Ga. Tech cites FERPA, removes all instructional wikis
November 16, 2011 11:56 AM Subscribe
Despite pioneering the use of wikis in instruction back in 1997, this week Georgia Tech deleted all course wikis, out of concern that they were in violation of FERPA.
posted by fogovonslack (39 comments total)
20 users marked this as a favorite
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
was enacted in 1974 and prohibited federal funding of educational institutions that denied the rights of students and parents to review "educational records" or that did not protect the privacy of "educational records." A lot of people are rightfully concerned about the negative educational effects of "schools interpreting these pieces of legislation to restrict students’ communication and access online, right at the time when the Web has such great potential for teaching and learning."
The thing is, what if Georgia Tech is right?
In 2002, the Supreme Court held in Gonzaga v. Doe
that FERPA did not create a private right of action. In other words, students whose records are disclosed in violation of FERPA can't sue for damages. So Georgia Tech doesn't have to worry about getting sued over its wikis. It does, however, have to worry about losing federal funding. That's where another Supreme Court case from 2002 becomes instructional. In Owasso Independent School Dist. v Falvo
, a parent sued to stop the school district from allowing students to grade each others' papers and call the grades out to the teacher because it embarrassed her children. The Supreme Court held that the school hadn't violated FERPA because the grades on individual assignments weren't "educational records" under FERPA, so calling them out in front of the class couldn't be a violation.
The court's rationale is troubling for situations like Georgia Tech's: the critical factor for what information constituted an educational record was the institution's act of maintaining that information. FERPA defines "educational record" as "information directly related to a student . . . maintained by an educational agency or institution." As Justice Rhenquist wrote for the Court, "The word 'maintain' suggests FERPA records will be kept in a filing cabinet in a records room at the school or on a permanent secure database, perhaps even after the student is no longer enrolled."
If maintenance of a database after a student leaves is the triggering factor for implicating FERPA, then wouldn't any public online work by a student, such as a blog or wiki, be a record covered by FERPA? Georgia Tech's apparent broad interpretation of "educational record" under FERPA is troublesome, but it doesn't appear to be entirely unjustified.