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FERPA and Teaching With Technology


Security / David Goehring / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

FERPA is the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. It regulates the privacy of student educational records and data.

How does this involve teaching with blogs, wikis, and social media?

Emerson College Registrar’s office considers educational records to be:

  • Grades / transcripts
  • Student schedules
  • Names of Students’ advisors
  • Papers / student thesis / tests
  • Personal information such as Social Security number

They go on to advise

To avoid violations of FERPA rules, DO NOT:
  • Use the Social Security number of a student in a public posting of grades, or link the name of a student with that student’s Social Security number in any public manner;
  • Leave graded tests in a stack for students to pick up by sorting through the papers of all students;
  • Circulate a printed class list with student name and Social Security number or grades as an attendance roster;
  • Discuss the progress of any student with anyone other than student (including parents) without the consent of the student or verifying that the student has granted access to the third party by contacting the office of Student Administrative Services;
  • Provide anyone outside the College with lists of students enrolled in classes;
  • Provide anyone with student schedules or assist anyone other than College employees in finding a student on campus

For more information on Emerson’s FERPA policy, view the excellent FERPA Tutorial.

This sounds complicated, terrifying and a good reason to avoid teaching with technology, right? Fear not: it’s actually pretty simple to comply.

If your content is protected by login so that it is viewable only by members of the class: You’re all set (this includes WebCT). This way the public cannot access class enrollment lists, student work, and grades or other feedback. No worries!

(Note: to change the visibility of your WordPress blog, go to Settings -> Privacy.)

If your content is viewable by anyone (desirable if your intent is interaction with the wider community):

“Communicate the issues, conditions, and risks associated with any tool you choose at the beginning of the academic term, preferably in the syllabus. This allows students who object to withdraw from the course or to request alternate assignments or other solutions. However, be sensitive to the fact that withdrawal may not be possible if the course is required, the course is offered in a sequence, the course is not offered regularly, or the course is only offered by one instructor.” (Ohio State University)

  • Students should be told that they are posting info that will be publicly available on the internet.
  • Encourage them to use an alias, and to be careful about posting personal info.
  • You should never post student grades, schedules, student ID numbers or Social Security numbers.
  • There should be an option to opt-out and submit assignments in some other fashion (WebCT’s Discussion board Blog feature might work for this).
  • If students choose to post personally identifiable info about themselves, they are completely free to do so! FERPA only covers what faculty can and cannot do.
  • You should remind students to be careful about posting information about their classmates (schedules, real names, etc.), who might not have the same comfort levels.
  • If you’re using Facebook for discussion, create a private group for your class. (More information on Facebook in the classroom).
  • If you’re using Twitter, allow your students create accounts without using their real names.
  • Interesting note: If students are trading documents or projects for peer review, FERPA does not apply until the work reaches the faculty.

Finally, I leave you with North Carolina State’s excellent disclaimer(doc):

Please note that FERPA was written before the Internet existed, it is an awkward fit to modern teaching, and concerns about the workability or usefulness of FERPA are better addressed to the U.S. Department of Education.

Reference:

Facebook in the classroom: Pros and Cons

facebook logo
How does Facebook relate to Higher Ed?
Inside Higher Ed gives you an overview here.
What could you use Facebook for?
It’s been used as place for discussion groups, as a learning management system, and as a character role-playing tool.
Why SHOULD I use it?

  • It promotes collaboration.
  • The interface is familiar to students: it’s not one more program they have to learn.
  • Using Facebook in class gives you an opportunity to discuss digital literacy with students. Per Professor Melanie McBride: “The greatest goal for educators using social media is to teach students to think critically about the uses and abuses of these tools. Namely, about user controls, privacy, democracy, ethics, compassion, and all the other things the corporate developers of social media would rather they DIDN’T learn.”

Why SHOULDN’T I use it?

  • This is perhaps obvious, but Facebook is not run by Emerson. That means that it can do whatever it wants with user data and accounts, and we have no control over it. It also has a small amount of ads.
  • Concerns about privacy: your privacy, and students’ privacy.
  • The “creepy treehouse” issue: defined by Prof Hacker as “the requirement, enforced by someone in authority, that others interact socially with them.”

What are the best practices for using it?

  • Take a look at your privacy settings (a good idea for everyone!)
  • Look at Facebook’s guidelines for educators. There are ways to interact that protect everyone’s privacy.
  • Have a plan for how you will handle the students that are not comfortable being on Facebook for whatever reason (opting out of technology, privacy needs because of abuse, etc.) How will this affect their grade?

Tips from ProfHacker (abridged):

  • Be transparent. Explain why it’s required, what students will be graded on, etc. Explain the tool’s ownership and logistics.
  • Deputize worthwhile ad-hoc groups. This encourages the perception-which hopefully is accurate!-that the class’s social media usage is bottom-up, and not top-down.
  • Be nimble. Notice how students are interacting with your course material, and put resources where they feel most comfortable.

Where should I look for further research?
danah boyd does a lot of research on teen and young adult social media use.