wikis and blogs at a FERPA crossroads

'Crossroads' photo (c) 2007, Dominic Alves - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/If you didn’t hear about it, on Monday, Georgia Tech shocked the higher education community by deleting–all at once–more than ten years worth of its wikis used in undergraduate courses. You can read about it here: http://computinged.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/no-more-swikis-end-of-the-constructionist-web-at-georgia-tech/

Update 11/18: Here’s the story from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Here are a couple of good responses that put the FERPA issues in perspective. Especially note the second one that posits a comparison of an audience of classmates and a public audience.

http://bavatuesdays.com/you-cant-spell-ferpa-without-fear/

http://hapgood.tumblr.com/post/12881977343/dont-fear-the-ferpa

As I’ve heard all over Twitter and Google+ it is common that in all discussions of using open collaborative web tools like blogs and wikis for course work, the first question from faculty is about FERPA. Faculty have a right to be concerned about protecting students’ privacy, and we often err on the conservative side, mostly because FERPA seems to be difficult to interpret, particularly in this new digital era. The two main issues go to “what is a student record?” and “what constitutes a violation of student privacy?” Those questions can be debated, but you can find a few answers here as interpreted by one institution’s policies on using social networks/software:

Indiana University Teaching Handbook: http://www.teaching.iub.edu/finder/wrapper.php?inc_id=s2_6_tech_04_cloud.shtml

What can you do to continue to use blogs and wikis for course projects, short of working solely inside a private LMS (which can defeat your objective of writing for an authentic audience)?

  1. If the work in the blog or wiki is required, offer students other options for completing the work:
  1. allow students to write content outside of the technology and submit to you alone
  2. allow students to create a private blog or wiki that is only shared with you
  • Suggest that students create accounts using pseudonyms and keep a list of who’s who
  • Instruct students on what personal data to protect (SS#, contact info) and how to do it
  • Never discuss grades or give grades in a public space, such as in the comments area
  • Do not post information about the course name or number that would reveal student enrollment in a particular course
  • Most higher ed educators see the action taken at Georgia Tech as draconian and fear that other institutions, out of fear of litigation and a misunderstanding of FERPA policies, will react in like manner, which would be a sad situation for the future of open collaboration in learning.

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    Categories: blogging, collaboration, online learning, technology, wiki

    1 reply

    1. In student course portfolios, I suggest that they strip their essays and drafts of both personal and course information (i.e. the heading and pagination). I ask them to simply post the writing text; in their introduction to the piece of writing, they can describe the details of what they were asked to do and how they went about doing it without mentioning the course information. It actually helps students focus on thinking about their writing when they strip away that information, which initially leads them in the direction of evaluating the assignment instead of the writing.

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