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Beyond Compliance: Students and FERPA in the Age of Big Data

Cecelia Parks


Privacy is governed by an array of laws in the United States, and this paper examines one facet of privacy regulation: the privacy of students’ academic records. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of these records, but how do students understand their rights under FERPA, especially with the development of big-data and learning-analytics technologies that demand unprecedented sharing of student data? This paper begins to answer that question by examining existing literature on privacy in general and with regards to FERPA specifically. It suggests that FERPA places most of the power in controlling student data in the hands of educational institutions but is ultimately unable to address many legal and ethical concerns around current uses of student data. FERPA’s ineffectiveness makes it imperative that students understand their rights and are able to protect their own privacy, yet many students are probably not fully aware of their rights and privileges under FERPA. However, further empirical research is needed to explore exactly how students understand their FERPA rights and the implications of student perceptions of academic privacy.

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