Saturday, April 20, 2013

Student Privacy, YouTube, and Vimeo

You just took the cutest video of a group of your students. One of their parents requested a copy, several other students want to watch it, and the computer teacher would love to share it with several classes. MMSD has some several Board policies that pertain to sharing student information, but how does that relate to the cloud based reality of YouTube, Google +, and other sharing sites.

MMSD Board Policy 3720 outlines several responsibilities for teachers in regards to student privacy.  In regards to internet safety and security which includes the confidentiality of student identity and enrollment and personal information includes likeness, full name, address, phone number, credit card number, and Social Security number. The policy also refers to student privacy in regards to the use district resources or educational related business.   Staff members should maintain student confidentiality and set privacy settings and access restrictions appropriately to the content on your site.

It can get real tricky to figure out what this policy means in a world that is more and more online. Some might argue we should be very cautious about putting student photos or videos online. On the other hand sharing student photos and videos can be a great way to build bridges between teachers, students, and their families.

I think Picasa / Google +, YouTube, and Vimeo all have settings that can be used to adhere to the spirit of the MMSD Policy. Lately I have been thinking more about how this relates specifically to video. In regards to photos sharing as "unlisted" seems to work well. The photos are not searchable on Google and you need the link to access the photos. A parent can come to Schenk's website and view the photos but would not be able to find them via a Google search.


YouTube offers three options to share videos; public, unlisted, and private. Public means two things they are accessible to anyone who visits your YouTube site and more importantly searchable through Google. Unlisted means its not listed or viewable on your YouTube site and Google does not search it. This is big because you could argue if Google does not search it, it does not exist. Private is initially shared with only you, meaning your Google account, until you share it with specific users.

Every teacher in MMSD has a YouTube account and you can customize your uploads to your desired privacy.  If you are logged into Gmail (MMSD) just select sign in on the YouTube site. You simply select the upload button and Google works its magic. One big advantage to YouTube is it video editing capabilities. It has an easy to use video editor in which you can even add photos, captions, and some music. If you have an iPad checked you can use YouTube Capture to upload while you are taking the video.

As a general rule I would be cautious about sharing any student content publicly  If you want to share it with a very limited audience like another teacher or just yourself then private makes sense. Most of the time Unlisted makes the most sense. Think of the Schenk Shake videos, teachers and students alike want to view them and sharing them with parents could be a good bridge between school and home. Most importantly when we upload videos we should be asking ourselves who do we want to have access. Too restrictive we lose the power of video and photos to build community.

I have some concerns with being too dependent on YouTube for student content. A major concern lately is ads have been over zealous and often not appropriate for our audience. Often its not the ads per se but the related videos that come at the end. I can't count the times when after the video ends, laughter breaks out because of an inappropriate related video. Which is why lately I have begun to explore Vimeo.


As a rule Vimeo has higher quality video created by independent artists. When you create an account you are given a 500 MB,  or 1 HD quality video, weekly allowance. If you need more than that it is $10 a month. YouTube funds itself through ads while Vimeo does so with paid subscriptions.

While Vimeo offers the ability to add enhancements to videos, it does not have offer video editing like YouTube. Typically Vimeo users are semi-professional and would be completing most of their editing prior to upload. On a recent screencast I created there was this small part at the end I wanted cut out. I uploaded the video to YouTube, edited it, downloaded back to the computer, and then uploaded it to Vimeo.   This problem could be easily solved with some decent video editing software.

One thing I love about Vimeo is its privacy settings. Its gives you full control in regards to others accessing your content. As far as watching the video I can set that to anyone, only me, followers, specific users, and password protected. The screencasts I uploaded I set to anyone, but there were other videos which required a Schenk only password. In order to view the album or video you must supply the needed password. This was added privacy to the "unlisted" option at YouTube.

In addition Vimeo allows you to limit embedding and downloading of video.  If you only want your videos watched on your Vimeo site then embedding could be disabled.  However, if you did this you could not embed the video on a website or blog to share with students or their family.  On the other hand downloading is very likely something you would want to disable. You may want to give students and their family the ability to view the video, but not download the video to their home computer.  In regards to the password protected videos I uploaded I set them to only people with a password, anywhere (embedded), only people I follow (comments), and add to their collection (no download).

In closing, I would like to take the discussion back to MMSD Board Policy 3720. The policy outlines the responsibilities we have as staff members in protecting student privacy. We are responsible to protect student's identity, enrollment status, and personal information from being public.  In addition the policy states staff members have a responsibility to set privacy settings and restrictions appropriately.

What does this all mean. For me it means there are very few scenarios where student video or photos should be shared publicly. Note I did not say online. I would trust data located on Google or Vimeo over the district server (S Drive).  On the other hand we do not want to restrict that content from teachers, students, and parents. The pictures and videos we take are part of building a school community and bridging school and home cultures.

I don't think there are clear cut answers on this issue. One is likely to find district practices that conflict rather strongly with Policy 3720. You are also like to find conflicting opinions on this issue with staff members themselves.   It could even be argued that the policy itself is a relic from another age.  I do think, however, if you are creating videos its is important to be familiar with both Board Policy 3720 and privacy settings of YouTube and Vimeo.