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Privacy considerations for online teaching

3rd party cloud-based tools

There are many 3rd party (or cloud based) learning technologies or tools available. These tools include products from textbook publishers only available upon purchase of a textbook, to tools for specific purposes such as Poll Everywhere or MentiMeter. There are collaborative tools such as  Flipgrid  and social media such as Facebook or Twitter.  Some 3rd party tools are available at no cost, but most are subscription based.  Some require registration, others allow use of aliases or anonymous use.  Personal information shared can range from name and student number, to more detailed information such as address and email.  Often students will share personal narrative information on cloud based platforms.   There are products that can be integrated within the D2L learning management system, others are used independently.   While the range and scope is vast, what is consistent is almost all are housed in the USA.

BC privacy legislation is specific about storage of personal data outside of Canada. Section 30 of the act states: 

30.1 A public body must ensure that personal information in its custody or under its control is 
stored only in Canada and accessed only in Canada, unless one of the following applies:
(a) if the individual the information is about has identified the information and has consented, in 
the prescribed manner, to it being stored in or accessed from, as applicable, another jurisdiction;
(b) if it is stored in or accessed from another jurisdiction for the purpose of disclosure allowed 
under this Act;
(c) if it was disclosed under section 33.1 (1) (i.1).

The act does not prohibit these services, but clearly demands meaningful consent and alternative activities should consent not be obtained. The Office of Privacy and Information Commission advises public bodies to complete complete a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) before implementing, adopting or recommending such tools.  

 

Consideration to make before adopting a tool?

The college supports a suite of tools that have been reviewed for compliance with Privacy policy and legislation.  For information on the tools the college supports see:

If you are interested in using a  product you must first do some initial research to find out: 

  • What is the business model?  Will students be charged?  Will you be charged? 
  • Where is the company based? 
  • Where is the data stored? 
  • What information is transmitted? Can the tool be used anonymously?
  • Would you make the use of this tool a requirement? 
  • Can the tool be used outside of the D2L environment? 


In addition to the important privacy concerns, there are many other consideration you need to make before adopting any 3rd party tools: 

  • Reputation of the tool, and its pedagogical significance
  • Secure funding source  
  • No need for software downloads or significant technical support
  • Accessible for all students
  • Intellectual property terms are understood
  • Instructor is willing to learn how to use the tool independently and support students in its use

Before adopting a tool, reach out to CETL for advice and direction. 

Ministerial Order 85 in response to Covid-19

As part of the provincial response to Covid-19,  Ministerial Order # 85 was issued.   This Ministerial Order allows public bodies to store information outside of Canada, in exception to the existing legislation.   In educational settings, this mean that in order to required students to use cloud-based tools (eg. publisher;s websites, social media etc). an instructors had to get the consent of students and provide an alternative should they not consent to their information being stored outside Canada (typically in the United States. 

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner issued a paper with some guidance to educators. FIPPA and online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In regards to the use of 3rd party tools it states: 

The order is intended to enable public bodies to continue operations through greater use of third-party tools and applications during the state of emergency. This means that an educator does not require a student or parent to consent to use an online platform. Under the terms of MO85, a public body must be able to demonstrate that using the online tool is necessary for maintaining programs or services during the COVID-19 crisis, such as providing distance learning and collaboration. Additionally, the public body must ensure that they take all reasonable steps to delete the information from outside Canada once they are done with it. information or where in the world they are keeping it.  "

If you choose to adopt a tool on the basis of this exception, you may not be able to continue its use until a full privacy impact assessment is completed, and consent procedures are in place.   It's best to seek some direction before adopting a new tool. Email Sybil Harrison,  Director, Learning Services for guidance.