Monday, August 1, 2011

Social Media & FERPA

In the hybrid teaching workshops offered in June, some participants wondered whether using publicly-available social media in class was a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). I did some online research and contacted the registrar, who is also the UWEC FERPA representative. I am not a lawyer. That said, here is what I learned about FERPA and social media: 
  • "FERPA requires schools and school officials maintain confidential control over student records"(Fryer). These records include grades, medical information, and Social Security numbers.      
  • Social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) are not controlled by the University, so FERPA does not apply to content on these sites (Orlando, 2011).
  • FERPA does not require that all student work be kept private at all times, whether online or face-to-face. For instance, having students review each other’s assignments is not a FERPA violation. Films or digital stories created by students can be posted on the internet and student art created for classes can be viewed at art shows. Intellectual property rights are important, but not covered by FERPA. 

Practical Suggestions: 
  • Never require that students post personal information publicly (addresses, medical information, courses taken, etc.).
  • If students choose to post their coursework publicly with their name and/or UWEC affiliation, that is ok because it is their choice. Make sure they know they have a choice and have an alternative available. Alternatives could include use of a pseudonym and adjusted privacy settings. Google Blogger has a lot of options for privacy.
  • Never post grades or evaluative judgment publicly. However, students can evaluate each other’s work publicly (ACE, 2008, as cited in Orlando). This is good, since students commenting on each other’s blogs is an important part of blogging.  It is important to provide expectations for the comments and civility guidelines. 
  • Explicitly state in the syllabus that the posts are public and are not institutional property (Barrett). 
  • Students should not be identifiable as UW-Eau Claire attendees  
    •  Advise students not to indicate their relationship to the University in their posting (Barrett). 
    • Avoid using the name of the University or course or UWEC images.    

Blogs: Instead of naming a blog “UWEC Nursing 144 Class Blog,” call it N144 Blog, or give it an arbitrary number or name (Kelly, Angela, and Roxie’s Blog) to keep it nonspecific.    

Twitter: Don’t use overly descriptive hashtags. For instance, you could use s420 to categorize tweets for UWEC Spanish 420.  Or, you could just use a random set of numbers or letters not already taken (search for the hashtag first to see if it has some meaning you haven’t thought of).  

Facebook: Consider using a closed group so that only those you’ve given access can view the content.  Still use a nondescript, non-UWEC name for the group - maybe an acronym or term related to the course.

It’s important to remain flexible while implementing new technologies and do a temperature check with the students to find out how it’s going.  If you need a modification or alternative, I’d be happy to help.
Fryer, W. (n. d.) Unmasking the digital divide.
Orlando, J. (2011, Feb 7). FERPA and social media.
Barrett, J. (UWEC Registrar), personal email communication.
Thanks to Kate Conerton for editing this and to Jim Barrett for reviewing it. 

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Very clear, relevant, concise, and worth awareness. Thanks for the information.