Distance education

Which tools can be used for online education?

Now that we need to teach online, everyone seems to be looking for ways to make their lessons more (inter)active, and ways to provide students with richer learning experiences.

However, due to privacy regulations, we are not allowed to use any tool we prefer. As an organisation, we have to adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which means we are responsible for protecting our students’ en colleagues’ privacy.

Free, online tools often collect and process personal data, in exchange for their free services. A general rule of thumb is that as long as the HU doesn’t have a contract with an external tool, and if this external tool collects personal data, you are not allowed to use it.

Student can give permission to have their personal data collected. However, you are never allowed to force students to do so. In practice, this means you cannot make the use of an external tool a requirement for a course or exam. This also means that you need to provide students with a similar alternative to the external tool you are asking them to work with. In this way, students can refuse to enter their personal data, without consequences.

Tools that record video

In remote teaching, we use tools that (can) make video recordings of students. For videos and pictures, even tighter privacy laws apply. Please take the following into account:

  • For video calling, only use tools that are supported by the HU can be used. These are MS Teams, Skype for Business (for one-on-one calls) and BigBlueButton (in Canvas).
  • Tools that are not listed above, are not allowed to be used for video conferencing. If you would do this, students who do not want their personal data to be entered in the system you chose, will not be able to take part in your lessons. This counts as ‘forcing’ them to enter their personal data. This means the use of Zoom or Hangouts is prohibited.
  • Taking screenshots or audio/video recordings is prohibited, unless all participants in the video call have given permission. This goes for all tools, also if the HU does have a contract with the tool. Please be advised that anyone is allowed to retract their permission for the screenshots/recordings at any given time.

When can a tool be used?

The HU has a contract with the software provider

If the HU has a contract with the software provider, you are allowed to use the tool. If you are not sure if the HU has a contract with the tool you aim to use, contact DLO for more information.

Please note: Several tools, such as Canvas or MS Teams, can also be used outside of the HU. These services are available to everyone. It is important to check whether you are using the version of the tool that has been provided by the HU. If you use the free version, the safety of the personal data cannot be guaranteed. You can find all available tools in theĀ  Software Center.

The tool can be used without entering personal data

If you use a tool that doesn’t require students or teachers to enter their personal data, you are free to use the tools.

What are personal data?

Personal data is any information that relates to an identified or identifiable living individual. Different pieces of information, which collected together can lead to the identification of a particular person, also constitute personal data.

Please note: If you need to invite students to a tool by entering their email addresses, you are giving away their personal data. You are not allowed to do this. If students can join by entering a code, you are allowed to use that tool

Examples of tools that can be used based on the description above: Mentimeter, Nearpod, Padlet.

The use of the tool is optional, and students have a similar alternative

If students give permission for their personal data to be processed in a tool, you are allowed to use it. However, you are never allowed to force students to enter their data. This means that an external tool can never be a requirement for a tool or exam.

For example: You want to give students synchronous e-feedback using Slack, and students have explicitly stated that they do not mind signing up for the website. You still need to offer students an alternative to Slack, if they change their minds. For example, you need to offer the same feedback through MS Teams.

Second example: You want students to make an infographic for a course. You can tell them to make an infographic, however, you cannot tell them to use the online design tool Canva for this. You may recommend it, but it cannot be a requirement for the course, because students have to sign up for an account for Canva in order to use it.


Most important rules

A list of the most important rules:

  • It cannot be mandatory for students to sign up for an account for a tool that is not part of the HU. However, you are allowed to recommend students to use a certain tool.
  • A student can never be forced to use their real/full name in an external tool. Only the first name, initials, or even a fake name should suffice.
  • A student is allowed to refuse to install/download an external app.
  • A student can never be forced to share photos or videos of themselves. They are allowed to refuse this.
  • Taking screenshots or audio/video recordings is prohibited, unless all participants in the call have given explicit permission.


Do you want to see a few examples? Check out the flashcards below!