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Security!

barclay_barrios
0 10 88
Well, I guess that by now most of you know that this past Firday we had a bit of a break in here at Bedford Bits; someone hacked the host and overwrote our index page. Aiiiii-yaa! Ironically, I was thinking of talking about security anyway, though in terms of student work and grades. Friday I was contacted by a student from my Spring class looking for her final paper. Since I had graded electronically using the comment feature in Word, I was able to print it out and leave it for her to pick up. But that got me thinking about what we do with student work when the students are gone, how we handle archiving, and how we address questions of security (which seem more important now than ever). These questions surfaced again for me yesterday. We were reading part of Richard E. Miller's As If Learning Mattered for class and he talked about how hard it was to find actual student work in his research, which impacted the shape and direction of his project. Practices connected to all of these concerns have shifted dramatically since I started teaching. When I first began we could post final grades by last four digits of SSN. I remember, too, the halls of the building that housed English littered with little boxes filled with graded student papers waiting for pick up. I even used to send grades through email. As schools got serious about FERPA a lot of that changed but now there are other emergent concerns too: intellectual property rights, identity theft, network security, terrorism. I know that last one might sound crazy, but there are a lot--A LOT--of student SSNs that seem to float through our office here and (gulp) we don't have a shredder; it wouldn't take much for someone to poach an identity for more than credit card applications. Schools think about archives but I'm not sure they've thought about security. At my previous institution, we had this dark, musty room called the crypt that stored years of leftover student work from all the people teaching in the writing program. On more than one occasion we had to excavate its dark interior for some old paper for some very late grade dispute. Here at FAU we have state-mandated policies about archiving ALL documents, including student work. I think the minimum is one year. We have a space--not as roomy as the crypt--that we use for this purpose. Oddly, neither institution has/had any policies about disposing of sensitive papers securely. Hrm. I think what I find most curious about all this is that I have no personal policies on these matters myself. True, I don't send grades through email (because it's not a fully secure medium) and, true, I try to be aware of whether or not a piece of paper has SSNs on it (like a class roster), but I don't have a reflexive understanding of my relationship to archiving student work and securing sensitive information. What I do I do because it's what I've done. Then again maybe that's enough. Could just be that server breach got me thinking along an unproductive track. That is, maybe security and archiving are not all the important, at least not to the degree that individual teachers need articulated policies. Hrm. But perhaps I could/should spell something out for the writing program here. Something that encompasses the state requirements and goes a bit further. Hey, that's something I should think about....
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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.