# Piazza Communication Policy CS 5430 Spring 2017 Prof. Clarkson ## Summary The purpose of this policy is to make Piazza a useful communication tool for everyone in the course. The very short version is as follows: 1. Your concept of Piazza should be that of a massive study group. 2. Your usage of Piazza should be that of a thoughtful hacker. 3. Your expectation of Piazza should be that of someone seeking and offering *pro bono* help. ## Concept For the use of Piazza in this course, we adopt the following metaphor. **Guiding metaphor.** Piazza is a virtual study group attended by all the students in the class. This metaphor capitalizes on the greatest strength of Piazza: the ability to collaborate with and benefit from your peers. The metaphor also has consequences. * **Consequence 1: Your questions will primarily be answered by other students.** In a study group, you collaborate with other students. To encourage that collaboration, instructors will allow students to provide the (first) answer to a question. If the initial student answer seems insufficient, begin a follow-up and collaborate to improve the student answer. * **Consequence 2: Piazza is not primarily a tool for communicating with instructors.** If you needed a response directly from an instructor, you wouldn't go to a study group; instead, you would go to office hours, lecture, or recitation. For that reason, private posts will be disabled. Instructors answers may be of the form, "Please redirect this question to office hours where it can be answered more efficiently or more fully." If you need to directly contact an instructor electronically, see the syllabus for instructions about email. * **Consequence 3: All discourse must be at least as respectful as if you were in a room together.** Let's work together to create a positive Piazza environment. Students who post questions on Piazza are seeking help, and they might see the subject of their question differently than you do. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Students providing answers to your questions are also doing their best to help you. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Be aware that, although you may post anonymously, instructors can see your name on everything that you post. Posts that use vulgar language or include personal attacks will not be tolerated. * **Consequence 4: You may never post solutions, including any source code whatsoever, related to assignments.** Doing so would lead to prosecution under the Code of Academic Integrity. ## Usage Piazza is an Internet forum. As long as there have been Internet forums, there have been unthoughtful questions: questions that have already been answered, but the asker didn't bother to check; questions that could be answered with one minute of research; questions the asker could have answered by themself but was feeling too lazy to do so; and so on. Hackers—here, perhaps better described as professionals in the areas of computer science, software development, and information technology—who use Internet forums to seek answers learn quickly that they must ask thoughtful questions. So for the use of Piazza in this course, we adopt the following principle. **Guiding principle.** All will strive to ask thoughtful questions on Piazza. The specific questions asked, they way they are worded, the information included in them—all of these contribute to making Piazza successful. Unfortunately, Piazza does not provide sophisticated features for ranking questions and answers, so it can be difficult to find the right information or focus your attention in the right place. To address that deficiency, we must all take it upon ourselves to ask thoughtful questions in a way that will help one another. What is a "thoughtful" question? I'm glad you asked! I've prepared a document on [Asking Thoughtful Questions][thoughtful] in response. [thoughtful]: thoughtful.html ## Expectations The primary means by which the instructors interact with you to teach material is face-to-face communication. Toward that end we hold lectures and office hours. Piazza exists outside that framework. Time that the instructors spend answering Piazza questions effectively becomes additional office hours, with the added burden that constructing good written answers to questions is more time consuming than answering them face-to-face. Sometimes that time is recouped by answering a question once for many students; others times it is not. And time that other students spend answering your questions is completely *pro bono*; they are to be congratulated for their service, but it cannot be expected of them. So in this course we adopt the following norm. **Guiding norm.** No one should expect a timely answer through Piazza. After all, your fellow students are answering for free, and the instructors are answering largely outside their scheduled office hours. If you want a timely answer, come to office hours, which are held every day. We will do our very best to help you. ## About anonymity Piazza permits you to post anonymously. As an educator responsible for helping you learn not just the content of the course, but also more generally for helping you to grow intellectually, I want to make a personal plea that you nonetheless forego anonymity. Take this opportunity to stretch your boundaries. It can help you develop confidence that will serve you well in the rest of your life. If you go on to work in the software industry, chances are you'll use some kind of online forum internally, and you won't have the ability to be anonymous there. Use the time you have now in an educational environment to become comfortable with asking thoughtful technical questions in an online forum. That's a useful skill that transcends the content of any particular class.