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Recording, Sharing Lessons Spur Debate on How to Record Right

By Samantha Cleaver

Second of a series.

School districts across the country have spent the summer hedging bets on how the 2020-21 year would begin amid COVID-19.

Now, as students fill backpacks to return to school in-person or online, Digital Privacy News is examining how this year will impact students’ and teachers’ privacy.

“We are behind the eight-ball,” said Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. “These are conversations we should have been facilitating in May and June.”

Today’s report discusses the privacy dilemmas involved in recording and sharing student lessons.

Monica Herman (name has been changed) teaches fourth grade in New Jersey. She is teaching completely online this fall.

In previous years, Herman used Screencastify to record lessons of her voice alongside a text or slide deck. Then, she posted the videos in Google Classroom to share with students.

However, thinking toward this year, Herman questioned the privacy implications of streaming live lessons from her classroom.

“Teachers deserve privacy too,” she told Digital Privacy News. “Teachers spend their whole day on display in the classroom.

“The extra layer of being on display for literally anyone is just too much.” 

“Parents have a reasonable ask that they be given transparency in what’s happening.”

Rick Hess, American Enterprise Institute.

Herman is not alone. This fall, more than 50% of students across the country will be learning online because of COVID-19.

In California, the district proposed that teachers record lessons to share with families. The teachers union pushed back, citing concerns about privacy for teachers, students and families.

The California Teachers Union did not return requests for comment.

‘A Reasonable Ask’

The possibility of recording lessons for more than immediate classroom use raises just one of many privacy issues unique to the 2020-21 back-to-school season.

In particular, when and how videos should be shared with parents, who likely will be more involved?

“Parents have a reasonable ask that they be given transparency in what’s happening,” said Rick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, and “to see assignments and instruction.”

Federal privacy laws provide some guidance for what can be created and shared without violating student privacy — and teachers can set parameters for what is reasonable for their own privacy during the year as lessons are captured on camera.

What Does FERPA Say?

The federal privacy law that addresses teacher videos and student privacy is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The law was written in 1974, said Anisha Reddy, policy council with the Future of Privacy Forum in Washington, “so it doesn’t directly touch on how teachers can permissibly record online classrooms.”

Federal laws, written in 1974, don’t “directly touch on how teachers can permissibly record online classrooms.”

Anisha Reddy, Future of Privacy Forum.

While FERPA does not dictate which technology teachers should use, it does say that you have to protect the privacy of any educational records that are created, said LeRoy Rooker, senior fellow with the American Associate of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), also in Washington.

In order for the information on a video to be an education record, “it has to be personally identifiable,” Rooker told Digital Privacy News.

A teacher recording an in-person lesson, when students are not identified, is not a problem. Calling on students during the lesson also is not a problem.

However, if a teacher focuses on a student or gives out personal information during a lesson, that is a problem.

“If they say ‘Billy,’ and don’t focus on Billy, that’s not a problem,” Rooker said. “But if they focus on Billy, then you can have an issue.” 

Online Lessons and Privacy 

Recording lessons via Zoom, or another online platform, may also create an educational record.

On Zoom, for instance, “if you capture students’ images and names,” said Rooker, “then you can’t share that, because you’ve created an education record of students who are captured on that video.”

“If they say ‘Billy,’ and don’t focus on Billy, that’s not a problem. But if they focus on Billy, then you can have an issue.”

LeRoy Rooker, AACRAO.

Teaching online, Michael Barbour, associate professor of instructional design in the college of education at Touro University in Vallejo, Calif., worried that students would record and share lessons.

Students could use screen-capture programs or their phones to catch Zoom lessons without anyone knowing, he said.

“You’d only know that we haven’t turned on the actual Zoom recording,” Barbour told Digital Privacy News.

Teachers can make Zoom or online lessons FERPA-compliant for recording by editing a lesson to block names or images. Or, if the school has the paid version of Zoom, instructors can set the recording to only capture the presenter and host.

Both methods remove personally identifiable information.

Considering Teacher Privacy

Recording videos this year should be about finding a balance.

This year, said AEI’s Hess, “privacy is not about having total freedom, but having reasonable expectations.”

In a year where many parents will be supervising instruction from home, “teachers should have protection from someone taking a slip of the tongue and putting it out there,” he added.

That comes from drawing boundaries.

“The line here ought to be is there a good reason why parents want to see this?” Hess said.

If the reason for sharing a video is a good one, he observed, then it’s fair for parents to want to see what teachers are doing.

Removing student information from videos, however, does not solve the privacy concerns for teachers.

“You’d only know that we haven’t turned on the actual Zoom recording.”

Michael Barbour, Touro University.

“Even if it is only a live stream and not recorded,” Herman, the New Jersey teacher, told Digital Privacy News, “there is no way to prevent someone watching the feed from recording it — and, even scarier, no way to know if they did.”

Thursday: Lessons Learned From Online Learning.

Samantha Cleaver is an education writer in Charlotte, N.C.

Doing Recordings Right

Teachers have been recording lessons since before the pandemic.

Here are some best practices to help maintain privacy:

  • Set privacy settings as tightly as possible. Depending on the version of a program that you have, you may be able to record just the presenter and host, limiting the amount of student information that is captured.
  • Use the school’s learning-management system to share files and limit the ability to download and share links.
  • Consider how long videos are stored online. Do students need a video after a class has ended?
  • A media waiver likely will not cover the recording and sharing of lessons, unless it has explicit language defining with whom videos can be shared and how.

Samantha Cleaver

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