I used Ning last year as an activity for my web design class. For those of you unfamiliar with Ning, it's a web site/application that allows users to create their own social networks. Once students realized that they were creating something akin to MySpace (and not just their own MySpace page), they liked the idea of being "Tom." This semester, I decided to give it a shot for communicating with my classes. I have a new intern who can help me maintain it and manage the 50 or so "friends"/students.
Like MySpace, you can manage forums, discussions, messaging, etc. As the administrator, you are like the ubiquitous Tom, while new members (in this case, students) can create their own pages and interact with each other and you. We'll see how this goes. My concern is that it will be a management nightmare. One also has to worry about student appropriateness. On the other hand, there is an incredible amount of flexibility in Ning that could lend itself to collaboration and easy information management and exchange. Similarly, it's a forum with which most students are comfortable and should encourage them to check in with each other and with me.
I'll report back in the next couple of weeks. For now, anyone have any experiences with Ning or other social networks as course management tools? Talk back below.