Isn't it funny how one single decision to change can have a snowball effect? I made a commitment to try to bring the iPad into my class, and now I'm friending my students on Facebook.
Before you lambast me about how unethical, unwise, and just plain unsmart friending students is, hear me out. I haven't crossed the line you think I have.
It all started when I found out that one of my colleagues had set up "secret groups" for her classes on Facebook. The group itself looks like a regular facebook wall, but is only available to the other group members. Once someone posts or comments everyone (depending upon their notification settings) gets a heads up message and/or email. Best of all, being in a group with someone does not make you "friends" with them or allow them access to your Facebook presence.
The only special ingredient you need to create a secret group is one student willing to create it. She must be friends with everyone in the class, including you. She creates the group, makes it "secret", and types in everyone's name. That's it. No one needs to "accept membership"; they just automatically have a little link on the left that gets them to your class wall. And, once you are part of a group, you can unfriend the person who invited you and still remain a part of the group. Therefore I am not currently friends with any of my students, though I had to be for one to two minutes (a fact that made one 10th grader a little too giddy. I'm interested to find out what kind of picture tagging she was able to pull off during the two minutes she was "my friend".)
What's the benefit of a Facebook class wall over a standard portal like moodle, haiku, or finalsite? The most important benefit is that students check it...a lot. Putting out notices, updates, and documents on our old class portal was a tedious process (involving many mouse clicks and page loadings) and I often got the feeling (later confirmed) that students weren't even seeing what I was posting. Moreover, my students complain that "all of their teachers" have different web presences and they can't keep track of which teacher is using which web hoster (the "official portal" vs. "haiku" vs. "moodle", ad infinitum).
Facebook is simpler and you know that your students are going to see what you post. This makes having a "no excuses" policy much easier for the online portion of your class. Most of my students catch up on class notices or homework assignments on their phone, before they even leave the building. Moreover, when a student poses a question on Facebook, everyone sees it and a) can help him before I even get to it or b) can learn from the responses that he gets to his post.
I'm not a huge Facebook fan, but if my students become more engaged at home because of this, I may just buy stock in the company.