August 20, 2014

Before you set a hashtag for your course or have students blog, think FERPA

Posted by Laura Guertin

Are you going to require that your students post on a public blog this semester?  Will you be creating a Facebook page for your class and asking students to post on it?  Will you have students post selfies on Twitter with a course hashtag?  For those instructors that use social media with their students and courses, this could be the most important tweet you read all year:



Faculty know that the laws are clear when it comes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  Yet the law went in to effect in 1974, long before social media came on to the scene as a communication and collaboration tool between students and faculty.  The link in the tweet above to the EDUCAUSE Review article is incredibly helpful in going through some scenarios of what digital and social media communications would be considered allowed or in conflict with FERPA. For example, when it comes to Twitter, I can certainly create a hashtag for my course that students (or anyone else) can follow, but I should not require students to tweet with a hashtag that would identify them as a student enrolled in my course (if a student decides to on his/her own to tweet, that is his/her choice).  Here is a tweet with a great example of an instructor calling out to her students with a hashtag, but not asking the students to respond:  



If I have students create a podcast and place it on a public course website for anyone to hear, I am then “revealing” that a student is enrolled in my course that semester – and I have to be careful if I post a comment under that podcast and make sure I am not revealing something that might be indicative of a student’s grade for the podcast.  This all makes me even more thoughtful about how to approach effective uses of online technologies by myself and my students that is not in violation of FERPA – and it sends up a “red flag” when I see an article, such as the one by Jacquemin et al. (2014) that discusses using Twitter with students, and Dougherty & Andercheck (2014) who use Facebook to engage students – neither of which make one mention of FERPA.

In relation to FERPA compliance and social media, there are two things to always keep in mind:

  • When using Twitter, Facebook, or other social platforms, never reveal information about students that might indicate their grades, course enrollments, class schedules, and so on. Doing so could be noted as a FERPA violation if called out by the student.
  • We must realize what is and is not subject to “inspect and review” regarding our actions with others and students. Any document or communication (digital or not) that is considered an educational record for purposes of FERPA is subject to the “inspect and review” privilege by the student.

If you play by these rules, you should be safe and in compliance.

EDUCAUSE Review, Drake (2014)



Additional sources for exploration

Dougherty, K., & B. Andercheck (2014). Using Facebook to engage learners in a large introductory course. Teaching Sociology, 42(2): 95-104. (Abstract online)

Jacquemin, S.J., L.K. Smelser, & M.J. Bernot (2014). Twitter in the higher education classroom: a student and faculty assessment of use and perception. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(6): 22-27. (Article text online)

Joosten, T. (2012). Social Media for Educators: Strategies and Best Practices. USA: Jossey-Bass, 144 pp.

Knapp, W. (2014, January 27). Does social media belong in the classroom? [blog post] Available at:

Orlando, J. (2011, February 7). FERPA and Social Media. Faculty Focus. Article available at:

Wernz, J. (2013, February 20). Are emails, texts, tweets, and other digital communications student records under FERPA And state law? Education Law Insights. Article available at:

University of Oregon Libraries, For Instructors: Student Privacy and FERPA Compliance (including a consent form for students to sign for course blog participation)