FERPA & Class Recordings: What You Need To Know

Virtual MeetingAs every COVID-era instructional modality necessitates entirely virtual and online technological course elements, many faculty and students alike have many questions regarding how to best protect student privacy—especially privacy relating to class video recordings, since SMU faculty will be recording all synchronous class sections this fall.  Most simply, online and SMUFlex classes and any activities therein (course recordings, online proctoring, Zoom sessions, etc.) are covered by FERPA protections in the exactly same ways that traditional classes are covered.  SMU Canvas offers a password-protected, secure environment which makes it easy for faculty to share all class recordings in a safe, secure digital environment.  If you are leveraging non-SMU systems for hosting class recordings or any other media that feature students or their work—please review the information below and consider using Canvas and university-supported course management systems instead.

General Information: SMUFlex/Online Synchronous Class Recordings & FERPA

If any class Zoom recording (or any other digital course component) is created or edited in a way that shares student information, the recording (or other digital course component) may constitute an educational record that is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — the federal student privacy law.

Are all recorded lectures (audio or video) considered protected student record?

If a recording includes only the instructor/faculty member, it is not a student record and FERPA protection laws would not limit the content’s use. If the recording includes students speaking, asking questions, making presentations or otherwise participating in the course in any manner which makes it possible to identify the student, the segments containing recordings of the student do constitute protected educational records. Such educational records can only be used as permitted by FERPA or in a manner allowed by a written consent from the student.

May I post a recording in Canvas that includes student participation for other class members to view or listen to?

Yes. You may absolutely post a class recording that includes student participation in your Canvas course as long as access is limited only to other students in the same class.  FERPA does not limit or prevent the use of class recordings for use in the same class and does not require obtaining written consent in such use cases. Simply posting class video recordings to the same Canvas course allows instructors to create secure and safe access for students in the class to watch or re-watch past class sessions.  This is why SMU urges faculty to utilize Canvas’ Panopto video sharing system to host and to securely share all course videos—even sometimes when faculty might prefer to use different systems.  Sharing videos in Canvas’ tools protects student content behind two-factor authentication.

Can an instructor allow individuals outside of a class to access a video of that class that includes student participation?

Generally, this is not advised.  Faculty are advised to seek permission from both SMU and from students in any case where a course video might be shown outside of the content of the originating course.  However, there are several ways to use recordings that include student participation.

  • To use a video featuring students outside of the originating course, an instructor may obtain individualized FERPA consents from the students in the recording which allow the use of that portion of the recordings. This type of consent can be obtained on a case-by-case basis or from all the students at the outset of a class.
  • Recordings featuring student interactions can be edited to either omit any student who has not consented to the use of their voice or image, or can be edited to de-identify the student in the recording.
  • Recordings can also be planned so that students (such as those asking questions during a class) are not shown in the video or referred to by name.

What is the easiest way to comply with FERPA if I am video recording my class sessions and students will be asking questions, doing presentations, or appearing on camera?

The best and easiest way to protect videos or other digital materials that feature student interactions is to only share them within the context of those students’ originating Canvas course.  Leveraging tools like Zoom and Panopto within Canvas offer tried and true tools which allow a high degree of sharing and flexibility while offering peace of mind about digital file sharing and student privacy.  So long as access to materials is limited to only students in the class, FERPA does not limit or prevent video use and does not require obtaining a written consent. Using Canvas to share files instructors to create easy access for only students in the class to watch or re-watch recorded class sessions.

Some instructors choose to leverage media distribution systems for course content, though this is not advised.  If access to recordings featuring students might not be limited to students in the class, instructors must plan the recordings accordingly to remove personally identifiable student content. Instructors must make sure not to show students who are asking questions and must not refer to the students by name. If sharing live class videos outside of Canvas, be sure to avoid repeating the student names in the recording (de-identifying the students removes the need for a specific consent from each student in the recording). If a student happens to appear on camera, their identity must be either edited out or a written consent can be obtained—otherwise, the recording should not be used.

Because student presentations make it more difficult to de-identify the student, the instructor should obtain a FERPA consent from the student making a presentation. For any video projects, such as student-made films, you should obtain written consent.

Can an instructor show recordings from past classes to current classes for reference or as examples?

Under FERPA, this situation must be treated as if the recordings were being shown to a third-party audience which requires FERPA compliance through use of consents or de-identification of any students depicted.

Can course recordings be incorporated into other online courses or other similar uses?

Any use of recordings must comply with FERPA, either through written consent or de-identification of students depicted.

What if a student declines to sign a FERPA consent?

Students cannot be compelled or required to give consent, though the instructor may edit the student out of the recording or de-identify him or her even if the student refuses to consent.

Who can I consult for guidance on how to comply with federal law in my use of class-related recordings?

Whenever you have questions on FERPA or University policies, please consult the SMU Registrar’s Office. The Registrar can be reached at (214) 768-3417 or registrar@smu.edu.

To learn more about FERPA at SMU, please visit smu.edu/FERPA.


Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash


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Published by

Jason Warner

Associate CIO, Academic Technology Services