Documentation:Student Privacy and Consent Guidelines/Instructor Use

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Privacy Context

"Technologies that are ubiquitous, interconnected, and allow easy access to the Internet have become deeply integrated in everyday life. At the same time, the online environment has increasingly been subjected to sophisticated and targeted threats; our ever-increasing reliance on cyberspace is creating new and significant vulnerabilities. This risk is magnified by a number of factors: more valuable electronic data is being stored and processed on a massive scale, much of it in the cloud; powerful and portable computing devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops are increasingly integrated into every aspect of our lives; information is shared, combined and linked with other information with greater frequency; and third-party relationships (e.g.: outsourcing to a cloud provider) are the norm. Unless all components are equally secure, the entire system is vulnerable..."


"Bill C-51′s Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, a bill within the bill, goes far further than sharing information related to terrorist activity. As Roach and Forcese persuasively argue, the bill effectively creates a “total information awareness” approach that represents a radical shift away from our traditional understanding of public sector privacy protection. "


"Under FIPPA (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act), all public post-secondary employers, employees and service providers have a responsibility to protect the privacy of personal information. This requirement extends to all aspects of a Faculty member's job, including the use of social media as a teaching aid. Since social media can be used to share information rapidly and widely and since FIPPA regulates how personal information may be shared, it is important for instructors in BC to understand FIPPA rules and how to apply them when using social media in class."


With this context in mind, you, as an instructor, are looking for opportunities to bring authentic learning approaches into your class. You may have questions like this:

  • Under what conditions can I use a cloud-based, social media application in class?
  • What do I need to do to be sure students are aware of both the learning benefits and privacy implications when using a social media platform or application in class?
  • Where can I go for more help in understanding and navigating my responsibilities with respect to student privacy?

What to Consider

Course Context

In some fields, journalism is one example, perhaps business is another, the use of social media is almost a pre-requisite to employment. Students need to learn how to use it judiciously and responsibly - it is a competency to be built by using the tools and with guidance when necessary from mentors and teachers.

In other cases, the use of social media may be important to achieve learning goals that might otherwise not be achieved without the use of open tools and practices. And, in some cases, the use of social media tools in the classroom may be implemented without much advanced thought or discussion with students about learning benefits - in which case could put both students and instructors at risk.

As you know, FIPPA requires that all information about our students remain in Canada. Of course students may choose to use applications or tools that are hosted outside of the country - they just cannot be required to use use their personal accounts to meet the academic requirements of the course. Many tools and platforms, however have options for users to remain anonymous by the use of an alias. The Commissioner’s office has indicated that if use of the tool is required for a course, students must be given an option to use an alias.


The key questions to consider when thinking about incorporating cloud-based services into the learning environment are:

  • What will the service/application allow you to do that you couldn't do before?
  • What are the benefits/risks to the learning environment?
  • How will you inform your students and offer resources so they can consider their choices?
  • How will you ensure they have an option to complete the coursework if they choose NOT to share their personal information with the cloud based service in question?

Practical Use

  • allowing students to use an alias
    • investigate the possibility of this with the services EULA (End User License Agreement)
  • talk to CTLT (LT Hub) about alternatives to the service (UBC hosted or current integration)
  • anonymous use of the tool
  • consider the impact of personal identifying information (this may not be necessary).
  • learning goals should guide your process in selecting the best option for what you are trying to achieve.
  • help frame choices for students (re: digital identity and impact on learning/life goals)
  • considerations around analytics and cloud based services.

Informing Students

At UBC, Cloud-based* tools may be used under the following conditions (from: UBC's Privacy Fact Sheet: Disclosing Personal Information Outside of Canada) :

  • in the course description, or in a written communication to the students, describe the cloud-based service and the information that it will be storing or accessing, and explain that if the students choose not to provide their consent to this storage or access, they must see the instructor to make alternate arrangements; and
  • make alternate arrangements for students who refuse to provide their consent, such as allowing them to sign in to the service using a false name and non-identifying email address

You may also choose to link to resources for students that can help them make an informed decision about their digital presence.



In this course, students will be using (specify tool or platform), which is (specify what the tool is). This tool will help us (specify how students will be using the tool). During the account creation process, you will be required to provide your name and other identifying information. This tool is hosted on servers in (specify where). By using this service, you are consenting to storage of your information in (the location). If you choose not to provide your consent, see the instructor for alternate arrangements.

Resources for Students

The Digital Tattoo project highlights resources developed by students to help their peers make decisions about their online participation and identity formation:

Documenting Practice

An important aspect of ensuring that you are complying with FIPPA as you move to integrate social media is your class is the need to document your attempts to ensure that all students are informed of the use of the tool, the reason for its use and the option to obfiscate their identity (through the use of an alias) or participate in another way, as required. These attempts may include:

  • a copy of or link to your course description and syllabus, specifying the tool or platform to be used, potential learning benefits and where information is stored.
  • a copy or link to any other information provided to students about the use of the tool or platform you propose.
  • For students using aliases, your list of their accounts and aliases. **

In the event, there is a student complaint about a breach of privacy, these documents will be important to demonstrate that you have taken reasonable steps to comply with your obligations under FIPPA.

Note on the use of an alias: You will need to read the terms of service for the tool you are thinking of using. Some services do not allow the use of aliases and will specify this in the terms/user agreements. In this case, you may want to explore other options for hosted UBC applications or pursue a Privacy Impact Assessment. At UBC, you can begin this consultation with Derek White, CTLT's Manager of Learning Applications.

Resources for Instructors


For more information/support, contact:

  • Paul Hancock, Office of the University Counsel, UBC
  • Derek White, Manager, Learning Applications, Integrations & Analytics, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, UBC

More About Privacy and Bill C-51


Bill C-51