Back To CourseFERPA Training for Educators
3 chapters | 17 lessons
Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.
A 2013 Pew Research study indicated more than 4/5 teens and 2/3 of adults use some kind of social media. These numbers would go up if we include communications by other technology, like email or text messaging. Classrooms are increasingly augmenting instruction with technology in blended learning platforms. Because of this inevitability, it's important to translate school policies into ways that accommodate advancements in technology.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) creates confidentiality among those records maintained by a school system. Because legislation has not kept up with technology, teachers must have some guidelines about how to use social media in the classroom in ways that can benefit from it without violating FERPA.
For example, some older movies and TV shows set in schools show a character reading their grade off of a bulletin board in the hallway with a crowd of other students around. FERPA prohibits the posting of grades publicly in this manner, and so the modern technological equivalent is to avoid posting grades online on students' social media pages or on public school websites for classroom bulletin boards or blogs.
When instructors use social media to engage students and create a virtual classroom environment outside the building, it is important to be cautious about social media use to remain compliant with FERPA.
A sole possession document is a note instructors or administrators may make to themselves about a student. They are only meant to be in the possession of the creator and are not protected by FERPA. Regardless of the content of these instructor-created notes, they are not under the definition of what is considered an official student record maintained by the school.
This exemption to FERPA means that students cannot ask for instructors to produce paper or electronic notes that are not included in students' official records maintained by the school, and the instructor may not share those notes with others if they contain official data. Under FERPA, students have the right to inspect and review anything in their educational record, so don't put anything on the record you wouldn't want the student to see.
Schools are responsible for maintaining security in the servers and internet system to ensure that record confidentiality is not compromised. Instructors must implement safeguards for note taking that are stored on a computer or a portable data drive without protection.
Emails between professors about a student or between students and instructors are not considered educational records unless for some reason they are included in the student's official file. Let's say a student writes an email to a supervisor and subsequently gets the instructor dismissed. The court found that email was not protected by FERPA as official student record, and the email had to be shared with the instructor. Alternatively, emails between professors discussing a student are not required to be produced at the student's request because emails are not considered student record and are not eligible for disclosure to the student under the inspect and review rule.
Text messages are not considered officially maintained by the school and are therefore not protected under FERPA. Instructors should use caution when communicating by text message with students regardless of the content. Additionally, there are security issues in that text messaging is not a secure form of communication and can be intercepted and subpoenaed for court. Phone companies have been known to release text message records on request.
Unless the school or university is maintaining the specific site, posts and comments on public social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, image sharing sites and others are not considered part of a student's educational record so they are not considered protected under FERPA. If an instructor intends to use social media as a facilitator of engagement in learning, then it is important to begin with some lessons on the use of privacy settings and the risks of disclosing personal information on the internet.
In the case of a blended learning platform maintained by the school like Blackboard or D2L, those communication platforms are maintained by the school and can be considered part of the student's educational record so they are covered by FERPA, and student information should not be shared with other classmates.
Besides the platform, instructors must also consider the content of the communications. FERPA-protected content, such as grades, class schedules, behavioral information and attendance records should not be shared on any public site.
Some assignments may require a check-in at a specific location using a website that will access a student's GPS location in real time. Students and teachers must be cautious when using sites like this regarding student safety, and everyone should take caution with privacy settings on sites that can locate students through GPS. Ways to get around this dilemma may include providing alternative assignments or being flexible on time, allowing students to set their own schedule.
Communication through technology is an inevitable progression in education. This makes the FERPA mandated protection of student records take on different elements. In order for a record to be protected by FERPA, a communication must be maintained by the school as part of a student's official educational record, regardless of the platform of that communication. Instructors have the right of privacy over their own personal notes in either a digital or paper format, as these are sole possession documents not protected by FERPA. It is important to know which communications are subject to a student's inspect and review rights over their educational records. The content of information that is shared is more relevant than the medium through which that communication is shared. As long as instructors are careful about social media use and other technological communication methods, this can be a great way to increase student engagement and encourage participation.
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Back To CourseFERPA Training for Educators
3 chapters | 17 lessons