Blog Post

Easy Ways You and Your Students Can Use the HASTAC Scholars Forums in Classes

My graduate class, "American Literature, American Learning," has been responding this week to the provocative HASTAC Scholars Discussion Group on "Open Scholarship for Social Justice": what a terrific opportunity it's been!  Anyone can join this conversation today.  Thank you to the HASTAC Scholars for leading this.  It's so easy and so fruitful to everyone. 

So . . . I'm wondering why other profs aren't doing this? 

Of course, at some universities FERPA regulations are enforced in such a way that makes public writing assignments difficult, tricky or even against the institutional rules.  So one must check that out first . . .   In the comments section below, I've included some links and discussion to provide some guidance about this issue. 

But given the advantages of being part of a student-led conversation and a student-led community, where commentators and participants must register, there are so many possibilities for positive results and for learning responsible ways to be present in the digital world.

For that matter, even going over FERPA rules with students is part of digital literacy, as is the idea that future employers do  Google you--we know that--and it is better to have respectable, responsible, literate, sophisticated writing on an educational network represent you in your present sophisticated student life than emoticons or adolescent indiscretions . . .    

If your students participate, they will be jumping into a national conversation, learn how to write in public, learn the basics of digital literacy, learn another online tool--and it's free, safe, no creepy commercial site is using your private data:  all that!  And the prof really doesn't have to do a thing.  

What's preventing this? Fear?  Inexperience?   It's such a great way for graduate and undergraduate students across the country to jump right into a conversation that is vital to their future. 

Unlike commercial vendors, HASTAC is open source.  it's an open user network and community.  HASTAC does not use or misuse anyone's personal data.   Also, because anyone who wants to write a blog, a post, or a comment signs in, the community is remarkably respectful.  Trolls are at a minimum.  The conversation is serious, engaged, meaningful.

In short, it is a great way for your students to learn to write in public, to be invested in their own ideas, to engage with other students, to become part of a student community and contribute to it, and to learn the basics of digital literacy.  Open source.  Free.  

I wish more classes used these forums as an opportunity to engage in dialogue around the serious issues that face higher education today.  I personally don't believe any writing should ever occur in the vacuum of student::teacher.  There should always be a larger public and a purpose.  So I have stopped requiring term papers that only I read.  Instead, I encourage my students to be part of the national conversation on issues of higher education that are key to their lives.

HASTAC is the world's first and oldest academic social network--we were around before MySpace, Facebook, or the oldest science social network, NanoHub.   14,000 members, committed to changing the way we teach and learn.   And often with students leading the way.


We hope you join us!  Here's the link to the current Forum and there are new ones every month plus a world of other possibilities all over HASTAC.  It is an open community--we hope you'll use it in the best ways for you and your students. 

Here's that link again for the open scholarship and social justice Forum:

And if anyone has any suggestions about how to use HASTAC in classes or cautions about FERPA or other regulations at their institutions, we hope you will use the Comments below to let us know. 




Thank you, Cathy. What you suggest here is the exact kind of thing that the HASTAC site has as its foundation. It's want we love, want more of, and need - both functionally, as a site, and as a community of people with shared interests. I think that perhaps it's uncommon enough for a "serious" site to offer and encourage this kind of freedom of use that I'm asked (as webmaster) "Am I allowed to...?" more often than you'd think. The answer is, of course, a resounding "Yes, please!"

We want you to post, comment, join groups, share ideas and opportunities, form relationships. This is what keeps HASTAC alive and strong as a site and as a community. It's what we're built to do. I encourage everyone to jump in with both feet, and of course, message me or send a help request if you need any assistance!


In creating installations that allowed student comments and public comments--both HASTAC and the C-Box installation of Academic Commons for undergraduate and graduate student postings--we asked various authorities about FERPA regulation. There are variations and you should check with your local institution about any local rules.

However, what we learned through our own research--and we are not lawyers--is that FERPA applies primarily to students' records and isn't meant to apply to this kind of writing assignment that is public from the beginning. You're not releasing something that students thought would remain private, like a regular term paper. Dissertations are made publicly available, so public release of student work has precedent.

Consent is the main issue; students must consent to the release of information. Posting pseudonomously should be adequate coverage to avoid the issue. If you wanted to err on the side of caution, you could give students the option to submit a private assignment instead—but I don't actually think that this is a strong cause for concern, especially at the graduate level.

Here's language from the Department of Education:

There is very useful language from Duke University that HASTAC has made use of in setting up its open public website:

And here are some additional HASTAC notes on FERPA:

Another source supports this: "My general understanding at that time (supported by subsequent writings by Kevin Smith and others) suggested that I may require students to post their writing in public as a course assignment (especially if my syllabus clearly states this in advance), but I may not require students to attach their names." (