FERPA for virtual classrooms W&L FERPA and Privacy Reminders for Transitioning Your Course to Virtual Learning

It is important to keep in mind that the university maintains our communication policy and the expectation is that when using email, we are only communicating with students through their wlu.edu email address rather than through another personal email. This email is protected by FERPA and helps us verify the student's identity. It is imperative that we are using the student's university account when having conversations surrounding not just registration related items but also when engaging in any discussion about their educational record, including their learning through virtual means. Additionally, faculty and staff should only be using their W&L email accounts when working with students.

Education Record Clarification
We are all making the best of an unprecedented situation and it is helpful to remember what constitutes an education record. Education records are those that are directly related to the student and that are maintained by the institution. Everything in Colleague, Sakai, Canvas, assignments, grades and any communication to the student, is a part of the student's education record. If you are conducting a class synchronously and making a recording of the class, that becomes a part of the student's education record. Any information that is Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is protected by FERPA. See our complete FERPA policy for more information.

What Needs to be Documented and Maintained (this is true in any teaching/learning environment)

  • Advising records
    • We strongly recommended that you store all of your advising notes. If your advising session is conducted via email or some other electronic mode, it is considered a part of the education record and needs to be saved.
    • If a student is requesting a course withdrawal or change in grading status via email, please have them contact the University Registrar's office who will help them with a whatever processes are developed for documentation.
  • Academic records
    • Grades or score
    • Discussions, chats, blogs and all assignments in Canvas or Sakai
    • Exams, tests, quizzes in Canvas or Sakai
    • Email communications to and from students
    • Any other course materials that will be used for grade assessment/evaluation that are kept in other places or in various modes
  • Declaration or change of major or minor
  • Course substitution permission by a department or program head

Communication of Grades
As we move ahead in the virtual environment, we encourage you to use Canvas or Sakai for posting and communicating grading information to students. This is the platform that the university is prepared to support for your grading needs. While FERPA does not explicitly prohibit the emailing of grades, it is less secure. Because Canvas or Sakai may not work for every faculty member under the current circumstances, we want to discourage emailing grades but understand that flexibility in this area is needed. If you must use email to communicate grades, here are some hints:

  • Do not provide grading information to groups of students, unless a grade for a group project or assignment is appropriate.
  • If you are emailing attachments, double-check you are including ONLY documents that contain information for the student with whom you are communicating.
  • If you do accidentally release PII to a third party (sharing a grade with others), please inform Jennifer Kirkland, General Counsel, or Scott Dittman, in his role as chair of the Information Security Program Committee.

As always, final grades will need to be entered into Self-Service at the conclusion of the terms.

Recordings, Video and Online Presence
Any virtual learning environment should be treated just as a face-to-face instruction would be handled. Students are expected to actively "participate" as outlined by the syllabus and students cannot expect anonymity through distance instruction. Faculty are encouraged to record sessions and make them available to students in their class at a later time. Faculty who do record, however, are encouraged to inform students at the start of any session that it is being recorded. If a student raises a concern, consider whether it is possible to address their concerns. If possible, for instance, turn off the recording function if a student has expressed a desire not to be recorded. With some exceptions for public presentations or engagement, whenever possible, access to the recordings should be limited to those enrolled in the section.

This is not an exhaustive list of privacy issues and concerns you may have, but is an example of the kinds of records we need to maintain. Most of the time, this information is forwarded to the University Registrar's Office and we ensure that it is maintained on the student's record.

Below is the suggested language that you might include in your syllabus or other communication with students, tweaked as appropriate for your courses:

FERPA, Privacy and Distance Learning Syllabus Statement
In a virtual learning environment, the federal law (FERPA) continues to remain in effect, but students should think about their role in supporting the privacy of fellow students. As this course transitions to increased remote interactions, be cognizant that shared pictures, written assignments, videos, emails, blog posts, discussion boards, etc. remain part of the content of the course, just as it would if it were shared in the face-to-face classroom setting. While the privacy of those posts cannot be guaranteed, the expectation is that each member of the class treat those materials with care and not reshare or post beyond this course.

prepared from various sources by Scott Dittman, University Registrar
reviewed by General Counsel, Provost, and academic deans
March 31, 2020