FERPA and OpenSim grids

posted in: education | 1

This post by my virtual world guru, Ener Hax, was too timely not to repost here:

i have written about FERPA a few times in the past, but always in relation to Second Life

FERPA is an American privacy act specific to K-12 and universities – the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. many countries have similar laws and some teachers and professors use Second Life despite violating FERPA, which the Second Life privacy policy allows. Linden Lab collects user account information (of course, or how could it have a log in service) and also “may collect and retain any other information relating to your account data or in-world activities including chat or IM logs, . . .”. that last bit is where FERPA can be violated

i know that's right! =p

it is against American law to disclose a student’s grade on an assignment or course through any means without the student’s written permission (or to disclose any personal information). FERPA is so tight that even a school within a university can not share student information with another school in that same university without the student’s written consent!

to go further, K-12 teachers and university professors can not share grades via email unless it is 100% secure. a teacher at My High School can never send an email regarding grades or personal student information to a student’s Gmail account

that’s what brings me to write this post – Google’s new privacy policy. Google offers their convenient enterprise solutions to educational institutions to use and include email, docs, video, blogs, and almost every Google offering (many schools do use these services)

under FERPA, a school can outsource email but only if the service provider is subject to the same terms that the school is. Google is not subject to FERPA and the burden is on the school and not on Google to be compliant with FERPA

this same compliance applies to virtual worlds. that’s why the safest way to implement OpenSim is on your own institution’s firewalled servers or possibly via sim-on-a-stick (which is ideal since it is a closed individual system – dang, i need to start selling sim-on-a-stick and buy that south pacific island!) =)

this doesn’t mean that educators and students can’t use Kitely, In-Worldz, or 3rd Rock; it just means they need to not talk about grades while in-world