FERPA and Privacy

Instructors are beginning to require the use of non-Moodle blogs and wikis in their classes. They are also asking their students to post their own videos in public spaces. This got me thinking about whether any of this is a violation of FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act), which regulates the privacy of student educational records and data.

Here are some things I have found:

A blog post called FERPA and Social Media points out some misconceptions and gives some suggestions.

“FERPA is one of the most misunderstood regulations in education. It is commonly assumed that FERPA requires all student coursework to be kept private at all times, and thus prevents the use of social media in the classroom, but this is wrong. FERPA does not prevent instructors from assigning students to create public content as part of their course requirements.” All details about why this is so are found in the post.

Policy suggestions for social media assignments are provided:

  • When students are assigned to post information to public social media platforms outside of the college LMS, they should be informed that their material may be viewed by others outside the college.
  • Students should not be required to release personal information on a public site.
  • Instructor comments or grades on student material should not be made public. 

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Encourage students to use an alias, and to be careful about posting personal info.
  • Instructors should never post student grades, schedules, student ID numbers or Social Security numbers.
  • 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.).
  • Interesting note: If students are trading documents or projects for peer review, FERPA does not apply until the work reaches the faculty.

And, finally, to read some reasons why you may want to include more public assignments in your classes, see this article from Educause Quarterly, Death to the Digital Dropbox: Rethinking Student Privacy and Public Performance.