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When I saw this new StackExchange site, it first reminded me a lot of a tool that's being used in an increasing number of college-level courses called Piazza. Each "instance" of Piazza is a single semester of a single course offered at a university where students can ask questions and other students (or the course instructor) can create a "wiki-style" answer.

Having been a user of it for a year, it has some terrible shortcomings (questions are sorted only by the date their originally posted, making useful threads terribly difficult to find; formatting of posts are limited to a small set of HTML; etc) that StackExchange has usually found elegant solutions.

This may be the wrong place to start this discussion, though it would be great to see StackExchange offer a service as a Piazza alternative. It would seem the current Academia software already exceeds the functionality of Piazza, it would simply need to be instanced for courses to have the ability to adopt it. Is this something we could expect in the future?

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Anyone can start the process for initiating a new site, over at http://area51.stackexchange.com/

However, it's a fairly rigorous process, designed to ensure that only sites with a long-lasting, wide-area appeal, launch.

I think this would be very different to what you're after, which sounds like a short-term, narrow-area appeal. In that case, you're probably better off setting up a local install of one of the open-source stackexchange clones. For those, see the "Stack Overflow clones" question on Meta StackOverflow

  • The list of clones sounds like a good starting point for the OP. – user102 Feb 26 '12 at 22:58
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The way I understand your problem, I guess there would be three solutions:

  • Opening a new Stack Exchange site for each course. Considering the global policy of SE, I don't think that it would possible (but I might be wrong).
  • Open only one Stack Exchange site (let's call it SE Piazza), and then find a way to create a categorisation of the questions by course, for instance using a strong policy of tags. That would seem doable, but that would also mean that anybody could potentially access/edit any question of any course. That could mean a lot of moderating work.
  • Get the source code of SE, and install a local version on a university server, and then basically do solution 1. I don't know if the source code of SE is open source or available, but it might be worth asking them (I know for instance that Reddit distributes openly its source code).

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