Coverage in Wired of research on school and district posts about students and student privacy


I was surprised and happy to see my colleagues and my research covered in a (really good) story on Wired, The Tricky Ethics of Being a Teacher on TikTok. A link to the story is here.

Here’s an except of the story that I think sets up the dilemma well:

The hashtags #teacher and #teachersoftiktok have a combined 72.1 billion views on TikTok. While many of these videos feature educators simply discussing their job, others take place inside the classroom and include children’s voices, faces, and schoolwork. And even though many teachers on the platform clearly understand how to safeguard their students, the rise of these accounts does raise a number of ethical questions: Should educators really be filming while they’re teaching? Is it acceptable to share children’s work with hundreds of thousands of strangers who may mock it, no matter how young the child or inconsequential the work? Do kids and their parents consent to having their voices and faces shared online?

In many cases, these questions have no concrete official answers. It’s often up to individual districts and schools to determine their social media policies, and the novelty of TikTok means some institutions do not have up-to-date policies about its use by educators. In the US, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not outright prohibit recording in schools or posting these recordings online, provided they don’t include Personally Identifiable Information (PII) about students. This often means teachers have to draw their own lines for what should and shouldn’t be TikToked and figure out how to avoid crossing them.

And here’s the part that mentions our research:

In September 2021, University of Tennessee education professor Joshua M. Rosenberg led research that found between 15 and 20 million photos of students were available on publicly accessible school Facebook pages, and at least 150,000 of these photos depicted students who were identifiable by name.

“Our research has revealed that the accessibility of photos of students may be far greater than most parents realize,” Rosenberg and his colleagues concluded. “Minor students in particular may not yet fully understand how their likeness is being used and shared by their educational institution, and the adults in their lives have a responsibility to protect and care for them.”

I am keen to continue this work with my amazing colleagues Sondra Stegenga, Macy Burchfield, Conrad Borchers, Alexa Fox, and Christian Fischer. Thanks to them for the opportunity to work on this together.

One last note. The above quote was from an article in Phi Delta Kappan. We received the proofs for our most recent findings from this research to be published in a brief paper for Educational Researcher; I hope to share about that in the next week or so.