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Respecting Students' Privacy

Respecting Students' Privacy

As an instructor, you are responsible for how you use and share confidential information (including personal information) in accordance with university policies and local legislation.

It's very important that you take care with any content that may contain students' personal information. This can include any information that can be used to identify an individual, such as student names, usernames, student numbers, photos of students, medical details, financial information, email addresses or other contact information. 

Before posting content that may contain this type of information, please consider who may be able to access this content:

  • Within your course, students should not be able to see other students' personal information. 
  • If your course content is copied into a new course shell in the future, students, TAs and instructors in that shell should not be able to see any personal information from students enrolled in the source course shell.
  • Personal information should not be posted anywhere that anyone else (either from Toronto Metropolitan University or outside of the university) can see it, such as a shareable web link, a public web page, a printed attendance sheet in class, or a list on an office door.

Another thing to keep in mind is that research data which is uploaded or stored, should be de-identified. This means if the research data includes any personal or identifying information or results, this information should be removed before storing it on D2L.

If you have a situation where it is necessary to use student names in your materials, an instructor needs to obtain class agreement prior to sharing student names with the class in the course. It is recommended that instructors include a note in their Course Outline outlining any possibility of student information, primarily their names, being shared with other students in the course.

Students' information can be accessed solely by the instructor(s), graders and teaching assistants (if the course has any) of the course the student is enrolled in.  

Information that the instructor, graders or TA can access about students in the course includes:

  • First and last name
  • mytorontomu username
  • TMU email address
  • Student number
  • Course enrollment information for the course (example: section number)
  • Grades, performance, evaluation and everything else related to assessments in the course
  • Student work, such as assignment submissions, quiz responses and discussion forum contributions
  • In the User Progress tool, instructors have the ability to review the course statistics, individual student and/or overall class progress in the course.  They can see what course content/materials have been accessed and how long was spent on each item. This data helps the instructor revise the teaching plans accordingly.

Information that that students can access about other students in the course:

  • Students will not be able to see the class roster (Classlist tool).
  • Students will not be able to see other students’ information, unless the instructor creates groups or uses discussion or chat tools in the course. In this case, your classmates can see your first and last name in the below scenarios:
    • On any posts to discussion boards
    • If you are assigned to a group
    • If the instructor has allowed students to email other student’s (email address will not be displayed UNLESS you chose to reply to a message, in which case the sender will see your email address)

Course tools that should never have student information

The Content section in your D2L course shell is where students can access your course files and materials. Do not upload content, or create files that contain personal information belonging to students. This could include anything with student names, student numbers, grades, past or current student work, or threads from discussion topics (as these contain the names of students).

If you really want to use impressive examples of student work from previous terms, make sure to ask for permission in writing from the person who created the content. Ensure you are clear that you are asking permission to share the content with students in your current and future courses, and if possible, let the owner know how long that will be (ie. 2 years, 5 years, etc). It's also a good idea to provide credit on or with the materials, perhaps with a statement that says "Shared with permission from Jane Doe".

If you copied a course shell from a previous term, check the Content section at the start of term to confirm that no content containing sensitive information is present before you make your course shell is available to students.  

This is important because if your content is copied into a new shell and particularly, if you are not the only instructor, or you give permission for another instructor to use your content, they, as well as any TAs, students, and other users who have access to the course shell, may have access to this content.

Make sure that you do not include any student personal information in any assignment name, instructions, or attached supporting files.

When you copy your course shell in the future, or give permission for another instructor to copy your content, all assignments will be copied, and any information in an assignment's settings will be included.

Make sure that you do not include any student personal information in any discussion forum name, topic name, or description.

When you copy your course shell in the future, or give permission for another instructor to copy your content, the structure of your discussion area will be copied, and any information in titles and descriptions will be included. Content from posts will not be copied from course to course.

Make sure that you do not include any student personal information in any group category name, group name, or description. This includes using student names as group names. Try using creative group names that do not use this information.

When you copy your course shell in the future, or give permission for another instructor to copy your content, the structure of Groups will be copied, and any information in names and descriptions will be included. 

The Manage Files section is where the files you upload to the Content area of your course reside, along with any files that you deliberately load to this area. Do not upload content, or create files that contain students' personal information. This includes anything with student names, student numbers, grades or feedback, past or current student work, or contact information.

It's important to keep in mind that if you make changes to content, and do not choose the option to permanently delete files when you remove them from Content, they will still exist in Manage Files. If these files could contain personal information, there is a risk of copying this content from term to term. (It also means that the size of your course can become quite large, so we do not recommend saving files here. You can use your Google Drive if you need to keep an archive of any files.)

It may be tempting to use student information in quizzes, surveys or self assessments, perhaps as a way to be more engaging, or to address a particular challenge, such as peer assessment, but it is very important to avoid doing this.

Students should not be able see other students' private information in the course shell. Also, these assessments, and all content in the Question Library, including the questions, answers, hints and feedback can be copied from course shell to course shell, which could result in personal information being visible to individuals who should not be able to see it, such as students, instructors and TAs from different terms or sections.

Course tools that can have limited student information

Content in individual posts in the Discussions area of your course is not copied from course to course.

It is still important to be careful about posting private information in Discussions because you need to ensure that you do not post student information that other students can see, but this is an area where there is a little flexibility.

Students can see the names of classmates who have posted, and anything students choose to post in the subject line or body of their message, as well as any attachments.

For example, if students choose to share information in a discussion thread, the content is only visible to users in that course shell. If a discussion forum or topic is restricted to students enrolled in a particular section or group, then the number of people who can access information posted within that restricted area is even smaller.

We recommend that you remind students to be careful with their personal information.

Only you and the student can see their assignment and quiz submissions, as well as the grade and feedback that you (or auto-grading) provide.

In the case of group work, avoid providing feedback that is geared toward an individual where the entire group can view it.

Only you and the student can see their grades and grade feedback.

In the case of group assignments, avoid providing feedback that is geared toward an individual in the assignment feedback, where the entire group can view it. If you provide feedback in the grade feedback field (in Grades), only that individual can view it.

While you should avoid using private information such as student names in group categories or group names, once enrolled in a group, students can see the names of the members of their group.

Students can also email the members of their group from the course shell, but the email addresses are in a BCC field, so they cannot see the email addresses. If students decide to share email addresses with each other, so that they can email each other directly from their university email accounts, that is their choice.


Placing a printed attendance sheet at the front of the classroom is not acceptable, as students can see each other's names or student numbers.

The Attendance tool in D2L Brightspace is not tied to the gradebook. If you need to track attendance, but don't need student attendance to count toward a grade, you can use the attendance tool as it is.

Or, you can track attendance in the Attendance tool, export the data to CSV format, manipulate it in Excel into a value that represents a grade, and then import into a grade item in Grades. If don't have experience with exporting/importing data from Grades, please contact us for help.

There are also other ways that you can track attendance, which won't be as obvious to students, and can be engaging. You could:

  • Have a short online quiz during each class, available for a very short window. You provide the information in person only, which helps students answer the question, or the question could be used to gauge opinion or knowledge levels.
  • Conduct an in-class activity that produces proof that students were present and engaged.
  • Use a polling software such as iClicker or Poll Everywhere to do in-class polling. Please note that there is a cost to students for iClicker.

If there is a truly compelling, unavoidable reason to have private student information in a file, do not load that file into your course shell.

Instead, consider putting it on Google Drive, share with only the individuals who need access, and then link to that file.

If the entire class needs to access the file, consider setting up a course-based Google Group for the class, and sharing the file with the Google Group. You could then link to the file from your course shell. If the course content is copied in the future, the link will remain, but it will not work for anyone who is not in that Google Group.

In the past, it was acceptable to do things such as post a list of grades or a sign-up sheet for in-class presentation times on your office door, or placed at the front of the classroom.

This is no longer permitted, so you need to use other ways to communicate this information. D2L Brightspace provides a number of tools that can be used to perform similar tasks.

For example:

  • Encourage students to set up email notifications so that when you make grades available for a quiz or assignment, they will be notified. Students can then visit the Grades page in the course shell to see their grade.
  • You can also post an announcement in your course shell to let students know that an item has been graded, and that they can access it now.
  • You can use the Email Classlist tool (or just email individuals in the Classlist) to send time-sensitive messages, since not all students will have notifications enabled, or will check the course regularly.
  • To have students sign-up for timeslots for a presentation or office hours, you could create a thread in Discussions.