As free online social tools now play a central role in how we communicate, interact and manage our interpersonal relationships, and as consumerization sweeps through IT and learning, the traditional boundaries between the tools we use to learn, for work and to socialize are becoming increasingly blurry. It’s only natural, then, that students have begun to use many of the same tools they’d otherwise use for purely social or professional purposes to exchange resources and ideas, brainstorm and ask questions of each other. Furthermore, social networking and communication tools have begun to proliferate through education and are even playing an increasingly prominent role in the classroom.
Piazza launched in early 2011 to capitalize on the socialization of learning and give students their own education-focused version of Quora — a platform dedicated to enabling students to share questions and answers with their classmates. Initially part wiki and part forum, Piazza allows classes to create their own Q&A hubs, where students and teachers can ask questions, contribute to answers and bookmark questions to save for later.
Since launch, Piazza’s social Q&A network has found eager adoption among college engineering students in particular, and the company says that half of undergraduates at engineering schools like Berkeley, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and MIT are now on the site. By making it easy for students to collaborate around learning, Piazza has resonated with younger generations and has found steady adoption as a result.
Between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic school years, Piazza’s user base grew from 236K to 762K, with students in more than 60 countries around the world now accessing the social learning platform. But for Piazza’s team the most encouraging statistic? Engagement is high; students are now spending an average of two to three hours on the site every night.
With adoption and engagement steadily increasing, Piazza has begun to look for ways to help its college student-heavy user base not only collaborate around educational topics, but bridge the gap between campus life and the world of employment. Wherever college students, especially engineering majors are engaged en masse, you’re bound to find recruiters knocking on the door.
This week, after a lengthy beta testing period, the startup officially unveiled a new service and recruiting tool, called Piazza Careers, which allows companies to find and connect with top talent and potential job candidates. For a subscription fee starting at $20K/semester, recruiters can now use the startup’s new product to search among the million-plus students now using Piazza and send them messages, for example.
Recruiters can use the site’s advanced filters to target their search based on specific criteria, like by students who have interned at Apple or are currently teaching assistants in engineering departments, for instance. While the concept and practical application of Piazza’s new product is reminiscent of LinkedIn’s tools for recruiters — and others — the idea, the company says, is to give startups and smaller companies access to the kinds of basic recruiting tools that have traditionally been reserved for bigger companies.
Companies like Yelp, Palantir, SpaceX, Box, SpaceX and Hearsay Social have already signed up to use Piazza’s new tools — though, admittedly, few would classify those companies as “startups.” Nonetheless, Piazza hopes that its tools can help bring a more meritocratic element to the recruiting process, providing startups with access to tools that previously eluded them, and giving students the opportunity to find a good job no matter their alma mater.
To support the launch of its new recruiting product, Piazza has also quietly added an additional $8 million in Series B financing, led by Khosla Ventures and with support from existing investor, Bessemer Ventures. The funding actually closed last year, but was not announced publicly. The new round follows the $6 million in Series A financing Piazza closed in 2012, and the $1.5 million in seed it raised in 2011, bringing its total raised to date to $15.5 million.
With the new funding under its belt, Piazza will be looking to expand its social Q&A network beyond its traditional focus on math and the sciences, into additional subjects and majors within higher education.
For more, find Piazza at home here.