Bringing permanence to online teacher-student interactions

I tend to interact with my students over email, more than in any other online capacity.  Certainly, they have my “teacher” twitter profile, which they can definitely use whenever they need to get in touch, but they don’t tend to pull that particular chain all that often.  

I have all of my students on email distribution lists.  It’s the first thing that I do with them:  get their email and set up the distribution list.  And that has worked pretty well up to now.  But I always get the feeling like I would like to have some sort of forum that allowed a more permanent archive of online interactions.  I tried messing around with google groups, but I found the set up to be a pain in the behind.  

Recently, someone pointed out piazza.com, a pretty new entrant to the CMS space.  I spent the past few days migrating AP Bio and Honors Chemistry over, and I think that it will provide the solution that I’m looking for.  

The platform seems pretty robust, but it is still a work in progress, and as such, there are a few bells and whistles that I would like to see rolled out to make the platform even more useful than it is now:

  • A visual editor (or more robust on-site training in html tagging):  All post editing needs to happen using html tagging.  Which isn’t a problem for me, but might be a bit of an issue for a tenth grader.  Obviously, it would be awesome to run a clinic and get everyone up to speed on how to use tags to format.  And really, I’m not all that opposed, but I would love to see either a rudimentary visual editor (for things like LaTeX integration or file attachment and uploading), or at the very least some more robust on-site tutorials that I can park my students in front of so that they can figure things out.
  • More email functionality:  Right now, I can get notification of all posts and replies, and I can override individual student preferences to make a particular post get emailed to all students immediately upon posting.  This is fantastic.  But I would love to see an ability to reply to posts by email.  That would be the bees knees.
  • Options for year-long courses:  As it currently stands, I have to pick a semester for my courses.  Not a huge deal, but my courses last a bit longer.  There is an ability to migrate a class for a particular semester to the next semester, but I don’t really see why a “full year” option can’t be included in the class set up.
  • Some user interface tweaks:  I don’t hate the interface, but for whatever reason, it seems less than intuitive.  The new post button, in particular, seems too small and not quite obvious enough.  I would also love the ability to change the color scheme.

Those are the major items that I see.  I think it’s good to stress that the platform, as it currently exists, is very usable, and a lovely, free, product.  I’m not complaining, just making a few suggestions to make the current product all the more awesome than it already seems like it is.