A Student’s Guide to Learning Data, Analytics + Privacy

UBC launched the Learning Analytics Project in 2017, with the goal of facilitating a data-driven approach to improving learning and the student experience. Part of the Learning Analytics Project’s mission is to ensure that students’ privacy and learning data are protected and that learning analytics efforts are carried out in a way that’s ethical, in agreement with UBC policy and BC legislation, and sensitive to students’ privacy concerns.

Learn more about why UBC is exploring the emerging field of learning analytics.

What is learning data?

Learning data refers to data that is generated as a result of users’ learning activities, including any activity that takes place in a course or that contributes to students’ grades.

Learning data includes content that users actively create when interacting with Canvas or other learning tools, such as students’ discussion posts, assignment uploads, and quiz submissions, as well as feedback and grades provided by the course instructor. In addition to the content that students actively create in their courses, learning data also includes information that learning tools log about user activity, such as the time and date of on-page clicks and activity, logins, page views, tool launches, file uploads, posts, and quiz submissions.

At UBC, instructors may choose to analyze learning data to better understand how students are interacting with their courses and to inform improvements to course design or teaching practices. The UBC Learning Analytics Project is also currently developing learning analytics tools for students that support reflection and self-regulation.

How is students’ learning data protected?

At UBC, data from online learning tools—including all data that’s accessed and used as part of the Learning Analytics Project—is collected and accessed according to best practices in privacy and security, UBC policy, and BC legislation.

UBC policy requires that instructors and staff only access learning data as part of their duties as UBC employees and that they take appropriate steps to keep that information secure. Data that’s retained though UBC’s online learning applications is stored in Canada, as required by BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). Learn more about how personal information is managed in Canvas.

Some tools and apps that UBC instructors choose to use in their courses, such as Twitter or Google Docs, store data outside of Canada. When these types of tools are being used in a course, instructors are asked to let their students know that their data is being stored outside of Canada. If you’re ever taking a course that requires you to use a tool that stores data outside of Canada, keep in mind that you have the option of using an alias to ensure you can’t be identified.

Who has access to my data? How is that data used?

UBC policy requires that all instructors and staff only access your data when it’s needed for their work at UBC. That means that the purpose of accessing learning data should be to support teaching and learning. Read on to learn more about who can access your data and why.


You have access to all your own learning data! The Canvas API (application program interface) allows students (and all users) to download all their learning data and to write programs that interact with Canvas. User permissions for the Canvas API are set in the same way as the web application — that means that individuals can only use the API to access courses that they’re enrolled in, and instructors have a greater degree of access than students. Students can only access their own learning data — not data about other students — through the API.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our guide to accessing and working with the Canvas API. You may also be interested in signing up for UBC’s next Learning Analytics Hackathon, taking place in the fall of 2019.

Teaching staff

Your instructors and TAs have access to the data that you generate in their courses through UBC’s online learning platforms and tools. Some instructors access and analyze data from online learning systems — either using learning analytics tools or conducting their own analyses — to identify ways their course could be improved and to support students’ progress. However, not all instructors who use Canvas or other online learning tools choose to use or view learning data.

You can learn more about how instructors use learning data by checking out the learning analytics tools that are currently available to instructors at UBC as part of the Learning Analytics Project, including Threadz and Canvas Analytics.

Support staff

Some UBC support staff are authorized to access learning data as part of their work at UBC. This access is granted for the purpose of supporting instructors with teaching tasks, troubleshooting technical issues, and answering students’ and instructors’ questions.

In addition to the data generated in courses, data accessed by support staff can include things like…

  • Your internet protocol (IP) address.
  • Device event information, such as crashes, system activity, hardware settings, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request, and referral URL.
  • On-page clicks and activity, such as logins, views, tool launches, file uploads, posts, and quiz submissions.

UBC staff are only permitted to access learning data when it’s needed for their official UBC duties. To get access to learning data, staff need to have permission from the course instructor and/or sign an agreement that outlines their terms of access and the steps that they need to take to maintain security and confidentiality.


Researchers or faculty members can request access to learning data for research projects being conducted at UBC or in collaboration with other institutions. Permission to use learning data for research purposes must be provided by the UBC Research Ethics Board.

If approval is granted, the request for access to data will then reviewed by the person or group responsible for that data, called a data steward. The data steward for requests to access learning data is the Learning Data Committee.

If approval for access to learning data is granted, it will only apply with conditions of confidentiality and security. If a data steward decides that granting access to requested data is not in the best interest of students or that granting access violates UBC policy, the steward can decide not to release the data — even if approval was received from the Research Ethics Board.

Instructors and staff involved in quality assurance activities

Instructors want to know if their teaching is effective, and many instructors review and improve their courses and teaching practices on an ongoing basis. When instructors take steps to evaluate the effectiveness of their own teaching practices and course design, this is referred to as quality assurance.

Learning analytics can support quality assurance efforts by giving instructors access to real-time or historical data that helps them fine-tune their teaching approach and reflect on the effectiveness of different aspects of their courses.

UBC instructors already have access to the learning data that’s generated in their own courses, which they can use for quality assurance purposes without needing to request additional permissions. Instructors, researchers, and UBC support staff can also apply to the Learning Data Committee for access to additional data they don’t ordinarily have access to (such as data from other courses) to support quality assurance efforts. If access is granted, this decision will be reviewed annually.

Academic administrators

Senior academic administrators, such as deans or associate deans, can request access to learning data in a few special cases. For example, if you appealed your grade or requested a change of standing in your program, your learning data may be used to inform a decision in response your request.

For some accredited programs, accreditation bodies require proof that specific learning outcomes are being met by the program as part of the accreditation review process. If learning data were provided for accreditation purposes, all identifying information (name and student number) would be removed.

Software vendors

Some UBC platforms and tools — Canvas for example — are operated by companies that are external to UBC. All vendors that work with UBC and that have access to personal information sign contracts requiring them to keep learning data secure and to protect students’ personal information as required by FIPPA and UBC policies.

UBC’s contracts with these vendors also set out the conditions for how vendors can request access to learning data. Generally speaking, access is permitted to allow vendors to update, test, and configure software and to improve system performance. When vendors access learning data for these purposes, your data would be combined with other students’ data and identifying details (such as your name and student number) would be removed.

Vendors may also be given access to your data temporarily to resolve technical issues. If needed, your data could be accessed by vendors outside of Canada. In that case, it would be handled as required by FIPPA, UBC policy, and the vendor’s contract with UBC.

Learn more + get in touch

Interested in finding out more about learning analytics at UBC? Learn more about opportunities for students to get involved with the Learning Analytics Project.

If you have questions or comments about privacy, data access, or learning analytics at UBC, please get in touch using our online form.