Georgia Tech shuts down public wikis over FERPA concerns

Credit: Bart Everson on Flickr

An interesting and disturbing decision was made by officials at Georgia Tech. They have decided to take down all student content from a GT-hosted wiki platform called Swiki after declaring that information disclosed on the openly available wiki infringed the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). That wiki initiative was one of the first ever, period. It started in 1997. As explained in a blog post by Mark Guzdial, professor in the School of Interactive Computing:

Georgia Tech’s interpretation of FERPA is that protected information includes the fact that a student is enrolled at all.  The folks at GT responsible for oversight of FERPA realized that a student’s name in a website that references a course is evidence of enrollment.  Yesterday, in one stroke, every Swiki ever used for a course was removed.  None of those uses I described can continue.  For example, you can’t have cross-semester discussions or public galleries, because students in one semester of a course can’t know the identities of other students who had taken the course previously.

Comments to the post show a lot of support and concern over this interpretation of FERPA, and many fear that it will spread to other institutions and shut down their own initiatives.  Tom Hoffman’s comment states that “this sort of interpretation of FERPA is more common in K-12.”

Do you think GT’s reaction is appropriate? Is this the beginning of the end for educational practices where students post their work publicly, or are there ways you can think of that would be still be acceptable under GT’s conditions?

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3 thoughts on “Georgia Tech shuts down public wikis over FERPA concerns

  1. The idea of student privacy and course content with regard to open wikis/blogs has been of interest to me. With regard to recent events, protecting students is of major concern and rightly so. On the other hand, the public voice of wikis, etc., is a way to increase a student’s personal accountability to the content, increase social connectedness on an academic level and also allows others in the world, professional/experts in the field, perhaps, to comment/access their information. This is a toughie. Do we have a UD policy concerning a faculty member’s use of public online tools for student participation and content? …although most college students are 18+.

    • On their site, the Office of the registrar has no mention of academic work or enrollment information when it comes to FERPA.

      http://www.udel.edu/registrar/ferpa.html#FERPADesc

      The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 grants to students certain rights, privileges, and protections relative to individually identifiable student educational records which are maintained by the University. Specifically:

      1. Students’ educational records (with the exception of directory information) will be released to third parties outside the University only with the written consent of the student. The University reserves the right to release education records to appropriate parties in a health or safety emergency or when the student’s well being is of concern.
      2. Students have the right to inspect their own individually identifiable educational records. The right may be exercised by completing a request form at the service desk of the University Visitors Center.
      3. Students have the right to challenge information contained in individually identifiable educational records. The procedure is described in the policy statement referred to below.
      4. A copy of the policy describing the University’s regulations implementing this act may be obtained at the University Visitors Center.

      So, “a copy of the policy describing the University’s regulations implementing this act may be obtained at the University Visitors Center.”… I’ll send an email to the registrar’s office to see what they have.

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