One of the common concerns about distance environments is that they lack the interaction of face-to-face. On the other hand, tools like asynchronous discussion forums are commended for producing unique student-to-student relationships because students have the time to offer meaningful responses to their peers. One way to foster that community is through tools like Piazza.
Piazza functions like a message board – students post a question that the entire class can see, and instructors or TAs or other students respond. This means the instructor can answer a question once, and students can help out each other.
It’s also safe (you must have a valid school account to access it), free, and easy to use. Best of all, if you’re at UC Davis, you can integrate it right into your SmartSite.