Issues with Sharing Personally Identifiable Student Work

The recent issues of privacy and student work discussed among connected educators has me rethinking what it means to share the work students do in my classroom.

I have a student work blog that I use for the purpose of sharing work. Additionally, my students have their own blogs that they use to publish reflections on learning. After what was posted by a Colorado teacher, I'm pacing back and fourth wondering where I am in relation to the line that should not be crossed.

What Happened in Colorado?

For those who didn't catch the story, a third-grade teacher wanted to learn more about her students, so she had them use the stem in the image above to share something. This is a powerful activity. The poor choice on the teacher's part was posting the student work on Twitter.

It didn't have any personal information, right? Handwriting is enough. But let's think about this. My niece is in fourth grade. She sends a few handwritten letters to our house every year because she's awesome. That means I might recognize her handwriting.

If my niece's teacher posts student work on Twitter and I have to learn about a family issue on social media, I will be highly offended and feel like our privacy has been invaded.

That's the issue in Colorado. Let's look more closely at the law.

Privacy Issues and Consent to Share Work

Data privacy is limited to publishing anything that could be used to identify an individual. In the case of the #IWishMyTeacherKnew issue, the handwriting of the students could be identifiable by a relative, for example, who shouldn't have to learn about family issues on social media.

Although schools can publish information like names and post photos, which is considered "directory," parents have the option to opt out.

For more information on your rights, go to

Up Against the Line 

I share pictures of handwritten student work, but it's anonymous summary statements for the purpose of evaluating a sampling of the classwork. The photos let the students see what acceptable work looks like and how to fix their work to meet the expectation and beyond. The photos are accompanied by commentary and published for reflection.

This process of sharing work in a blog started when students who were absent had a hard time catching up. We do a lot of formative assessment in class that's based on cooperative activities, so when a student asks me what they missed, my brain wants to explode trying to show them. The blog helped our classroom continue to operate without worksheets.

How is this different than posting student work in the halls of schools? Visitors can take pictures of the posted work and share them with other educators or post them to Twitter. The questions is less about the student work and more about safeguarding the identities of our kids within a worldwide audience. They have that right, and teachers have that responsibility.

Communication is Everything

Sharing student work that is not personally identifiable or work that contains no family issues can still be a violation of an individual's rights. My response in the classroom is to teach students about the importance of protecting their identity and to keep parents informed about what we are publishing and why.

I made a video for parents to show them how students added my email address to their district Blogger account. Whenever they post or someone comments, I get an email right away. All the feedback from students and parents has been positive.

Teachers who are not as comfortable with technology can try Kidblog if they still want to broaden the audience for their students.

Next year, I plan to add more forms of communication, including a written explanation to be signed separate from the syllabus. Even though the nature and purpose of publishing student work is very different than the Colorado issue, Refranz Davis is right. Parents and students have a right to know what will be published and the opportunity to make an informed consent or opt out.