blogging, privacy, and teaching

Eszter has a piece up at CT on complying with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) with regards to blogging. Since I’m TA-ing the undergrad communications course next semester, students will no doubt find my homepage or google me and find this blog. The question is: to what extent can I blog about the class and my experience within it without violating FERPA? I don’t have the layered privacy features of livejournal, so I can’t hide my comments about quiz design, etc. behind a password-protected wall.

One of my friends told me he blogs anonymously to avoid these issues, but I’m not sure that lets you off the hook, since your identity could always be found out.

I’m left with the prospect of keeping entirely mum about teaching, which is less than pleasing to me. Though I’m sure generalities about the students are fine (“those Berkeley undergrads sure are smart, they catch me screwing up all the time”), complaints are probably bad (“sometimes office hours are really annoying, especially when it’s clear people haven’t been going to lecture”), and naturally warnings are right out (“this exam is going to be a killer”). What is one to do?

Clearly I must err on the side of caution, if anything. I doubt more than a few students will be bored enough to cruise over to this blog. Perhaps I should make use of it to provide course content, like Brad DeLong does. But engineering is not suited to the blogosphere methinks. I guess I’ll just have to play it by ear. A very careful ear.

0 thoughts on “blogging, privacy, and teaching

  1. I don’t see anything wrong with blogging about the generalities of TAing, including complaints on office hours. If I thought it was within the scope of my own blog (and I don’t), there probably would have been an entry long ago that complained about how obnoxious it is that I have to host office hours when no one shows up. In fact, I probably would have written it during said office hours. But I’d avoid things that refer to specific students, like “Boy, there’s this one student who just doesn’t get it. I’m sure he’s going to fail.”

    My rule of thumb is generally, Would I be embarrassed or concerned to see this in the New York Times with my byline? (Ignoring the fact that I might be concerned that Times would lower its standards to print such tripe.) The same probably applies here, only change the New York Times to “Course Handout.”

  2. I think things really get tricky when you think about how public you blog is (i.e. what level of publicness). For example, if it easily comes up on a google search under your name, is your blog a more ‘valid’ publication (therefore subject to the same scruntiny as say, the NYTimes) than some other blog that can’t be found under a name search but is linked to other blogs in a way that makes it obvious whose it is?

    I think it’s a really interesting topic to consider, in that this layered anonymity (or not) complicates the issues of levels of responsibility, etc.

    Our universe is growing faster than our rules can support, and in a way, this whole issue reminds me of the whole music downloading issue, in that high school kids who are handy with the computer can suddenly be entangled into these complex legal issues that they are not yet equipped to handle.

  3. damn, i hate the internet.

    i just wrote a long comment and pressed POST and the whole thing disappeared.

    so now here is a comment on hating blogs and computers more than privacy and blogging.

    argh. maybe if i can actually remember what I wrote than I will post it again.

  4. I just figured out how to turn off the forced moderation feature for commenting. Hooray! That’s why you were having problems, Deb.

    Also, Deb wins the parity-in-commenting prize — this blog now has 360 comments and 360 posts, and she was the one who made it so.

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