“I showed this teacher, and he got excited,” Moller explained. “The idea was to get students who were doing a unit on theoretical ethics and ethical issues to learn a small amount of the content well enough to teach it to the rest of the class in a creative and effective way.”

Each student was given a prompt related to an ethical issue, such as slavery in the cocoa industry, for example. Students were expected to research both sides of the ethical situation and then communicate their own ideas in blogs and podcasts.

“Facebook was used to connect the group members with the experts in the given fields, most of whom were professors in areas of ethics or philosophy,” Moller said.

As each group began to blog and produce podcasts about its issue, some local university professors played a crucial role. The professors, who were “keen about the project,” Moller said, began to generate some critical thinking on the site by posting some “devil’s advocate” arguments, trying to suggest, for example, that stopping slavery would mean the end of candy bars as we know them.

When I asked about security issues, Moller responded that the Facebook group was set up in a completely secure way, allowing only the students and the university professors to comment. Moller said he only had one parent complaint about the project, and when he showed her that it’s impossible for an outsider to log into the group, she was satisfied with the project’s safety. He did admit there were some challenges to this project.

“You still have to be a vigilant teacher,” he said. “At the beginning, kids were more interested in checking their own Facebook profiles.”

These are just a few examples of the possibilities and challenges of using social networking for learning. The teachers I’ve interviewed each take a different approach to the tools available to them, but they all believe passionately in what they do and in opening up a new world for themselves and their students.

William Kist is an associate professor at Kent State University, where he teaches literacy education courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels. His book, The Socially Networked Classroom, presents a snapshot of how teachers are currently using Web 2.0 to educate today’s students. Complete with real-world examples, lesson plans, sample assignments, and assessments, the book is available from Corwin.