Support from FASE's Education Technology Office

Which tool should I use for asynchronous discussions?

Updated

Discussions can be a great way to engage students in the online environment.  They can be flexibly integrated into your course, offering real time (synchronous) or self-directed (asynchronous) opportunities for students to interact with the instructor and with each other, and to explore and reflect on course content.

Asynchronous discussions let students reflect on and plan their responses before posting them. Students across different time zones may also find it easier to participate in asynchronous discussions.

This page provides an overview and feature comparison of three tools from U of T's  Academic Toolbox that support asynchronous discussions in your Quercus course:

For an overview and feature comparison of tools you can use for synchronous discussions, have a look at Which webinar tool should I use (and when)?

Overview

Quercus Discussions

Topic-based discussion board platform built into Quercus with graded and ungraded options. 

What are some of the benefits of using Quercus Discussions?

  • You can create discussions for everyone in your course or create group discussions that only group members can view and post replies to.
  • You can make Discussions ungraded or graded. Graded discussions can be graded in SpeedGrader and grades will sync automatically with the Quercus Gradebook.

Piazza

Wiki-style Q & A platform that allows for community-edited questions and answers. 

What are some of the benefits of using Piazza Q & A?

  • Questions and answers on Piazza can be co-edited, so you and your students can collaboratively create a response.
  • You can integrate Piazza polls and other interactive elements into discussions to increase student engagement.

PeppeR

Discussion board platform with collaboration and knowledge building tools.

What are some of the benefits of using PeppeR?

  • You can create discussions for everyone in your course or create discussions for groups that only group members can view and post replies to.
  • The ability to create author and content hashtags offers an easy way to search content and to cite other participants' ideas.

Ed Discussion

A threaded discussion tool that (like Piazza) allows for student collaboration on questions and answers. 

What are some of the benefits of using Ed Discussion?

  • Ed allows you to create Post Templates to define a structure for student posts (e.g., you can outline expectations for what should be included in each post)
  • Allows for insertion of programming code snippets that can be run within the platform itself for easier debugging.

Comparing Online Tools for Asynchronous Discussions

Functions and Features Quercus Discussions Piazza PeppeR
Ed Discussion
Access and set-up

Click Discussions in the course navigation menu.


Create a Discussion, add instructions, and select settings.

Add Piazza to the course navigation tab in Settings.


Create your Piazza account.


Create and configure your Piazza course.


Select Piazza in the course navigation menu to create a post.

Add PeppeR to the course navigation tab in Settings.


Click PeppeR in the course navigation menu.


Set up your Discussion folders and add new Note to the appropriate folder.

Add Ed Discussion to the course navigation tab in Settings.


Select Ed Discussion in the course navigation menu to configure and activate your Ed course.


Select Ed Discussion in the course navigation menu to send a welcome announcement (optional) and create a new thread.

Anonymous posting Ability to post anonymously is not available. Instructors can allow students to post anonymously to everyone (classmates and instructors) or to classmates only.

Ability to post anonymously is not available but Notes and replies can be designated as Private.  


A private note will only be visible to the author and other designated co-author and can be used as a Draft mode for the message before publishing it.

Instructors can allow students to post anonymously to everyone (classmates and instructors) or to classmates only.


Instructors can create private comments (visible to teaching team only).


Students can create private threads (visible only to author and teaching team)

Editing and deleting posts

Instructors can edit and delete their own posts or student posts.


Permission to edit and delete their own posts can be given to students via Discussion settings.

Questions and answers on Piazza can be co-edited, so students and instructors can collaboratively edit these.


A history slider option shows how a question or answer has evolved over time.  


Only instructors can delete posts. 

Only authors can delete a note. Authors and co-authors can edit a private note. Only authors can edit a public note.

Students can edit and delete comments and posts they have authored. 


Instructors can edit and delete all posts. 


Instructors can turn on the 'Moderation' feature to require instructor approval of new threads created by students before they are visible to other students.

Search and filter functionality 

Search field allows you to search for replies or specific authors. 


You can use the Unread button to view unread replies and Show button to view deleted replies.

Search bar allows you to search for posts containing a particular keyword.


Built-in filters and folders to allow you to quickly locate and organize posts.


Search interface allows you to search for notes that contain specific keywords.

Supports use of hashtags (clicking on a hashtag will produce a list of all posts where that hashtag has been used).

Search bar allows you to search for posts containing a particular keyword.

Built-in filters and folders to allow you to quickly locate and organize posts.

Organization

Instructors can pin important Discussions for easier access from the Discussions page. 


Instructors can also link to specific discussions within pages or modules.

Instructors can pin important posts.

Posts can be tagged and organized into customizable folders and sub-folders. Clicking on a folder shows all the posts with that folder tag.

Discussions are organized into folders, such as week, unit, topic, group, etc.

Folders contain notes (i.e. posts and replies) and associated subfolders.

Posts can be pinned and marked as ‘Read’  ‘Unread’, ‘Starred’, ‘Answered’, ‘Unanswered’. 

They can also be organized into custom categories (folders and sub-folders) that can then be used to filter posts.

Views and other analytics

You can see how many times the discussion was viewed and by how many students by using New Analytics and navigating to the Resources Tab of the Weekly Online Activity.


For information about specific users, download the New Analytics Course Activity report.

You can see how many times each post was viewed.


Summary analytics available from the Statistics tab include: total posts, total contributors, average response time, post views, and individual student contributions.


Once enough students contribute to the Q & A, instructors can download these statistics at any time as a csv file.

The Readers option lists the names of people who have read a specific note and when.


Analytics for each user available from the Impact Report option include: time online, number of notes written,  number of replies, total number of words written, and number of notes read.

You can see how many times each post was viewed.


Analytics can be viewed by Week, Month, or All time and include: student and staff participation, total posts, views, and comments.


Instructors can download these statistics at any time as a csv file or JSON file.

Email notifications

Users can configure notifications to receive e-mail updates when a new discussion topic is created in the course and/or when a new post is made to a discussion they are subscribed to.


Note: when an instructor creates a discussion, they are automatically subscribed to that discussion.  

Instructors and students can follow posts to be notified of new updates via e-mail. Instructors and students can configure notification settings under My Settings to receive e-mail updates about specific actions and/or discussions.

Instructors and students can 'watch' posts to be notified of new updates within Ed Discussion.


Users can configure their notifications settings to receive notification emails.


Assessment and grading

Discussions can be ungraded or graded.


Graded discussions can have a rubric attached and can also be assigned for peer review.


Graded discussions can be viewed in SpeedGrader and grades will sync automatically with the Gradebook.

Instructors can 'endorse' student posts. However, there is no option to assign grades to posts within Piazza. 

To use Piazza participation to assign a grade in Quercus, instructors can create a No Submission assignment in Quercus to add a Gradebook a column for grades. 

There is no option to assign grades to posts within PeppeR. 

To use PeppeR participation to assign a grade in Quercus, instructors can create a No Submission assignment in Quercus to add a Gradebook a column for grades. 

Instructors can 'endorse' student posts. However, there is no option to assign grades to posts within Ed Discussion. 

To use Ed Discussion participation to assign a grade in Quercus, instructors can create a No Submission assignment in Quercus to add a Gradebook a column for grades. 

Group Discussions

You can create discussion forums for the entire class or for specific sections or groups.  

Groups can be created in Quercus using the built-in Group tool.

You can create discussions for the entire class or for specific groups. 

Groups are created directly in Piazza, either manually or via csv file.

You can create a discussion forums that are visible to the for the entire class or only to specific groups. 

Groups are created manually in PeppeR, using custom folder permissions.

Group discussions are currently not supported in Ed Discussion.
Support Canvas Guides: Discussions  ETO Guides: How to use Piazza in your Quercus course (Instructors); How to use Piazza in your Quercus course (Students) Quercus Support Resources: Integration: PeppeR Ed Support Portal: https://edstem.org/help (login required)

Quercus Support Resources: Integration:Ed Discussion
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