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College Readiness and Completion: My Perspective

I made this presentation auditioning for TEDxSFED.  Hope you like it.

FERPA, Facebook and The Social Web

As some of you know, I’ve been posting at Michael Feldstein’s blog about our limited beta release this Fall.  The overwhelming sentiment is “This is exciting, but what about FERPA!”

The immediate reaction to the thought of activating a campus-wide Facebook application can make any decision-maker nervous.  Information is shared all over Facebook, and a campus’ interest to keep student data private and secure is not only an obligation but is also upheld by the law.

First, a basic understanding of Facebook Platform is necessary.  Facebook presents applications through a frame and never has the opportunity to cache nor store any data presented within an application.  As of the new redesign pushed by Facebook in July 2008, users have direct control over the “stories” that are generated by applications.  Users also have control of what Facebook users can see what kinds of data, and can even directly block individual users that may find a nuisance.

We store our data with an infrastructure company on the cutting edge of data storage and security.  We can, if requested, create a local installation on a local server behind campus security systems.  However, we’d like our customers to note that innovative hosting companies have extensive expertise regarding large scale, secure hosting with nearly 100% up-time.  Having that kind of performance locally is nearly impossible.

At Inigral, we’ve worked with our pilot school and our lawyers to assure that all features of our application are FERPA compliant and uphold the strongest standards of security and privacy.  I don’t want to go into the exact feature set that makes it such a comfortable thing for institutional adoption, but it is proof that venturing into the wide world of the Social Web is highly possible with a little care.

However, the institution is not completely hands-off in this regard.  At most campuses, the administration will have already asked the student to sign an agreement to share data with third parties acting in concert with the mission of the institution.  With near certainty, we will be covered under such agreement.  If the institution does not have such broad language in place but has policies that treat enrollment data as “directory information,” we will be covered so long as students are notified and allowed to “opt-out.”  If enrollment data is not treated as “directory information,” the students should be asked for their consent by an “opt-in” email.

FERPA is in place to make sure that institutions are careful with and respectful of a students right to privacy, but it was not intended to hold back education in the 1990s before there were things like APIs and the Social Web.  No school has ever lost Federal funds because of FERPA, which is the only punishment that can occur for being in violation (besides being tied up in a lawsuit).  Privacy, Security, and personal Control over information is more than a valid concern, but lets not let it be a brick wall of anxiety in the face of the march towards user-friendly, interoperable, and multitudious educational solutions!

How do we get to the Learner as Customer?

Jon Mott hit a chord here with his post on the institution as customer rather than the learner as customer.

As I posted here on Michael Feldstein’s blog, I think that ultimately there needs to be a change in the way schools (Higer Ed and K-12) purchase technology for their communities in order to liberate the marketplace to build solutions that satisfy the end-user (instructor or learner).

The Web 2.0 marketplace is filled with great solutions that generally focus on one feature or at least one concept.  Flickr does photos.  YouTube does videos.  Delicious does bookmarks.  WordPress does blogs.  Disqus does comments.  Digg does news aggregation.  Wikispaces does wikis.  Second Life provides 3D worlds.  Facebook does sharing with friends.  What this produces (besides too many logins) is an environment where teams of people are pursuing excellence at one element of information production and sharing.  The overall effect is that in the last 3 to 4 years the web has gone from a place where companies put up their marketing/info websites and you can buy stuff on ebay, to a place where people are participants in the largest groundswell of information production in human history.

In order to liberate this kind of marketplace for the academic environment, individuals must be encouraged to use products that work for them.  The idea that the school can purchase one single solution and force everyone to use it needs to go the way of the dodo.  We need to move the mentality of decision makers from “What are the consequences of forcing everyone to use this?” to “How can we provide more opportunities for our teachers and learners to find solutions that work for them?”

How do we turn the learner into the customer?  Any comments, suggestions?