Blog Post

Privacy and Social Pedagogy

One of the really exciting things about HASTAC is learning about all the different ways that HASTAC members are using social media and other Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. Just here at Vanderbilt, my fellow HASTAC Scholars are using Twitter to teach German (Vivian French, here), taking up the challenge of integrating Google Translate into a foreign language classroom, (Steven Wenz, here), and using Google Forms for student assignments (Dani Picard, here). I’m currently part of a seminar on digital text editing and analysis, and one of the tools that we’re exploring is Github, a social network for coders that is useful for work with digital texts but might also hold promise for a host of other kinds of digital humanities work, as well. (More on that in another post).

I am interested, though, in how those of you who are using such online social pedagogies have addressed questions of student privacy. The obvious reference point here (at least for those of us teaching and studying in the U.S.A.) is FERPA, a federal law that safeguards the privacy of student records. There is some disagreement, though, about just how FERPA impacts the use of social media in teaching, as well as a whole lot of confusion and fear. Even if we were to set aside concerns about FERPA, a number of other privacy concerns remain. Students may be asked to do their learning in public in a way that permanently preserves moments they might prefer were not preserved for personal and professional reasons; failing may be part of learning, but should that failure be permanently recorded online? Having students put their work online also raises a series of questions about student ownership of intellectual property as well as student records. And of course there will be some students, hopefully rare, for whom a public presence online could be a genuine safety concern. All of these risks can be addressed, and there are very good reasons for having students engage in social pedagogies and "go public" with their work. But that does not negate the real risks involved.

My question is, what kind of attention have you given to privacy concerns in your courses? What role did such concerns play in choosing assignments? Did they change how you structured the assignment? Are these issues that you discuss in the classroom (both teachers and students)? How? And is this even a topic of discussion among your colleagues, your department, or your institution?





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