A Guide to FERPA Guides

A Guide to FERPA Guides

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1973, or FERPA, was designed to give students the right to access their own educational records, lodge a request to have those records amended, and also allow for students and parents to be able to control who has access to those records.  This is an important law that gives students more power in regards to their academic records. However, there is a great deal of fear and confusion that surrounds the law with a rather large case law history only further deepening that problem.  In addition, the passing of the act in 1973 leaves it open to a wide variety of interpretations in a contemporary milieu of higher education where the privacy of students using various online platforms to both access and contribute content is particularly important.

As Digital Fellows and a part of the Graduate Center Digital Intiatives, we thought it would be a productive exercise to put together a guide for how to approach online pedagogy with FERPA in mind. Upon initial engagement with the text of the Act itself, however, it became apparent that this was a task that was beyond both our intellectual and legal purviews.  But luckily for us, this is an issue that has occurred to countless universities all over the country as both online teaching and the privacy issues it brings up become more and more prevalent. So, what follows is a guide of guides to FERPA implications of teaching and learning online. It’s important to remember that each institution has their own policies and guidelines and that following these guides doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re within the parameters set by your institution. However, from the use of social media in the classroom to dealing with third party grading management systems, there are a variety of issues outlined in these guides that are worthy of your attention whenever you’re using teaching with technology and online.

Privacy Considerations in Cloud-Based Teaching and Learning Enviroments – White Paper from Educause co-authored by Veronica Diaz, Joan Golas, and Susan Gautsch that outlines some very useful, albeit general ways to utilize new and innovative pedagogical tools while still keeping within FERPA privacy guidelines.  Of particular usefulness is the “Considering FERPA and Advancing Innovation” section that outlines some of the trickier and most open to interpretation terms in the FERPA lexicon. Also, in the “Potential Solutions” section they link to a variety of case studies from universities across the country.

Use of Social Networks, Blogs, Wikis, and Other Third-Party Hosted Tools in Instruction – Another helpful overview of issues teacher should keep in mind when using “cloud-based” technologies that are not-university based from the Teaching Handbook at Indiana University.  Much of the possible FERPA related concerns that we encounter are the product of the use of third party providers whose databases are off site and therefore not as controllable University based platforms.

DELTA Student Privacy GuidelinesBasic guidelines with helpful hypothetical examples from the Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications program at North Carolina State.

FERPA and Teaching With TechnologyA set of guidelines from the Emerson College Registrar’s office and the Instructional Technology Group there that very briefly lays out some basic best practices. The section that covers what to do with content that is viewable by anyone (a common practice used when trying to interact with a wider community beyond the classroom itself) is particularly relevant to those teaching with blogs.

FERPA Considerations in Blackboard – Set of guidelines from the University of Missouri.  This site has useful list of areas of Blackboard that are subject to FERPA regulations.

FERPA Problems and Solutions in MoodleIf you are using Moodle for your classes this is a one stop shop for all you and your students privacy concerns.  Also useful if you’re using any other kind of  content management system for teaching.

Guidelines for Public, Student Class Blogs: Ethics, Legalities, FERPA and More – A response by Duke University’s Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communication Kevin Smith to questions about FERPA and class blogs posed to him by members of the Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge.

Here’s a link to this list as a public Zotero library.

If any readers have other suggestions for guides or things they’d like to see added to the library, don’t hesitate to comment!

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