Problems with discussion boards: After being involved with StackExchange for a couple of years, I've really grown to despise standard discussion boards. All those meandering threads, no commenting, no ability to edit questions to improve them, inadequate cross-referencing of questions, no markdown support, no voting for good answers; no rss subscription options, the list goes on...

Educational context: I have interacted with a few course management systems that include discussion boards for students to ask questions. These systems also lack most of the great features of the StackExchange model of Q&A.


  • Is there a way of deploying a StackExchange-style Q&A site for a university subject?
  • Are there any examples of people doing this?
  • Does anyone know whether StackExchange themselves have considered this market?

Initial thoughts

I realise that there are open source clones of stack exchange in existence. However, my concern is that they take a bit of effort to setup.

  • Ideally any system should be very simple to deploy for the lecturer, and easy to learn for the student.
  • 1
    Related question: meta.academia.stackexchange.com/questions/55/…
    – user102
    Jul 4, 2012 at 10:04
  • 2
    Maybe you should contact Shiva Kintali, author of Trueshelf, see how he did?
    – Gopi
    Jul 4, 2012 at 14:08
  • If your intended audience is broader than a single class or college, why not start (or join) an actual stackexchange? For example, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics are all SE groups currently up and running. OTOH, if your intended audience is strictly a single class or school, I doubt the format of the forum (SE vs. Discussion boards) will make much of a difference.
    – mikemanne
    Jul 5, 2012 at 13:53
  • 2
    @Gopi Kintali's site uses Askbot: plus.google.com/104397321463619179338/posts/dttt5G2bTrT
    – Suresh
    Jul 8, 2012 at 4:53
  • 2
    Recently, Stack Exchange is being used (in beta) for specific courses/universities. More info can be found here. Apr 23, 2014 at 20:17

5 Answers 5


Yes it's possible. Yes it's been done. There are plenty of StackExchange clones such as OSQA to use - there's a question over on meta-stackoverflow that lists them. You can pretty much pick your favourite platform, and there will be a StackExchange clone for it.


You might well find that take-up rates are very very low (maybe one in 20 if you're lucky). And you need a lot of people to give a Q&A site enough critical mass to sustain itself.

They're all reasonably easy to use, for the end-users. As to how hard they are to install and maintain, that's a question of the kit and talent you have available. If you've already got a server serving Django apps, then OSQA is easy. If you've got a *AMP stack, then any of the PHP clones should be pretty easy. Installation and management is the really easy part of the process. Drumming up, and sustaining, partcipation is the really hard part.

  • Thanks for the list, and I agree involvement would be a factor to consider. I wonder if any of them would be simple to use in an educational context. Jul 4, 2012 at 13:10

Although there are not as many features as on SE, one possibility could be to create a sub-reddit. You can restrict the access of the sub-reddit only to the concerned students if you want to, you can ask questions, you can comment (recursively), you can upvote/downvote the best questions/answers/comments, there is an RSS feed.

I don't know if it covers all the features you want, but that could be a good start, since it's very easy to setup.

  • Thanks. That's a really interesting idea, and it also prompts me to be more explicit about the importance of many features (e.g., degree of control over the site; public versus private; control over logins; degree of moderator control; whether participation is graded; etc.) Jul 4, 2012 at 9:53
  • 3
    AFAIK, it's not in SE intentions to allow for the creation of individual, very specific instances. There are open-sources alternatives, but that would imply to manage the server, which is not always trivial for non-experts. The advantage of Reddit is that everything is directly hosted on their website (of course, it can a downside too, if there is confidential info).
    – user102
    Jul 4, 2012 at 10:04

Piazza is to my knowledge one of the most popular to Q&A platform used for a university subject. Many courses use it in my university and we are quite happy with it.

Some features:

  • free
  • take less than a minute to create
  • edit questions to improve them
  • cross-referencing of questions
  • voting for good answers
  • notification emails
  • students and instructors can write answers
  • endorse student's answer
  • etc

Missing features:

  • allow to comment
  • markdown support
  • no rss subscription options


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I don't know how straightforward it is to deploy, but you can use the open-source SE-like biostar-central developed at GitHub. It is used to host http://www.biostars.org.


I think you should take a look at Discourse. It is by Jeff Attwood the other coinventor of Stack Overflow.

In his blog he has mentioned all the design decisions that went into its development.


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