This resource has been developed to help guide instructors’ preparations and decision-making when designing a course for online/remote delivery and taking into account students who may have different learning and access needs based on technology, location and other factors. Questions related to this document and requests for additional guidance should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We stand by the principle that the essential purpose of the University is to engage in the pursuit of truth, the advancement of learning and the dissemination of knowledge. We also recognize that there are particular challenges regarding online learning for students located in other countries. Questions about privacy, surveillance, and free inquiry may arise among students who reside in countries with different laws, cultural norms, and monitoring by law enforcement.
While there are no easy answers to these issues, we reiterate the University’s commitment to the principles of academic freedom, equal opportunity, equity and justice.
As with many academic pursuits, instructors must balance issues of freedom of inquiry, equitable participation, accessibility, and vulnerability when it comes to our students’ learning experience. These issues are not new but responding to the current public health emergency presents new variations, scope, and responses.
Instructors can balance considerations for our students through actions such as:
- As possible, becoming familiar with relevant security, privacy, and legal obligations
- Acknowledging students may be best informed to manage risk in their own jurisdictions
- Remaining conscious of not only risks involving safety and well-being but also issues related to access
- Being aware of possible impacts on instructor safety and on-going access to countries related to their academic interests
- Being prepared to adjust to shifting participation dynamics that may arise as students progress through various content and activity components of the course
We encourage instructors to be thoughtful about where students are located. For example, there is a far greater likelihood of surveillance in some countries outside of Canada and this may impact a student’s ability to engage with some course material. Or, students in some regions may be limited in their ability to use certain online technologies that we take for granted. Solutions to individual circumstances may be found in existing strategies, like universal design. Universal design encompasses a broad framework of helpful approaches to course design that allow for multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement in a course.
Understand the dynamics of your students and any potential risks
Requesting students answer a quick anonymous intake survey (for example, using Microsoft Forms to embed a survey in a Quercus page) could help you assess potential risks or limitations for students in remote locations. Some questions you may want to consider are:
- Do you have access to high speed internet?
- Is your current location outside of Canada?
- Do you have access to the minimum technical requirements?
Be transparent with your students regarding potential risk
Convey to them an openness if they are not feeling comfortable with the material, and that they can reach out to you for support.
Suggested language to share:
If you are a citizen of another country, and/or accessing your courses at the University of Toronto from a jurisdiction outside of Canada, you may be subject to the laws of the country in which you are residing, or any country of which you have citizenship. The University of Toronto has a long-established commitment to freedom of expression, with this right enabled by an environment valuing respect, diversity, and inclusion. In your classes, you may be assigned readings, or discuss topics that are against the law in other jurisdictions. I encourage you to become familiar with any local laws that may apply to you and any potential impact on you if course content and information could be considered illegal, controversial, or politically sensitive. If you have any concerns about these issues, please contact me directly to discuss them.
Navigate the potential chilling effect of these concerns
Instructors may be asked by students to censor course content in order to protect their students or their research. Following the principle of free inquiry, instructors should not feel compelled to change their course content. If instructors believe changes to course content are absolutely necessary for reasons of safety, the changes should not affect students who are not in jeopardy.
Consider alternatives for content delivery
Students in some countries may not be able to access course readings from publishers’ sites, and instructors may wish to seek alternatives to linking to content. Copyright and licensing restrictions impact how content can be delivered and accessed, and provision of content online must comply with Canadian copyright law and U of T licensing agreements. A number of Copyright Resources are available and the Syllabus Service can provide support.
Manage the potential risks for recording course content and provide guidance
As always, instructors should be conscious of risks involved with recording, storing, and transmitting recordings of class discussions, especially where student identity and students’ opinions are evident. Be aware that regardless of the platform or system encryption, such files can be duplicated and could potentially pose a risk to class participants years after the class has finished. This must be balanced with pedagogical and equitable access issues.
Provide flexible options for interactive participation
Consider options allowing students, particularly those who are at risk, to participate in instruction related to sensitive topics using videoconference or message board methods that allow an alias to protect their identity, and with video turned off to avoid being captured in a recording. Some students may request different communication platforms.
Provide flexible options for assessment
Flexible assessment planning is a proactive strategy to ensure inclusion of all students, regardless of their context or constraints. When possible, provide test and exam options from which students may choose to demonstrate their achievement of course learning outcomes.
Leverage existing technology recommended by the University
Use technologies that are supported by the University of Toronto and accessible to students studying abroad. Consult with educational technology professionals for advice.
How to get more help
If instructors or Chairs have any concerns or questions on this issue, or are fielding student or teaching assistant questions that they feel unequipped to answer, please email our Information Security Risk Working Group of faculty and staff experts at email@example.com.