I’ve doing some reading lately about issues with FERPA and assignments that include social media.
As well all know, FERPA (Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act) basically protects the confidentiality of students records. This law states that an institution cannot “release” any personally identifiable student record without the written consent of the student.
Now, this defiantly includes records of assignments (tests, papers, quizzes). You cannot simply give out a students test to someone who calls in asking for it, that would be “releasing” an identifiable student record. The law also, obviously, applies to demographic and personal information as well (SS #, address, birthdate….etc)
So, this is where the law gets a bit “grey.” How does FERPA apply to requiring social media in a classroom. This information will be “public,” and will also be a record of an assignment. Well, I think that Kevin Smith, the Director of Copyright & Scholarly Communication at Duke University, gave a great response to this issue.
Kevin states that,”when we want students to post directly to publicly accessible blogs, it is not certain if those works ever actually become educational records.” I think this could also apply to having students use any other form of social media for an assignment (Twitter, YouTube…etc—-anything that would be public). So, if, as Kevin states, these postings to blogs never become “educational records,” then does FERPA actually apply ? Well, again, Kevin states that “There are still some privacy concerns. After all, we are potentially requiring students to release information….that would normally be protected.”
So what do we do about this ?
This article recommends that we take four steps:
1. If you are going to require students post to a public site, give them the opportunity to speak to you privately about concerns. This assignment should be give well in advance, so that students have the opportunity to withdraw from the class if they are uncomfortable.
2. Encourage students to participate under a pseudonym.
3. Encourage students to NOT post any private information.
4. Provide an “alternative” assignment (This is a must !)
Other “best practices”:
- Instructor comments & grades should not be give/made public (source)
- Grades given by “peer grading” is NOT protected by FERPA (source)
- If a student is under the age of 18 (not likely, but possible), it may be required to get parental approval for the student to post public work (source)
* Guidelines for Public, Student Class Blogs: Ethics, Legalities, FERPA & More
* FERPA and Social Media
* FERPA and Teaching With Technology (see section toward the bottom that deals with publicly postings to social media tools.
* Teaching Methods – Use of Social Networks, Blogs, Wikis, and Other Third-Party Hosted Tools in Instruction
* FERPA Privacy Checklist for Online Course Hosting – (Microsoft Word document)