In a Wednesday morning post about education-focused social network Edmodo, I noted that teachers everywhere can attest to the usefulness of social media as an instructional tool both in and out of the classroom. The fact is: education isn’t limited to the four walls of the classroom. Teachers and students need a way to connect with one another outside of the classroom, which is why many have turned to social media. But tools like Blackboard can only go so far, since they’re only as useful as the professor makes them.
Enter: Piazza, the education-based social network for college students that has become a runaway success. Today, the company is announcing some startling statistics, not least of which is the fact that it’s seen 10x growth in instructor adoption.
We covered Piazza just last month when the company raised $1.6 million in seed funding from such illustrious investors as Sequoia Capital, Felicis Ventures,Kapor Capital, and SV Angel. At that time, Piazza was already seeing some explosive growth, going from three college campuses to 330 in just one year and boasting 500% quarter-over-quarter growth.
One month later (count ‘em: one, or seven weeks, if you want to be a jerk about it), Piazza has effectively tripled its reach to more than 900 campuses. CEO Pooja (Nath) Sankar’s explanation for the rapid growth: it’s just a damn good product.
“I’m a product person. I believe we’ve delivered a very compelling experience. We’ve created a platform where anyone can create a class. You don’t have to get permission from the university,” she tells me.
In the month of July alone, the number of classes created on Piazza exceeded that of the entire 2011 Spring quarter. To date, some 2,500 professors are now using Piazza, and the growth has come purely from word of mouth, says Sankar.
“We haven’t done any aggressive marketing, other than a few faculty lunches,” she says. “Professors are using Piazza and spreading the word. They’re writing about it in blog posts, it’s coming up in faculty networks and TA networks.”
Dan Garcia, professor of computer science and electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, puts it succinctly: “I've never seen a tool that so directly hits the nail on the head in terms of every information-flow problem I've been struggling with for the 19 years I've been teaching.”
Sankar estimates that “hundreds of thousands” of students will be using the service by the end of the year—students that are spending 2-4 hours on Piazza a day.
So what makes Piazza so unique? We have Blackboard; why aren’t students spending 2-4 hours a night on that?
The difference is that earlier learning tools that have attempted to connect students and teachers beyond the classroom have gone the route of marketing to the universities, Sankar explained. But education is moving away from passive dependence on the institution to active learning. Students can now seek out information that they want, and they can find the right people, resources, and videos to help them gain the knowledge they need.
“You don’t rely on one person to teach you something anymore,” said Sankar. “You can go online and learn something yourself.”