Who Can Read Your Course Documents

Confidentiality and privacy in online course

Empire State College students who work in the online environment should be aware of privacy and security issues. Here are some basic guidelines.

  • Students should treat course communications as confidential and respect the privacy of others in the course.
  • No one should allow people not enrolled in the course to view the course discussions.
  • Since many discussions involve situations related to work or community, students should be careful to use pseudonyms to respect the privacy of the organizations or individuals referred to when appropriate. It is OK to use the names of public figures or those in the news.

Empire State College values the importance of a private and safe discussion space for academic conversations. The sections below explain what people may have access to your course. If you have questions or concerns about course access, please contact the Service Desk (800 847-3000 x2420). The Service Desk will refer your concern to the proper administrator.

Who Can Read Your Course Documents

Only registered class members and the instructor have access to your course.

However, even for participants in your course, different documents within the course have different levels of privacy. Within your course, some parts can be read by all course members, and others only by you and the instructor.

  1. Drop box assignments and your instructor's evaluation of your work can be read only by you and the instructor.
  2. Discussion forum responses, questions (Ask a Question), your system profile and bulletin board items can be read by everyone who receives a password for your course.
  3. If your course has "Team" assignments, only the listed members of the group can read the Discussion forum for the team.
  4. Course E-mail is viewable only by the recipient(s).
  5. Your system profile can be read by students in your courses.
  6. Your personal file spaces are available only to you.
  7. Your portfolio materials can only be read by people who have received your permission

Course Access by Computer or Administrative Staff

Occasionally, some computer or administrative staff may need to access your course to do their job. They are professional staff who respect the confidentiality of the system and its students. These staff include:

  1. The dean or academic supervisor of your professor, who may observe the course to evaluate your professor's work.
  2. Students services staff trying to resolve an academic issue.
  3. A system administrator who needs to resolve a computer problem.
  4. Service desk staff who are assisting course members with technical difficulties

Course Guests

Your course may have guests. These may be new professors who are going to be teaching online, guest speakers or participants, or a student who has made special arrangements with the professor. A guest will request permission to "observe" from your professor. Your professor will follow Empire State College's policies about course observations. This includes:

  1. Posting a notice. The announcement will tell you who the guest is, why they wish to observe and during what time period they will be online.
  2. The announcement will indicate that you should email the professor if you have any concerns or objections to being observed. Be sure to express any concerns to your professor.
  3. If the guest does receive permission to observe, your professor will post an announcement telling you when the guest begins observing and post a second announcement when the observation period is over.
  4. The guest will be able to see the online discussion of the full group. The guest will not be able to see your written assignments or evaluations.


From time to time, the college conducts research related to its online courses. This research is related to general principles of online learning effectiveness and not tied to any particular student or course. No identifying information related to students or professors is tied to college research activities.

All research projects are approved by the Empire State College Institutional Research Board (IRB).