Although it’s been at least a couple of decades since I was in university, I can remember how useful it was to get together with other students at the library or in the coffee shop to talk over a problem or an assignment. Using something like instant messaging or Facebook would have been a huge benefit — but now a Ryerson student is being threatened with expulsion for using Facebook in just such a way. This seems like a gigantic mistake to me, and not something I would expect from an institution as supposedly progressive as Ryerson (which happens to be my alma mater).
Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests is calling for a blogosphere uprising on Digg and elsewhere to help the student, Chris Avenir, and I would wholeheartedly support that call to arms. If there was evidence that Avenir and the group were somehow cheating, that would be a different — since cheating is clearly wrong, as Michael Geist notes in his post. But so far it looks like Ryerson’s response is completely out of proportion to what the students actually did, which was to exchange tips on homework that only accounted for 10 per cent of their final mark.
Ryerson says that it is not anti-Facebook, and that it has to maintain its academic integrity. I don’t think anyone would argue with those goals — and if the Facebook group was set up for the express purpose of exchanging answers to exam questions, then the university would be well within its rights to take action. As far as I can tell from what’s been reported by the Star and the CBC, however, that’s not what it sounds like. And I think that Ryerson risks losing a lot of goodwill with its students if it bans a social networking site without having a pretty iron-clad case.