Openness As Accessory

Reading and re-reading Jim Groom’s You Can’t Spell FERPA Without FEAR and Brian Lamb’s exquisite doom-mongering in Toward a theory of Disconnectivism, I can’t help but continue to obsess on the Georgia Tech FERPA fail.

I am not a lawyer, but locally (and elsewhere, it seems), destructive interpretations and applications of FERPA turn on whether and to what extent student work constitutes student record.  As such, the idea of the opt-out often enters the discussion.  Just give students the ability to opt-out of posting their work online, and all will be well.

Can a journalism student opt out of having her work published in this week’s newspaper, because readers will know (by the fact that her name appears next to the article) that she is enrolled in a journalism class?  What if, as is often the case, peer review and critique are parts of the process in a writing or art class?  Can students opt out, because they don’t want other students to read their writing or view their work?  Can students opt out of group work in any class, because their work will be exposed to other students?  Could this slippery slope lead to the demise of all performance-based classes?  Music?  Dance?  Public speaking?  All “performances” of any kind in any class or course of study?  Is this really the intent of FERPA?  More importantly, should this be how higher ed lawyers interpret and apply it?

Climbing up from the bottom of the slippery slope (for a slippery slope slips both ways) and getting back to the Georgia Tech example….

What if openness is the lesson?  What if porosity is not just a means to an end, but a critical component of the learning?  What if it IS the learning?  In my mind, the idea that one can simply retreat to the comfort and safety of the walled garden or the closed classroom trivializes the power and potential of using the open web in teaching and learning.  The implicit assumption here is that enabling students to connect or engage with the world outside the classroom, with students from another class or another semester, is just some sort of fun activity.  Doing old things in new ways.  Something that can be easily replaced by a safe, laywer-approved in-class or LMS-based equivalent, with none of the messy “reality” that seems to keep people awake at night.  As though the artifacts (student writing, images, audio, video – stories) and the process (social interactions, engagement with a broad array of thinkers inside and outside the class and institution, student reflection, comments) represent nothing more than window dressing, nice-to-haves but not necessities.  As though openness is just an accessory.

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