This post isn't strictly about my PhD, but it's something I wanted to share.
Although we have an LMS (Blackboard) where I work, many students and staff prefer the informality of social media sites for discussions - blogs and Facebook are two systems that are often used. In principle I think this is a great idea, as long as staff aren't putting assessment tasks into these softwares. Last year Blogger went down for several days at a time when a lot of northern hemisphere people were assessing the semester's work; so it seemes to me that anything that's for assessment is better kept in a system that the institution supports, and where you might have some control over it.
But two things have happened at my institution recently which highlight some of the problems that student use of social media can create - for students!
In the first instance, students had set up a facebook page for those enrolled in a very large first-year unit of study (more than 1000 students). The staff had no idea this existed. Unfortunately, one of the students posted on that page an angry complaint about a fact that had given been in a lectiure, saying that it was incorrect. In the way that these things do, this snowballed into abuse of the staff member, the whole subject, and the University for being so stupid as to employ such idiots. A few days before the exam one of the students involved (finally!) emailed the staff member, abusing him for giving wrong information. Once he worked out what had happened he was quite upset: the information in question was included in the exam. He understood why the students thought that what he'd said was wrong, but it wasn't wrong. All he could do was post on the facebook site himself, pointing out why he hadn't been wrong in the first place, and point it out again in the last lecture. Even so, many of the students followed the information on the facebook page, and got the answer wrong.
The second situation involved another, even larger first-year subject (more than 2000 students). In this subject a small amount of the final mark is built from weekly quizzes in Blackboard. Last year a group of students started a facebook site to share answers. Although the questions are randomised, if enough people join in you can' establish a pretty big database of answers. The staff didn't discover this until a couple of weeks ago, and were... quite surprised that anyone would bother. As the quiz isn't timed and can be done anywhere, the students can, and are encouraged to, look up the answers - the point is that they have to find and report the information; it isn't a memory test. The only advantage to having answers on the facebook page, for the students, might be to save time - although with the number of questions involved over the semester, searching for the ones that you can see in the randomised quiz on your screen could take a while - but it defeats the purpose of the test, which is to have them find out the answers.
There's no right or wrong to this; I just thought it would be interesting to report a couple of glitches that have occurred with students spontaneously 'supporting' each othert through facebook. I'd be really interested to read of other people's concerns or stories about social media and tertiary learning.