Monday, December 17, 2007

On posting quotes from student papers

Matthew, in the comments, asks a good question:
I was thinking about this lat night, and I guess my question is whether it is ethical to post quotations from student work online and anonymously. I see why it is done by yourself and others, but what of the legal implications? On the one hand, sharing student work with a name and with criticism could be considered harassment by some, but then again doing so without attribution could be considered copyright infringement (and not under fair use).

That is, of course, if you didn't receive permission to reprint the quotation. If you did, then my question is moot.
I was worried about this, too, because when I posted the students comments, I was stretching an existing policy. I believe teachers need to be able to share student work with each other to improve teaching quality. For that reason, I include the following notice in all my syllabi:
My Rights Regarding Your Written Work
For the sake of improving my teaching and the teaching of others, I reserve the right to save copies of your written work to use as examples for other classes or examples in scholarly articles about teaching philosophy. When your work is used as an example of student work, it will be printed anonymously. If your work contributes to the substance of something I write, I will cite your work following the usual academic conventions. I’ll also probably spend time thanking you and saying you are brilliant. If you do not wish me to keep copies of your work, you must give me a written and signed statement to that effect.
I'm not sure how many students read this note, or how many care. When I use examples of student work in class to teach students, I always use work from an entirely different institution, which avoids the main reason students would object to this sort of thing--that they would be embarrassed in front of their peers.

Well, use in a classroom or scholarly article is not quite the same as a lamenting post on a blog, and although I do use this forum to talk about teaching issues, I can see why a student might object. If anyone objects, I will certainly take it down. I kinda got drawn into this without thinking about it. My first remark was just in a comment thread at another blog, then I moved it here because I thought others might be interested, then I posted a clarification No one actually asked for the clarification, but I felt an instinctive need to represent what had happened accurately.


Matthew said...

Excellent reply. I should have realized that you had prepared for this, since you've been doing this for some time now. I'm trying to remember if that ever appeared on any of my syllabi (and as luck would have it, I brought my reasoning notes to ND and I'm back home in VT right now!).


Chris said...

Even with that disclaimer, FERPA might have something to say about posting quotes from students on your blog. It's pretty close to what FERPA considers to be an "educational record," and even though you quote it anonymously, there's still enough identifying information (just that they're in your class would be enough) that FERPA might apply. I'd talk to whoever is in charge of FERPA stuff at your institution about it, if you haven't already.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Yeah, FERPA's a bitch, and people at my new institution take it seriously. I'll redact.

Matt: I started inserting that language on my syllabi in the Fall of 2004, so it should be on some of your syllabi.

C.A. said...

Out of curiosity, how is an anonymous paragraph from a piece of student work "disclosure of an educational record?"

Am I right that this( the relevant regulation?

Even if it is true that "educational record" can be understood so broadly (and it is very hard to see that this would be the intent of the law from a cursory read of the code), has this law been applied in the past to restrict the ability of educators to share work like this?

Specifically, is there any case law that interprets "educational records" to include the minutiae of the class room?

I'm probably naive, but when I read that code, it looks like it is an attempt to prevent schools from sharing administrative records which should presumably be extended to classroom grades. But, after suitable anonymizing (listing grades with randomly assigned students i.d.'s or quoting student papers for "academic purposes" anonymously), it's hard to see how that should fall afoul of the relevant code. But, perhaps there's a set of legal precedents that I need to be aware of.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

On the interpretation of FERPA given by the lawyers on my campus, if a parent of a student comes to campus to pick up some of their graded work on a day they are sick, I am not allowed to give them that work unless I had advance written permission from the student.

I do not know the basis for this interpretation.

C.A. said...

I can see that a piece of graded work could fall under the scope of the educational record.

Don't see how a quotation from the work with identifiers removed would run afoul of FERPA. But, then I'm not a lawyer.

Really would like to know whether there have been cases based on these interpretations, though.