently is the fact that it is difficult to find a specific follow-up post in a discussion. There is a tool in Piazza called Note History where the user can track the history of a particular discussion and navigate to each post in chronological order. This tool is comprised of a button along a dotted line that affords sliding. This is an example of a signifier on the interface that does not clearly afford its intended use. As well, an important feature of Piazza is the distinction between questions and notes. Currently there are icons on the post thumbnails that signify the type of post, however they are small and not easily found or understood. Other signifiers that we have found to not effectively communicate their affordances include the text box underneath posts which afford responding and simple hypertext links which afford filtering. All of these contribute to the inefficiency of the platform which takes away from lecture time and time that can be used to review the work of all the students. 

Elaborating on our examples of improper signifiers, some other factors that contribute to the problem with Piazza is that there is a lack of instructions on how to use certain tool in the interface, and there is a lack of context awareness in order to understand how each tool is related to Piazza as a whole. 

Within the scope of our problem - daily Piazza usage in computer science classrooms in the U.S - computer science students and their instructors are the ones who face the consequences. These consequences include losing time that could be used for instruction and thus missing out on important information. While other classroom discussion tools are used, Piazza is the one we are focusing on. Because Piazza is used both in and out of the classroom, this problem is not unique to face-to-face instruction; however there are certain aspects of face-to-face instruction that further complicate the issue. One example of this is in order to work in groups with varying students, the student or professor must manually group them which takes away further time from the class period. As well in person instruction allows students to communicate more effectively within their groups thanks to forced eye contact and body language.