Introduction

This document covers tools and areas in Blackboard which may expose information covered by FERPA and suggest ways in which faculty may remedy or minimize potential exposure of information protected by FERPA.


Information on FERPA as implemented at MU is available at The Office of the Registrar.


In addition to FERPA considerations, many of the items listed in the tables below may also be useful to instructors wishing to limit access to specific tools or content for other reasons. It is also worth noting that in some cases, in which courses touch on emotional or sensitive issues, students may feel more freedom to express themselves if they are assured that their opinions are protected from outside scrutiny. Many of the procedures described below are also applicable in such situations.


What is FERPA?


"The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law designed to protect the privacy of a student's education records. The law applies to all schools which receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education."


How does it apply to Blackboard?

  1. Under FERPA, it is not permissible to reveal the course or courses in which a student is enrolled (without prior written consent) to anyone except as defined in the University of Missouri's "Collected Rules and Regulations," 180.020 STUDENT RECORDS.
  2. Only "Directory Information" as defined by the University may be released regarding a student. (See Appendix for a list of what MU has defined as directory information.) Students may elect to have their directory information withheld.
  3. Since all computer files and computer generated information on a student maintained by the institution are considered educational records under the law, all data posted by or about a student in Blackboard is, at this time, considered an educational record covered by the act. (Also note that students retain copyright over materials that they post.)


Student's Rights


"The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law designed to protect the privacy of a student's education records. The law applies to all schools which receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education."


Because of the wording of the act, which originated in 1974 and did not envision the internet, all computer files and records in courses using Blackboard, or other online components are considered educational records protected by the act. Also, since FERPA does not allow disclosure of information as to whether a particular student is enrolled in a given course, faculty may not allow those without a legitimate education interest in a student access to any data in a course with an online component that contains personally identifiable information.


What this means in practice is that students have the right to expect that any material they submit in a course with an online component, as well as their names and other identifying information, will not be viewable by guests or other individuals permitted access to the course. The exception to this is cases in which students have given written, signed consent. (Verbal consent or email is insufficient.)


Additionally, students who have selected to have their directory information (information that the University can normally release) restricted may ask to their name withheld from other members of the course. Legally and ethically, such requests must be taken seriously and honored. (While some complain that registration forms make it too easy to restrict this information without understanding the implications, there are instances of MU students who have had their information restricted due to harassment and/or stalking - including online stalking.)


Making Accommodations


Most of the specific items in the sections that follow aim to restrict access to records by guests of various types. These guidelines are also useful in instances where students are being asked to discuss controversial topics or topics likely to involve strong emotion, by allowing the students to open up in small groups.


In some instances, where a student has asked to have his/her directory information restricted and requests that it be protected from other students in Blackboard courses, more drastic measures may need to be taken. One option is to suggest that these students enroll in alternative sections that do not use these technologies. Over time, however, this may become impossible. (Already, some departments have the great majority of their courses incorporating Blackboard.)


A second option is to create an alias for the student. Because so many students have multiple courses in Blackboard, and it is desirable that this be done in a consistent manner, we request that instructors and students contact the ET@MO. This not only ensures that the student is protected in the same manner across all courses (and across semesters), but also allows us to tailor things to best fit the situation (as well as keep adequate records).


(We hope this will not be a common occurrence, but recognize that such accommodations may be necessary to protect students from stalkers and other threats.)


Blackboard & FERPA


Tools in Blackboard that could release information covered by FERPA to persons not enrolled in the class (guests):


Blackboard Tool

Reasons

Remedies

Personal Information

Releases directory and other information to other users.

Users can choose which information to release and edit their own Personal Information to remove unwanted items - including changing their name.

At this time, MU only loads the minimum information required by Blackboard to create IDs plus student number.

Discussion Board

Reveals that a student is enrolled in the course.

Student postings and attachments are considered student records.

Use the "Block" button to prevent access to guests and other users who should not have access to forums.

If you wish to use this material for students in future semesters, obtain and retain a signed, paper, release. (Note that this should cover both release of a record under FERPA and rights to the material [copyright] on the part of the students.

Virtual Classroom

Reveals that a student is enrolled in the course.

Disable "Virtual Chatroom" in the "Area Availability Control Panel" under "Course Settings" - it will remain available to members of groups.

Virtual Classroom Archives

Reveals that a student is enrolled in the course.

Student comments in a chat log are considered student records.

Disable "View Archives" in the "Area Availability Control Panel" under "Course Settings" - it will remain available to members of groups.

Roster

Reveals that a student is enrolled in the course.

Do not use this tool unless absolutely necessary, as it provides a complete class roster. Disable "Roster" in the "Area Availability Control Panel" under "Course Settings" unless it is necessary to use this feature.

Group Pages

Reveals that a student is enrolled in the course.

Documents posted by students are considered student records.

Do not allow users outside of the group to access Group Pages unless this is necessary.

If you wish to use this material for students in future semesters, obtain and retain a signed, paper, release. (Note that this should cover both release of a record under FERPA and rights to the material [copyright] on the part of the students.

Student Homepage

Reveals that a student is enrolled in the course.

Documents posted by students are considered student records.

Disable "Student Homepage" in the "Area Availability Control Panel" under "Course Settings" unless it is necessary to use this feature. If you do wish to use Student Homepage we strongly advise against enabling the Roster. With Roster disabled, Student Homepages are only available through the Group Pages, which provide controlled access.

If you wish to use this material for students in future semesters, obtain and retain a signed, paper, release. (Note that this should cover both release of a record under FERPA and rights to the material [copyright] on the part of the students.)


Campus Contacts


Regarding FERPA

Regarding Blackboard

  • Brenda Selman, University Registrar- MU, 884-9153, selmanb@missouri.edu
  • Larry Linneman, Associate Registrar, 882-0114, linnemanl@missouri.edu
  • Kate Markie (or other attorneys at UM System Office), Office of General Counsel, 882-3211

blackboard@missouri.edu

Marla Germann, 882-1733

Gary Godsy, 882-1664

Guy Wilson, 882-4668


Appendix Directory and Other Information


Directory information may be released if the student has not restricted it. The University has defined the following items as Directory Information:


  • Name
  • Address
  • E-mail address
  • Telephone listing
  • Major field of study
  • Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • Dates of attendance
  • Degrees and awards received
  • The most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student
  • Student level
  • Full- or part-time status


The following information may NOT be released:

  • Social Security Number
  • Student Number
  • Race/Ethnicity/Nationality
  • Gender
  • Grades
  • Other "personally identifiable information" without signed, written consent or when covered by an exception. That is to say anything that would be easily traceable to the student or make him/her easily identifiable.