While my curmudgeonly personality generally arises in response to things that truly bother me, such as [elided for politeness’ sake], some of my curmudgeonliness  does provide me with a modicum of fun . In particular, I pick things that are important and that I care about and, when I have a spare moment , I find ways to address them
in the small.
The two that come up the most recently are Web accessibility and FERPA  issues with regards to cloud software. The former is something that I consider both a moral and a legal obligation of the College. The latter is something that others tell me is a legal obligation of the College . I’ve been thinking about accessibility because I think it’s the right thing to do, because I got tasked to serve on an accessibility committee , and because I have students for whom it is a real issue.. I’ve been thinking about the latter ever since we designated Microsoft as a College official  so that we could outsource email hosting to them. It’s a common hack, which lots of institutions use; because they have accepted the designation as a College official, they have the same responsibility to protect records that we do.
How do I have fun with these two issues? Well, whenever someone points me to a College site, I do a quick accessibility check. The quick check isn’t hard: I look at images to see if they have alt text, I watch videos to see if they are captioned, and, if I’m feeling energetic, I run it through WAVE, the Web accessibility evaluation tool . Much of the time, that gives me the chance to dash off a latter.
Dear Colleague, I was looking at the Web site at [elided]. I am concerned that the site fails to meet accessibility standards. In particular, most images lack alt text and those that have it have inappropriate alt text, such asimage 23. As I hope you know, we have both a moral and a legal obligation to make sure our sites are accessible. In fact, the College has new accessibility guidelines. Both I and our affected students would appreciate it if you’d make changes asap. If you have questions, I’m sure that Communications can help .
Ah, that was fun! It raises awareness, helps the College, and helps students. What could be better? I’d advise you to try the same.
These days, I’ve started to think about viewing College Web sites through Lynx, which is one of the browsers the College recommends. It’s fascinating what happens with Lynx. For example, here’s what I get when I try to look at pioneers.grinnell.edu.
Believe it or not, but I’m not going to rant about that page right now. I know that Athletics has been working hard on issues like captioning their videos. I’m not even sure that the site needs to be accessible through Lynx. But it’s interesting to see what it looks like.
Let’s turn our attention to FERPA. What about FERPA? Well, I’ve decided that in order to be responsible, I should ask about FERPA issues when I’m using or being asked to use cloud-based services.
Is GrinCo FERPA-compliant?
Are Google docs?
Of course not; Grinnell has no contract with Google.
Is Blackboard , now that we’ve moved hosting to the Web?
Yes, of course; they are designated as a College official.
Proofpoint stores some of our messages, including messages students are sending to me. Doesn’t that violate FERPA?
Let me check with the College attorney.
No. It does not violate FERPA.
I’m doing some surveys of my students. The College has a contract with Formstack and tells me to use Formstack. That’s FERPA-compliant, right?
Um, it turns out that it’s not.
Oh. Can I still use it for asking students what the hardest question on an exam was? I’m not putting any grade information out there.
It’s probably better not to.
Do we have an alternative that’s as convenient as Formstack?
No; we’re working on it.
What about t-shirt sizes? Those aren’t directory information. Can I use Formstack for gathering those?
No one has every asked that before. But yes, you may do so.
I’ve been asked to fill out this form on survey.grinnell.edu that includes grade information. It appears to be hosted off campus at Vovici . Does our contract with Vovici permit me to enter confidential grade information?
What did someone ask you to enter?
Let me get back to you.
Wasn’t that fun? I know that those questions improve my relationship with the CIO and the FERPA officer because they like to see others take these issues seriously . Some of these cases are also an opportunity to raise awareness.
I’d love to fill out that survey. However, it appears to ask me to enter FERPA-protected information. Can you verify that the site is FERPA compliant, it appears to be hosted off campus?
You too can have curmudgeonly fun. Think about accessibility when you visit College Web sites. Think about FERPA issues when you are asked for information. Raise issues when you note them. It will make you feel better .
As they say,
What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander . If you notice accessibility or FERPA issues with any of my Web sites, please let me know and I will do my best to repair them promptly .
 Is that a word? It’s kind of like cuddliness, isn’t it? There’s even a saying:
Curmudgeonliness is next to G-dliness.
 Even when dealing with things that truly bother me.
 I rarely have a spare moment. So perhaps it’s when the inclination hits me.
 The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act. It’s the thing that says that I cannot reveal things about your academic performance to others.
 And it probably is.
 Yes, I know, who would ask me to be on a committee? It does make you worry about their sanity, doesn’t it? Perhaps it’s that the person picking the members of the committee isn’t on the committee.
 No, really.
 I don’t know why it seems to be an acronym, but that’s how they treat it.
 It’s a bit different when I’m sending the message to Communications. In that case, I just carbon copy the Webmaster.
 Lots and lots of links, to be precise.
 Not that there is a body on that page, but you know what I mean.
 Actually, I do think they like to see others take this seriously, and both would rather that someone be proactive on these issues than have to deal the fallout if we violate FERPA.
 And maybe some day I’ll pass on my badge to you.
 And what’s better than saucy ganders?
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