Piazza, a question and answer sharing platform for students and professors, recently landed $6 million in Series A funding, led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from Kapor Capital and Felice Ventures.
The company also has backing from SV Angel and Sequoia Capital.
Piazza enables a Q&A platform in which students share and answer questions in a format similar to a wiki. Each class gets its own page, with collaboration taking place in real time to encourage discussion. Students can bookmark questions for quicker answers, with each answer contributed by individual students in a collaborative process that includes a version history documenting what each student wrote. Students can bookmark questions of a particular interest, and professors can likewise view the bookmarks to see which areas receive the most questions.
Hubs can be created by both professors and students, with professor answers separate for easier finding.
“Across every sector, the world is witnessing seismic shifts away from clunky, centrally-mandated software packages towards tools designed from the ground up to be social and collaborative,” said Ethan Kurzweil, Vice President at BVP who recently joined Piazza’s board of directors. “That wave is breaking in education, and Piazza is best positioned because of its ability to create positive engagement among users.
Emerging from private beta in January, the site currently enrolls over 100,000 students in hundreds of schools around the globe, including 109 of the top 250 colleges in the US. Piazza is currently used at Stanford, Georgia Tech, Berkeley, MIT, Cornell, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, Purdue, Virginia Tech, the University of Waterloo, the University of British Columbia, Princeton, the University of Texas, and the University of Central Florida.
The company reports that the average user is on the site four hours a day, keeping the tab open and checking it throughout the day to update work. When the product was used in the fall of 2011, 96 percent of the questions posted on the site were answered, with 45 percent answered by students and 67 percent answered by professors, with a median response time of 25 minutes.
A computer science class in Berkeley has over 19,000 contributions in one semester, averaging a contribution every 22 minutes with an average response time of eight minutes.
“We’ve grown up with a more social communication style, but at the same time a lot of students are reluctant to participate in class forums because they don’t want to seem too smart or too dumb,” said said Tianbo Xu, a student at UC Berkeley and the president of the school’s IEEE student branch. “Piazza has figured out how to create a vibrant social network centered on your class without demanding that you disclose everything. Once you’ve used it, it’s hard to imagine not using it.”
“With Piazza, for the first time I can expect a level of engagement outside of class that enables me to challenge my students with harder problems,” said Srinivasan Keshav, Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of Waterloo. “I know they will work through them and learn together using Piazza then come to class knowing what they need to learn. That’s not just a better way to get questions answered, it’s a more effective style of teaching and learning.”
The company will use the funding to for research and development as well as expansion strategies into other schools.