How to Make Your Writing Pedagogy in Line with FERPA Law

Since the ways we teach writing especially nowadays may inherently involve digital literacies and public-facing writing media, we’d like you to be cognizant of ensuring your classroom practices comply with the FERPA law. Here are some things to keep in mind for assignment design and assessment, and some resources for more info.


FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974) says that educational records (which include not only students’ grades, but also records that identify students’ course numbers/titles/times/instructors) cannot be revealed to a third party without the written consent of the students. Because UW cannot guarantee the security of internet-based resources outside the UW NetID, keeping student records anywhere else is a risk (and UW can’t help us legally if there’s a data breach outside their NetID protection).

Just for the sake of clarification, we should NOT:

  • post student grades in public or leave boxes out for student paper drop-off or pick-up;
  • discuss student grades over email except Canvas messaging;
  • store electronic copies of student papers or grades in your personal Google Drive, Dropbox or other cloud service.

Check out here for a detailed overview of FERPA from the UW registrar office.

When you use course assignments that ask students to use non-UW protected, publicly available digital tools or media, it’s important to do the following:

  1. Obtain students’ written consent whenever you ask them to use a non-UW-protected digital tool (I’ve included a sample consent form below). Note that if students create anonymous user names, you do not have to get their written consent, but you do need to be prepared to provide an alternative for students who have legitimate concerns about putting their work online.
  2. Give students a viable alternative to using the non-UW-protected digital tool: they should not be penalized in any way for not using the non-UW-protected tool.

Taking these simple steps allows you to safely and conscientiously use great digital tools and resources in your class. Please view here for details on EWP instructor policies regarding using UW-sponsored software, publicly available open software, and public writing for the context of service learning composition such as ENGL 121. Go to section 15: use of blogs and other forms of public writing in teaching.

If you’re using a non-UW protected digital tool for a course assignment, or if your course theme is about public writing, we recommend that you include a “public writing and student privacy policy” clause in your assignment prompt or course syllabus. Here’s a sample you can use:

This assignment/course may involve using a non-UW-protected digital tool or writing on the public web. In accordance with the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), it is your right as a student to sign ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the consent form regarding your privacy and making your writing potentially publicly accessible. If you don’t give consent or want to make your writing private or restricted-access such as password protection or giving access only to our class members, I will work with you to implement these accommodations which will have no effect on your assignment/course grade.

And here’s an example consent form (credits to Ann Shivers-McNair, a former CIC AD) for using a non-UW protected peer-review program that informs students of their rights, the security specifications of the platform, and their right to opt out:

All the work you do in this course, including your peer review work, is your property, and you have legal control over who has access to it.  Eli Review is a platform for conducting peer review and revisions on your projects in this class; it is password protected, and peer review projects will be restricted to members of our class.  Your work will be stored in a secure database accessible only to Eli developers for the purposes of site-wide, de-identified statistics or system diagnostics. Your name will be attached to the work stored in the program database, because you will create a profile in the system in order for the system to generate the individual reports you will see after you complete a peer review task.  You do retain legal rights to your work.

By agreeing to use Eli Review in this class, you are consenting to allowing your work to be non-anonymously stored on the Eli database.  If you are not comfortable with this, you can use Canvas for peer review instead, and you will not be penalized in any way.

I hereby DO/DO NOT consent to use Eli Review for course-related review and revision work in ENGL 131 during Spring 2014 quarter.

I understand that consenting or not consenting to use Eli Review will not affect my grade in the course.

Let’s say, you create a class blog or a collaborative website where students write for and interact with the public in some ways, you may be able to use a Creative Commons license with the consent of the students, specifically a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. This blog post by Jack Dougherty, an associate professor of educational studies at Trinity College, includes a sample clause you can adapt and explains how he asks students to do public writing without violating the FERPA.

Also, when you add guest teachers, librarians, or observers to your Canvas course, it’s important to give appropriate access level that stays safe within FERPA. Please refer to this cheat sheet from UW Tacoma’s FERPA & Canvas guidelines page:

table of canvas roles

If you’d like to learn more about FERPA in general, there’s an online UW FERPA Training that you can complete in 15-20 minutes to help you equip with recommendations and a reference guide.

And as always, feel free to send us any specific questions to Sumyat or Kimberlee.

Works Consulted:

EWP Instructor Policies

Jack Dougherty, “Public Writing and Student Privacy,” in Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning, ed. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell (University of Michigan Press/Trinity College ePress edition, 2014),

Digital Teaching Tools

Earlier this summer, the CIC staff (Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges, Jacki Fiscus, and Ann Shivers-McNair) attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria, B.C. (thanks to the UW Simpson Center for sponsoring us!). We came back with lots of ideas and resources that we’re excited to share with you, including a bevy of digital teaching tools for you to consider as the summer winds down and we’re turning our thoughts to the fall. They’re categorized by what you could do with them, but many of these tools exceed their categories, so we encourage you to explore and invent new possibilities (and then share them with us!).

Digital Publishing: Curation and Storytelling

A screenshot from the Scalar trailer video that demonstrates non-linear composing process.

A demonstration of Scalar’s non-linear composing capabilities.

  • Scalar – Beloved of the digital humanities, Scalar is “a free, open source authoring and publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online. Scalar enables users to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with their own writing in a variety of ways, with minimal technical expertise required” (Overview).
  • Omeka – Like Scalar, Omeka is a publishing platform. Think of it as a virtual museum, where individual items belong to collections and can be placed within exhibits that tell stories around particular themes. Students can team up on collection and curation, but tell individual stories about the items in their own exhibits.
  • The Cookbook: How to Create Your Own Digital Story – As the name suggests, this is a set of detailed recipes for digital storytelling (rather than a platform for digital storytelling). Especially helpful is the recipe for digital storyboarding, which could be a great way to support students’ invention and drafting process.
  • Storify – You may be familiar with Storify as a tool for creating stories from Twitter hashtags, but its story-gathering and storytelling capabilities also include news and blogging. Storify is easy to use and doesn’t require much expertise.

Data Visualization

A screen shot from Carnegie Mellon's guide to information visualization tools. A man stands with his arms stretched out above his head, reaching toward a series of maps, charts, and other visualizations.

From Carnegie Mellon’s useful guide.

  • Palladio – This is a powerful tool for visualizing historical data in a variety ways: geographic maps, lists, and grids. While we tend to think of visualization tools in terms of representing our analyzed data sets (at the end of the process), visualization tools can also help students invent and analyze early in the process.
  • Poemage – This tool visualizes the sonic topology of poems: “We define sonic topology as the complex structures formed via the interaction of sonic patterns — words connected through some sonic or linguistic resemblance — across the space of the poem.” This could be great for modeling literary analysis.

For even more data visualization tools and a discussion of how to evaluate and use them, check out Carnegie Mellon’s helpful guide.

Text and Video Annotation

An annotation comment is being entered in a box on the Annotation Studio's interface; the annotation box is over a sample text that is being annotated.

An image from Annotation Studio’s site demonstrating the interface.

  • Annotation Studio – This digital text annotation tool has many potential uses not only for reading and annotating but also for composing. One of our colleagues at the DHSI used it to have her students collaboratively create a digital critical edition. Note: The tool is not in stasis, but the MIT team may not be as responsive as they may have been in past.
  • Also a digital text annotation tool, Hypothesis was designed to “leverage annotation to enable sentence-level critique or note-taking on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and more” (About). This could be an effective tool for teaching rhetorical analysis of public texts. Also: see below for a plug-in that allows students to aggregate their annotations.

Check out Teaching Media’s great list of video annotation tools, with detailed discussions of how to use them.

Facilitating Collaboration and Invention

A screenshot of SpiderScribe's mapping interface, with images, maps, and text items linked by lines and arrows.

SpiderScribe’s mapping interface.

  • SpiderScribe – This tool is for online mapping, brainstorming, and collaboration. It could support students’ in-process data visualizations and invention processes, as well as collaborative authoring.

See also Carnegie Mellon’s expertly curated list of collaboration tools, with discussions of affordances and applications.

Studying and Visualizing Twitter Activity

Archiving and Analyzing

A screenshot of a keyword search for

A sample keyword search and visualization from Tweetchup.

  • Tweetchup – offers analytics and visualizations
  • Hashtracking – offers analytics and reporting features
  • TAGS – archives tweets from a customizable search into a Google spreadsheet
  • Sentiment Viz – tracks the affect of a Twitter feed


Location-Based Mapping

An image of a map of the Pacific Northwest overlaid with trending hashtags based on location.

From Trendsmap

Also useful for any location-based mapping or visualizing: Geonames, a geographical names database.

Aggregation and Corpus Tools

A screenshot from Google Books Ngram Viewer, charting the occurrence of the phrases

Google Books Ngrams

  • Google Books Ngrams – Chart the occurrences of multiple phrases in the Google Books corpus, but also keep in mind that there are significant limitations to this tool that limit the kinds of questions we can answer and claims we can make.
  • Hypothesis Aggregator – “ Aggregator makes it easy to assign a topic, rather than a reading, and ask students to find their own readings on the web, annotate them, and tag them with the course tag. Then Aggregator can collect all the annotations with the class tag in one place, so students and instructors can see and follow-up on each other’s annotations. Similar activities can be done by a collaborative research group or in an unconference session.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Let us know what tools you’re using or interested in learning more about!


Evaluation Questions on Space and Technology

As you probably know by now, UW’s online evaluation system allows instructors to add questions to the standard evaluation form, and the EWP encourages instructors to add questions regarding teacher and peer feedback and conferences (see the recommended questions and step-by-step instructions, with screenshots, for adding those questions here).

Whether you teach in our state-of-the-art CIC labs or in a windowless basement room with no classroom technology, you know that the physical space and technologies available in your classroom impact how you teach, and how you use the space and technologies impacts how your students learn. To encourage instructors to develop a reflective practice about their use of available space and technologies (however challenging they may be!), we’ve developed a set of space and technology questions you can add to your evaluations.


  1. How did the instructor’s use of the physical space of your classroom support or detract from your learning?
  2. What suggestions do you have for making more effective use of the classroom space?
  3. How did the instructor’s use of classroom technology (if any) support or detract from your learning?
  4. What suggestions do you have for making more effective use (if any) of the classroom technology?

And here’s how to add those questions:

Go to your IAS Faculty page.


From the “Add Items to Evaluation” page, you’ll type each question into the Comment Items add option.


After you type one question, click “add.”


Then repeat this process to add the remaining questions.


Then you can review and reorder your newly added questions using the tools to the right of the questions.


Finally, you can preview how the questions will look to your students.


As always, if you have any questions, let us know! And if you have additional evaluation questions you add to your form, or if you want to talk about your students’ responses to these questions, we’d love to hear from you.

New CIC Assistant Director: Ann Shivers-McNair

Hello CIC instructors and friends, and happy spring! In this post, I’ll briefly introduce myself and remind you of the ways in which I can support your teaching.

msmagphotoI’m a PhD student in the English department’s language and rhetoric program, and before that, I was a full-time writing instructor and coordinator of the basic writing program at the University of Southern Mississippi. My master’s degree is in literature and creative writing (poetry). You can view my CV and recent publications here, and you can find me on Twitter (@a_shiversmcnair). My email address is asmcnair [at]

For those of you teaching in the CIC this quarter, I’m here to support you in any way you choose to integrate the lab technology into your teaching. And if you run into trouble with the technology while you’re teaching, I’m always on campus during CIC classes and can come help you–just call or text me.

If you’re not teaching a CIC class but are still using or interested in using technology in your class, I’m here for you, too. If you’d like to bring your students to the lab for a work day or technology-mediated activity, send me an email and I’ll let you know whether the labs are available then.

For all of you, wherever you’re teaching, here are the ways I can support you and your students:

  • I’ll be posting information here on tools and techniques to try, as well as information on using Canvas (in our outside the CIC).
  • I’m also happy to work with you one-on-one if you’re interested in learning a new tool or thinking about how technology could support or enhance your pedagogical goals.
  • I can help you in the classroom (in the CIC or elsewhere) by leading or helping you lead a training session on a particular tool you want your students to use, or helping you facilitate a technology-mediated activity in class.
  • When I see or hear about effective activities or assignments that make use of technology, I’ll share them here, or you can guest-blog and share materials yourself, so let me know if you have an activity or assignment to share.

I’m excited about working with you all and learning from you!