It looks like our institution may be ditching Piazza, so I’m starting to get some queries about Discourse as a potential replacement for course forums.
One feature of Piazza that faculty consider important is anonymous posting. Accounts on Piazza can either post completely anonymously, or anonymous to other students but not to course staff. I’m wondering if something similar could be achieved using Discourse, possibly through a plugin.
I’m aware that Discourse has existing support for anonymous mode. However, there are a few drawbacks to the feature as it is currently implemented. First, it’s not that clear in the UI how to enter anonymous mode. I’ve heard from multiple students that claim that our forum doesn’t have it, which I think is because they can’t figure out how to turn it on. That’s probably fairly straightforward to fix. Ideally there would be a way to have a toggle so that an individual post could be anonymous, rather than having the user enter a separate mode.
The second more serious problem is that anonymous users seem to lose access granted to the named user. We use groups and category permissions heavily to control what students can see on the forum, which is particularly important when maintaining the same forum across multiple semesters. (Essentially each new batch of students is put into a semester-specific group which provides a simplified view of the forum where they can only see semester-specific categories and a few others that we allow continuous posting in.) So once a user enters anonymous mode, they lose access to the very topics that they would like to engage in anonymously.
The second problem seems harder to fix. Ideally Discourse would forward some permissions and group memberships to the anonymous user—although probably not all, since you probably want to avoid moderators accidentally taking certain actions while anonymous. But if there was an option to allow non-admin permissions and group membership to be forwarded to anonymous users, that would support our use case.
Overall better support for anonymity would be something that I think would help Discourse enter the university class forum space. It may seem surprising, but this is frequently one of the first questions other faculty have when I suggest that they try Discourse for their course.