Blogs, Teaching, and Privacy

ogged dropped me a line this morning pointing me to a discussion taking place over at Crooked Timber this morning about the potential conflicts between class blog projects and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Eszter, who originated the discussion, suggests that the provisions of this act might be used to say that class blogs cannot be public, because FERPA prohibits educational institutions from releasing student information, possibly including information about what courses students are enrolled in (and, by implication, the presence of a student posting on a course blog reveals their* enrollment status).

Ezster goes on to argue that, should course blogs be forced to retreat from the public sphere, most of what is good about them would be lost. Indeed, one of my key goals over at The Literary Machine this semester is asking my students to see what happens when they write in an environment that is not simply machine-mediated, but public. One possible solution, suggested in the comments, is allowing students to post under pseudonyms (but requiring that they distribute those pseudonyms to other members of the class).

None of these issues occurred to me as I started up the blog — just as none of them occurred to me when I had students participate in any number of other web-based projects in the past. Are there other such ethical concerns that we ought to be thinking through about the relationship between blogging and the classroom?

*Via Languagehat, a defense of the singular “they.”


  1. Good questions. I thought about these privacy issues when I started my class this semester, but not particualrly in a legal context. These concerns may have also weighed on my initial “shock” at being discovered.

    I think the “pseudonym” is a reasonable solution for students who have privacy concerns. My assumption is that the public nature of blogs will automatically “filter” anything considered private anyway. I’m still learning this semester, but discussions like these seem pretty important.

  2. Various interpretations of that legislation might restrict online learning and distance education conducted through computer-mediated communication. Could provide add copy for vendors trying to sell courseware that offers shielded spaces. Would not apply to certain jurisdictions in the free world. Worth considering in an age of global competition and cooperation.

    Extramural relations seems to be a theme that is cropping up in other guises. Witness the recent plethora of entries and comments on students reading teachers’ blogs. I wonder what is feeding this theme of traversing/constructing public/private/semi-private space.

    Experiences of intrusive spam and telemarketers? A belief in the power of gatherings and guests?

    Pity if there is a chilling effect.

    Appropriate use of public space can be used to enhance the quality of education without jeopardizing student or teacher personal information. Beyond the timeline of any given course, life long learnng benefits from a cultivation of the social dimensions of knowledge construction and exchange. Private people with no public personna are less likely to tap into networks of support or provide support.

  3. Re They

    Casey Miller and Kate Swift in The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing: For Writers, Editors, and Speakers (1981) refer to 18th century usuage.

    Like a collective noun (e.g. the audience… they

    versus the audience… it), the use of the pronoun “they” to refer to a grammatically singular subject such as “the student” reveals the delicious plurality that composes our subjectivities. Wise educators keep in mind the many many connections that students bring to a pedagogical experience and do encourage what Carl Rogers calls “being in the learning event” with the whole person. A way of approaching the nexus of teaching and learning which, of course, leads us, individually and collectively, back to the theme of the social construction of the learning environment in terms of a series of public and semi-private spaces.



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