I think it is a tool, just like any other tool and it depends on how it is utilized. I just wrote an article about online discussions and their benefits in the classroom. It can be found HERE. The use of Facebook for less serious matters is no different than the use of books, magazines, multimedia, and writing in general for less serious purposes. Educators are facing a day of reckoning with this stuff. We can either be part of the conversation and show our students how to have academic networks (not just social networks) or we can sit on the sidelines. There is a real opportunity here for us to harness and leverage the power of networking to the advantage of learning, rather than see it as an enemy. Tricky business. But it is our business.
Actually, it's a marketing gimmick for the British university....a way to get people interested in their program for the most part. Call it marketing, not really education. Read the whole article!
Other comments: Folks at Indiana University reported this fall that students do NOT have to have their professors communicating with them in Facebook. "It's for our social lives, and we don't want to mix a professor or someone from a class who isn't a friend in with people who are our friends," they say. IU has developed its own course delivery platform, OnCourse (like Angel or Blackboard) and have included social network features within the platform. They advise professors not to use Facebook for the course, because it doesn't have all the features they might want in the course. For the social aspects within the course, the OnCourse platform works well. The British university professor may just be lazy, or may be going for publicity. There are multiple better options for the class than using Facebook's structure for "conducting the class."
IU folks advise to think through any social network and be aware of US laws governing what can be posted about student grades etc. (serious laws for universities about what can and cannot be disclosed)
They didn't discourage social networks, but they had some great guidelines on when and what to consider and some key questions about privacy of student data.
The Chronicle article says: "...Facebook generally lacks the infrastructure to track student progress, manage data, and prevent cheating that is built into more traditional course-management systems. Programs like BlackBoard and Moodle “are designed to do that, where Facebook is not really designed to facilitate coursework,” said Steve Parscale.
Parscale, director of accreditation for the Kansas-based Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs, said sample classes offered through social-networking sites could provide great advertising opportunities for online colleges. “The younger generation is all on social media,” Mr. Parscale said. “If you can get them on Facebook to test-drive a class, then you can get them to actually enroll.”
Anyone using Facebook or other social media with children younger than age 13 need to be sure to check the Terms of Service and ensure they have parental permission (by federal law).