Barclay Barrios

FERPA-fy Me

Blog Post created by Barclay Barrios Expert on Aug 1, 2018

I never cease to be amazed by the number of my colleagues who exhibit little to no awareness of FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), which is the educational equivalent of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Both pieces of federal legislation mandate absolute privacy when it comes to information, whether pertaining to health (HIPAA) or, more relevantly, student grades (FERPA). It wasn’t all that long ago that I could walk through the halls of our department and see boxes of graded student papers outside the doors of my colleagues’ offices (yikes!).

 

I understand FERPA, and I celebrate it. I also detest it. The problem is that I grade student work electronically using my word processor’s Track Changes and Comment features—good for the environment (well, good for trees anyway) and good for my sanity and health (for me, typing doesn’t produce the kind of repetitive stress that writing does). Actually, electronic grading isn’t the problem. Returning electronically graded student work is.

 

“FERPA-ly” speaking, e-mail is not a secure medium; someone could intercept the e-mail or a roommate could see it on the student’s computer, revealing the grade and breaking the law. So, returning graded student work by -email is technically illegal (well…let me say “non-FERPA compliant,” instead).

 

Blackboard and other course management systems are okay (or FERPA-compliant, if you will) since they are considered “secure” environments. But Blackboard is a royal pain in the ass and always seems to be, technologically speaking, about five years behind the curve. To return one student paper through Blackboard can take me as many as five mouse clicks. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but add in Blackboard’s slow response time and suddenly returning student work takes almost as long as grading it (not really, but that’s how it feels).

 

I’ve tried using Dropbox, but that involves getting each student to download and install Dropbox and then create and share folders. Besides, when I did try it I discovered it’s eerily pan-panoptic. I get a little pop-up whenever the student puts anything in the folder; they get one when I do the same. It’s like we’re always watching each other or, what’s worse, always acting as though we’re being watched.

 

Of course, I could print the papers but that defeats much of the purpose of electronic grading.

What to do?

 

Dream. In my dream, there is what I call the “FERPA-fied student locker.” The interface is simple: Dropbox simple. Each student signs up for an account in the locker with a code to add them to my class. When I sign in I see this:

 

To return work, I just drag and drop the graded file into the appropriate folder, where it is encrypted and stored in the student’s online locker. That’s what Web 2.0 is, folks—not just leveraging the “wisdom of crowds” through crowdsourcing but also Web applications that feel like a desktop environment. Drag and drop, drag and drop.  Let me say it one more time because I love and want it and need it—drag and drop.

 

That’s all I want. No discussion boards. No online peer revision. No electronic grading. No assessment tools. And no, not that other thing either. Just this.

 

Does the FERPA-fied student locker exist? No. Can it? Yes. “We have the technology. We can make [it] better than [it] was. Better…stronger…faster” (and I’m fairly certain it won’t cost six million dollars).

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