FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) is a federal law protecting the confidentiality of student records. It restricts others from accessing or discussing your educational records without your consent. In this section, we discuss why you have been asked to sign a waiver, which grants your consent to have your work shown online.
In a typical class, your homeworks (and other information delineating your academic performance) would not be visible to the public. Indeed, the FERPA law requires that you have the right to privacy in this regard. This is one of the main reasons for the existence of so many “walled gardens” for courseware, such as Autolab, Blackboard and Piazza, which keep all student work hidden behind passwords.
An essential component of the educational experience in new media arts, however, is learning how to participate in the “Grand Conversation” all around us, by becoming more effective culture operators. We cannot do this in the safe space of a Blackboard module. Our work is strengthened and sharpened in the forge of public scrutiny: in this case, the agora of the Internet.
Sometimes students are afraid to publish something because it is of poor quality. They think that they will receive embarrassing, negative critiques. In fact, negative critique is quite rare. The most common thing that happens when one creates an artwork of poor quality, is that it is simply ignored. Being ignored — this, not being shunned or derided — this is the fate of mediocre work.
On the other hand, if something is truly great is published — and great projects can happen, and have happened, even in an introductory class like this one — there is the chance that it may be circulated widely on the Internet. Every year that I have taught this course, a handful of the students’ projects get blogged and receive as many as 50000 views in a week. It cannot be emphasized that this is an absolutely transformative experience for students, that cannot be obtained without taking the risk to work publicly. Students get jobs and build careers on the basis of such success.
That said, there are also plenty of reasons why you may wish to work anonymously, when you work online. Perhaps you are concerned about stalkers or harassment. Perhaps you wish to address themes in your work which might not meet with the approval of your parents or future employers. These are valid considerations. On our course website, you will be identified by a public-facing username. For these reasons, you have been given the opportunity to select a blog username which can help protect your anonymity, if you care. If you desire this, it is usually enough just to use your first name, or your initials.
A survey form for the FERPA Waiver can be found below, or here.