Information Security Risk and Teaching Remotely

From: Susan McCahan, Vice-Provost, Academic Programs and Vice-Provost, Innovations
Isaac Straley, Chief Information Security Officer
Date: August 12, 2020
Re: Information Security Risk and Teaching Remotely

Please distribute widely to all faculty and other instructional staff in your Unit.

As we approach the fall term, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your hard work, innovative thinking, and understanding as we all quickly adapt to the ever-changing needs and expectations for teaching and learning during this challenging time. We are working hard to support your needs and to create the best student online experience possible.

We 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.

Experts across the University are hard at work on the pedagogical challenges; divisional and campus IT departments are introducing technology improvements; and ITS has been developing solutions to address overall access for students, including by providing access to U of T VPN and access Alibaba Cloud Enterprise Network (CEN) in China.

Even with our collective hard work, no solution is perfect. Challenges exist with teaching students in regions where we do not have visibility of, or trust in, the networks their data traverse nor a clear understanding of individual legal risks. For many of us these are not new issues, as these risks exist in the normal course of our online activities; however, they are amplified by increased dependence by our students on remote access.

While there are no easy answers to these issues, we reiterate the University’s commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.

You may notice new issues in your teaching and interactions with students that require different approaches, or where you may wish to seek advice. We are not asking you to become individual experts on international legal and technical issues. We are coordinating experts across the tri-campus to provide more specific guidance for instructors in the coming weeks.

We encourage you to be thoughtful about where your students are located as you set out on an unprecedented fall term. 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.

Therefore, in communicating with students for purposes of online teaching this coming year, you may wish to consider:

  • Where a student is located
  • Their internet situation
  • What local monitoring may occur
  • What they have been asked to read, access, or discuss
  • How individual students may ask to communicate with you

We believe the best approach is to increase awareness and understanding of the issues that our students may face wherever they are – so we can help faculty and instructional staff make informed decisions about how to communicate with and offer their courses to students.

We would appreciate any feedback and/or insight that you may have at