Piazza

Subject: Important Update - Removal of the Piazza Integration with Canvas CANCELED

Date: December 22, 2020

From: Information Technology Services


The proposed removal of the Piazza integration in Canvas, previously scheduled for Dec. 30th, has been canceled.

Piazza announced that they have abandoned their plan to display ads on their platform. UCSC will continue to closely track the developments as Piazza explores other revenue generating options.

ITS is working with other UC campuses as well as directly conferring with Piazza on licensing options. We are also working with other vendors to explore alternatives to Piazza. All of these options will be reviewed in consultation with UCSC Academic Senate committees.

UCSC does not have a contractual relationship with Piazza, and we remain concerned about the use of the product for instruction, whether or not the access is through Canvas. The issues include the Piazza Talent Network, accessibility and uncertainty about Piazza’s future business model. We do not recommend including Piazza as an integral part of any course until these issues are clarified and resolved.

This is a dynamic situation and your understanding is greatly appreciated. If you have questions during the break, please contact the UCSC team at canvas.help@ucsc.edu.

If you would like to use an alternative to Piazza, such as Canvas Discussions, support is available at online@ucsc.edu or via the Online Education Slack workspace.

Subject: Additional Information - Piazza may no longer be integrated in Canvas

Date: December 17, 2020

From: Information Technology Services


This email provides additional information to the previous communication from the Academic Senate, CITL, Online Education, and ITS outlining Piazza's move to an ad-supported model. Subsequent to the release of that email, we have received new information.

UC Counsel and Privacy Officers have advised that the targeted ads served through Piazza may violate the University's Electronic Communications Policy if Piazza is embedded in our Learning Management System.

  • Based on this concern, ITS will be removing the Piazza integration with Canvas before January 1, 2021.

UC will be contacting Piazza to request that they delay their plan to display ads, which Piazza has currently scheduled to begin on January 1, so that the university has time to consider the full implications of this change. If Piazza agrees to delay the integration of advertisements, the integration with Canvas will remain in place.

If you have questions, please contact the Canvas support team at UCSC by email at canvas.help@ucsc.edu.

If you would like to use an alternative to Piazza, such as Canvas Discussions, support is available at online@ucsc.edu or via the Online Education Slack workspace.

Subject: TIMELY: Piazza Users Please Read

Date: December 16, 2020


Dear Colleagues,

We write to alert you about concerns regarding the Piazza student engagement platform that can be linked to Canvas. According to records provided by ITS, you have connected Piazza to one of your courses in the past two years.The first part of this message describes changes coming to Piazza in January, when the platform will begin to have advertisements for users who are not covered by an institution- or instructor-level license. The second part of this message describes ongoing privacy concerns related to Piazza Talent, an optional feature.

These issues are affecting every UC campus and the campuses are working together on solutions. We recognize that Piazza is a powerful educational technology for promoting student engagement, and that tools like Piazza are especially needed during remote instruction.

Many of the concerns are detailed in this recent post from the Stanford Daily.

Piazza advertising

As of January, 2021, Piazza will begin displaying ads to faculty and students (see above). There will be both banner ads and ads along the right side. The ads will be targeted based on browser cookies, unless the user opts out of using cookies, in which case ads will still appear but will not be targeted. Piazza has stated that in no case will the content of the discussions or the user interactions within Piazza be used to inform the advertising.

Once advertising is enabled in January, the information stored in cookies in the student's browser will be accessed by the advertising engine. Piazza is selling the access to that data by enabling the advertising service to have access. As we have noted, this is similar to other ad-supported services like YouTube. The issues raised here involve both the presence of advertising in a learning environment and sale of student information by a platform provider. For example, students who do not wish to see advertising or have their personal information sold by Piazza to its advertisers may trigger a need for purchase of a non-advertising use license. Some students may end up using Piazza with advertising and others without. It also is unclear who would pay for the license - the student, instructor, department, division, or campus. To date, the pricing structures offered by Piazza for either instructor licenses or a campus-wide license have been prohibitively expensive.

Piazza Talent

Another ongoing aspect of Piazza is that students can opt in to Piazza Talent. When they do, their profile information is made available to recruiters who pay for access.

The issue raised here is the clarity and level of disclosure provided by Piazza when it invites students to opt in to Piazza Talent. This exchange has not been vetted by UCSC in terms of protecting student privacy. Be sure that your students know that if they opt in to Piazza Talent, their information will be shared widely with recruiters and others.

Winter and Spring Quarter Planning

Many faculty have Piazza integrated into the course plans for Winter 2021. We want to make sure that those of you planning on using it have full disclosure about these concerns and can make a decision about how you wish to proceed. If you plan to move forward with using Piazza, be sure to inform your students about the use of targeted advertising and about the concerns regarding opting in to Piazza Talent. If you would like to use an alternative to Piazza, such as Canvas Discussions, support is available at online@ucsc.edu or via the Online Education Slack workspace.

With an eye to Spring Quarter, the UC campuses are making a good faith effort to negotiate with Piazza to see whether it is possible to reduce the cost and the security issues. We will keep you informed of any progress. If Piazza cannot provide minimum assurances on student information disclosure and security, the campus may consider delinking Piazza from Canvas starting in Spring Quarter 2021. This scenario would not occur without prior consultation with the Faculty Senate.

Yours,

Jody Greene, Associate Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning

Brent Haddad, Chair, Senate Committee on Information Technology

Maureen Callanan, Chair, Academic Senate Committee on Teaching

Michael Tassio, Director, Online Education

Leslie Kern, Learning and Instructional Tools Product Manager, ITS