Web 2.0 Tools in the Classroom: Embracing the Benefits While Understanding the Risks

Earlier this year a UCLA student made a video tirade against Asian students and posted it to YouTube. She quickly removed the hateful clip, but it was too late. The damage was done.

Although an extreme case, it’s a good example of how inappropriate behavior can not only spread rapidly far beyond one’s circle of friends, but can damage a reputation for years to come. Students don’t always thinking about this, nor are they aware that employers now regularly use Google and social networks to check out prospective employees.

“People have always been behaving badly, but the thing that’s different about behaving badly now is that it stays with you for years to come,” said Stephanie Delaney, J.D., Ph.D., director of eLearning for Cascade Community College.

In the recent online video seminar, Apps & Web 2.0: Legal Issues in Using the Internet in Class, Delaney outlined the proactive steps institutions and individual faculty members can take to ensure that in their enthusiasm to embrace Web 2.0 technologies and all of their benefits they don’t expose themselves to unanticipated legal problems.

Consider the following scenario. A professor wants his students to contribute to a public blog, both by making posts and responding to the posts of others. In order to do this, the blog requires the students to create an account, and the instructor says that students should register using their real names so that he can grade their work efficiently.

Does this create concerns about student privacy, particularly with regards to FERPA protections of educational records? According to Delaney, who says she takes a conservative stance to such matters, “Student posts and replies could be construed as student records, though opinions are split on this issue. Whether blog posts and similar web and app postings are educational records or not, prudent institutions should take steps to protect student privacy.”

Privacy issues are just one of the concerns Web 2.0 applications bring to the forefront. Another is document retention. If you’re using Twitter in the classroom, for example, and are grading students on the frequency and quality of their tweets, do you have a “paper trail” should a student challenge his or her grade? Delaney recommends a tool like TwapperKeeper for archiving tweets, or Backuptify for backing up a whole host of Web 2.0 applications, including Google apps, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Finally, many institutions are creating a formal social media policy which outlines the professional standards and expectations for faculty, staff and students who participate in social networking that’s associated with the institution. If your college or university doesn’t have a social media policy, now is the time to bring together all relevant stakeholders to develop one and then communicate it across campus, Delaney said.