Privacy and Remote Teaching and Learning

Produced by the Secretariat in consultation with Legal and Immigration Services and the Office of the Associate Vice-President, Academic (established 22 May 2020; revised 26 January 2021, 14 April 2021).

Scope and Purpose

This document provides guidance to Faculties on managing privacy while teaching remotely using online technology. Though prepared initially as a response to any new digital assets (i.e., records) that might be created as part of remote teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, the guidance is applicable in general and applies to recorded course activities, as well as those that are being live-streamed, but not recorded.  While online proctoring is also addressed below, principal guidance on that course activity resides on a separate, designated website.

Statutory and Policy Requirements

Universities are required to comply with the provisions of the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), so the University of Waterloo must collect, use, maintain, disclose and dispose of personal information in a manner consistent with the legislation.  Information within the institution is also managed in accordance with University policy and guidelines. 

As care must be exercised to protect privacy while engaging in remote teaching and learning, Faculties should be familiar with the following:

Recorded Course Activity

Activities for some courses will involve recording for the purpose of evaluation, accessibility, and to ensure an equivalent learning for all.  Recordings consist of but are not limited to: (1) recordings that occur while students take part in live-streamed (synchronous) course activities, such as lectures, labs, or tutorials; and (2) live streamed or pre-recorded learning content (created by students), including oral presentations, group discussions, or oral examinations.

While beneficial and important, recording course activity puts individuals in the position of having their information recorded in any number of ways, either through their direct participation in discussions using video, audio, chat; or indirectly through the visual display of an online identifier, such as name or telephone number. These conditions raise privacy concerns that should be taken into account.

Before engaging in any such recording activity, the following must be considered:

Need for recording:

  • Aside from recorded lectures, labs, and tutorials, instructors should confirm that other recorded activities are necessary for the course in that student evaluation cannot feasibly occur in the absence of recording (e.g., grading is based on class participation within the full class or break-out groups, oral examinations, and/or another requirement to evaluate student performance).
  • As part of this, instructors should also confirm whether a particular type of recording is necessary for the course (e.g., video recording being necessary in the assessment of a performing art or practical skill).

Notice of recording: 

  • If a course includes recording, instructors must provide notice (see Appendix for Notice of Recording). This notice should be prominently displayed within the Learning Management System being used (e.g., LEARN) and instructors are to describe any recording activities at the outset of the course (e.g., within the course syllabus, on a course website, etc.) and at the first instance of activity that is expected to be recorded. A downloadable Notice of Recording Template is stored on the Keep Learning website.
  • The notice should clearly indicate which specific course activities are being recorded (including purpose of the recording), as well as any necessary recording parameters (e.g., video recording being necessary in the assessment of a performing art or practical skill).
  • Course activities are not to be recorded by instructors unless students have been appropriately notified (as described above). Such clear, advance, written notice serves to inform students and provides them the opportunity to: (a) take a different course, (b) take the course at another time, (c) drop the course, or (d) seek out an alternative to recording within the course.


Students who do not have the technological means to be recorded (e.g., webcam, sufficient internet bandwidth), those in a significantly different time zone, those who do not wish or consent to be recorded, or those who would be disadvantaged in any way by recording, should be offered alternatives without penalty.  Some examples include:

  • Limiting what is being recorded (e.g., instructor only records themselves, student participates without enabling video);
  • Offering anonymous or de-identified attendance, including the option to use a pseudonym (with the exception of identifying themselves to the instructor) or attendance at an identical non-recorded activity (such as alternate lecture section);
  • Not recording the entire activity—for example, turn off recording for the last 5 minutes of tutorial, such as during the final minutes of Q&A period; 
  • Not requiring attendance at recorded, live-streamed activities such as lectures, labs, or tutorials, and making the recording available to all students afterward.  To ensure an equivalent learning experience for all, any recording should be hosted in a secure place that allows easy access. The University of Waterloo’s learning management system (LEARN) is one suitable choice. For other acceptable storage options, the instructor should contact;
  • The University supports and upholds its legal duty to accommodate on a variety of code grounds and provides support to students who are experiencing extenuating circumstances.  For information about accessibility, students should be directed to connect with Waterloo’s AccessAbility Services.

Policies and guidelines:

Storage and disposal:

  • Recordings should not be stored long-term on an instructor’s personal device, even if that device has been safeguarded through encryption and password protection (which is the University’s expectation of use of portable devices for University business). See Guidelines on use of Waterloo Computer and Network Resources. Over time, recordings that are being stored on personal devices may be forgotten which then can pose a risk for inadvertent access or disclosure of personal information.
  • Recordings are University records and must be kept in accordance with WatClass, the University Records Classification and Retention Schedules, then securely disposed of when they are no longer needed by the University. Specifically, the recordings are classified with the TL38 – Online Courses records retention schedule.
  • The disposal of University records should be documented using the University records destruction form or equivalent documentation. Documenting the disposal of records is a requirement of FIPPA, for records like recordings of students which contain personal information, and of Policy 46 – Information Management.

Non-recorded Course Activity

Activities for some courses will be live-streamed, but not recorded. Examples include, but are not limited to: (1) live-streamed (synchronous) lecture, lab, or tutorial, (2) live-streamed oral presentation, (3) office hours, student consultations, etc.  

Live-streamed course activities also warrant privacy considerations. That is, even though those activities are not recorded, online identifiers (e.g., name, phone number) or individuals themselves (when video is enabled) may be visible to others. General tips and cautions should be implemented and alternatives provided without penalty (e.g., anonymous attendance/pseudonym with the exception of identification to the instructor, de-activated video). For information about accessibility, students should be directed to connect with Waterloo’s AccessAbility Services.

Online Proctoring

Examinations and tests for some courses will be invigilated using online proctoring (recorded and/or live-streamed).  The University has enlisted a remote proctoring tool for such purposes and has a designated website which provides comprehensive description and guidance on its use, as well as frequently asked questions (FAQs), including privacy. 

Instructors who remotely invigilate exams in a recorded or live-streamed manner are required to: (a) provide notice to students (including a description of the requirements and expectations around the process), (b) follow written guidelines for remote invigilation, and (c) provide alternatives (including no video options) without penalty.

General Tips and Cautions

Whether or not course activity involves recording, instructor’s and students alike should take note of the following tips for enhancing privacy while engaged in remote teaching and learning using online technology:

  • Ensure that you are familiar with the platform being used, including guidance on how to enable security and privacy safeguards. Assistance and resources for this can be accessed through Keep Learning;
  • Find a quiet space without interruptions and limited background noise. Be particularly aware of who can listen to or view your course activity and ensure that any confidential conversations (such as between an instructor and a student regarding their progress or other sensitive matters) are not inadvertently overheard or seen. Using earphones or a headset will reduce what is overheard (and will also help avoid feedback and echoes).
  • When your video is enabled, be aware of the image you project. Arrange your webcam to maximize personal privacy of what is seen about you. In terms of your surroundings, have a plain background as much as possible or blur your background.  If your surroundings can be seen, then have a “clean” work area so that personal objects (e.g., family photographs, etc.) are minimized;
  • Be cognizant of “screen sharing” or “sharing options” to ensure that only what you want visible is actually visible to others. An alternative is to specifically upload any material that you wish to be shared; and
  • Be mindful of how you communicate.  Communication should be topical, focused on course content, and individuals should refrain from divulging the personal information of others. Individuals should also be aware of the possibility, when divulging personal information about themselves, that the recording may become more widely available than anticipated: for example, if included in an information access request.

Limitation and Risk

Remote teaching and learning using online technology is not without limitation and risk which might include: (1) limitations to ensuring privacy security of information despite reasonable efforts; (2) unauthorized copying and disclosure, disclosure as required by law; and (3) introduction of malware into computer system, which could potentially damage or disrupt computer, networks, and security settings.  The University is not responsible for connectivity/technical difficulties or loss of data that is associated with the student’s hardware, software, or Internet connection.

Communicating Privacy Information to Students

When teaching remotely using online technology, instructors should ensure that students have been made aware of this privacy guidance, especially as it pertains to both recorded course activities, as well as those that are live-streamed but not recorded.

Questions or Concerns

If you have questions about the above guidance, or if you have additional questions about protecting University records containing personal information or about our responsibilities under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation, please contact Kathy Winter, Assistant University Secretary and Privacy Officer.

For questions specific to remote teaching and learning, students should be directed to speak to their instructor, and to access resources through Keep Learning. Instructors should contact


Notice of Recording Template - This template is for instructors to download, complete, and provide to students via LEARN, course syllabus, course website, etc.

Remote Teaching and Learning: STUDENT NOTICE OF RECORDING

Activities for this course involve recording, in partial fulfillment of the course learning outcomes.  You will receive notification of recording via at least one of the following mechanisms: within the Learning Management System (LEARN), a message from your course instructor, course syllabus/website, or other means. Some technologies may also provide a recording indicator. Images, audio, text/chat messaging that have been recorded may be used and/or made available by the University to [insert to whom1] for the purpose of [insert purpose2]. Recordings will be managed according to the University records classification scheme, WatClass, and will be securely destroyed when no longer needed by the University. Your personal information is protected in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as well as University policies and guidelines and may be subject to disclosure where required by law.

The University will use reasonable means to protect the security and confidentiality of the recorded information, but cannot provide a guarantee of such due to factors beyond the University’s control, such as recordings being forwarded, copied, intercepted, circulated, disclosed, or stored without the University’s knowledge or permission or the introduction of malware into computer system which could potentially damage or disrupt the computer, networks, and security settings. The University is not responsible for connectivity/technical difficulties or loss of data associated with your hardware, software or Internet connection.

By engaging in course activities that involve recording, you are consenting to the use of your appearance, image, text/chat messaging, and voice and/or likeness in the manner and under the conditions specified herein. (In the case of a live stream event, if you choose not to have your image or audio recorded, you may disable the audio and video functionality. Instructions to participate using a pseudonym instead of your real name are included where the feature exists; however, you must disclose the pseudonym to your instructor in advance in order to facilitate class participation.) If you choose not to be recorded, this notice serves as confirmation of your understanding that [indicate alternative action that students can take3].  

You are not permitted to disclose the link to/URL of an event or an event session recording or copies of recording to anyone, for any reason. Recordings are available only to authorized individuals who have been directly provided the above instructions/link for their use. Recordings for personal use, required to facilitate your learning and preparation of personal course/lecture notes, should not be shared with others without the permission of the instructor or event coordinator. Review the University’s guidelines for faculty, staff and students entering relationships with external organizations offering access to course materials for more information on your obligations with respect to keeping copies of course materials. For more information about accessibility, connect with AccessAbility Services.

1 Insert to Whom - Name the course, and who has access, such as professor, classmates, project group, teaching assistants, etc.

2 Insert Purpose - This might include: for materials review, for assessment, etc.

Insert Alternate Action - This might include: asking students to view the recording later and ask questions in the discussion forum; instructions may be provided in the assignment, in this document, or elsewhere.

Technology questions should be directed to General questions about information and privacy at the University, should be directed to