In a recent discussion on a friend's wall in Facebook, the debate was whether Facebook could be used as an LMS. The arguments from one particular professor didn't quite cut it for me. One issue he raised is that requiring students to use a particular platform, whether Facebook, Gmail, or any other social media service is problematic and naive.
Given that the state of Utah is adopting Instructure Canvas to replace Blackboard, and one of its features is the ability to coordinate information with outside services such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, etc., it seems that supporting the use of these third party tools is the direction we're going, not one of continuing to lock up our courses.
Regarding requiring students to sign up for a service they may not have been using already, it begs the question what percent of college students are already on Facebook. My understanding is that it's up in the 80-90% range, if not higher. They're in there anyway. This is just bringing the class to where the students are. You can set up a private instance of elgg, but if students don't get in there, it's no better than Blackboard, Moodle, or any other LMS, even if it's slightly more social.
I talked to one class I was teaching about the idea. While the initial thought was that it might be creepy having their instructor be their friend on Facebook, they agreed it was not so creepy and they may in fact think about class more often since they're in Facebook all day, if we were in a group together and didn't necessarily have to be friends. That was a couple years ago, though, and now everyone's grandma is on Facebook, so students may be more used to authority figures in their lives connecting with them on Facebook.
The big related question that was brought up was one of security and FERPA. Supposedly this professor has seen threats to sue because the professor openly discussed a student's performance in a classroom, and the student understood the critique to be a breach of their privacy. He pointed out that misunderstandings of intent are more likely to happen in online environments where context and body language are lacking than they are in face to face classrooms.
Regarding lawyers getting involved, it seems that of anyone, a PR professor (who was the one doing the complaining) ought to be able to figure out how to take a misunderstanding and turn it into a learning experience. At least in an online environment, you have a more permanent record of discussions, so you don't have to rely on the "he said, she said" of face to face meetings. Of course, it is ironic that the example he gave of misunderstanding was in a face to face classroom, not an online environment. I tend to agree with Dave Merrill, who suggests that writing for public publishing of work on a blog or eportfolio that others can see will make the quality much better than if the student is just writing a paper that no one but the professor will ever see.
Given the content area, I would suggest that if you're taking a PR course and there's not a FB (or Twitter) component, you should consider dropping. Some other majors may be able to get away with not using these tools, but from what I understand of a field like PR, if a student is not given practice in using social media tools in a professional context, they will be at a disadvantage. Yes, they know how to use Facebook in a social context, but holding a class in Facebook gives them the invaluable experience of an organized, professional use of the platform. Yes, it is fast becoming a platform, not just a standalone site.