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.
- Privacy Considerations in Cloud-Based Teaching and Learning Environments (white paper from EDUCAUSE)