Maintaining Privacy in Online Teaching

Respecting the privacy of others is important, and maybe especially so when teaching online. There are multiple ways of inadvertently sharing personal details that you did not mean to share. This article considers ways of reducing the likelihood of oversharing when teaching online and using Zoom. 

Important note: The information contained below is intended as a starting point. Different institutions have different policies, and there may be specific legislation that governs privacy in class – you should consult with policies at your institution for further guidance. 

Types of private information

There are several forms of private information that may accidentally disclose when working on Zoom. These include:

  • Student private information: Information about students that they may share during class. 
  • Your personal information: For example personal emails or your calendar appointments.
  • General personal lifestyle: Your office and living environment

Below are some approaches for taking into account privacy considerations when using Zoom.

Ensuring nothing is visible onscreen

One of the key dangers of sharing your screen is that you accidentally reveal private material that you may have visible. Whether it is an email that pops-up on screen, the sites that you are looking at, or the icons that you have on your desktop, you may unintentionally reveal details that you did not mean to display.

Even if such information is not directly private, it can be distracting for users – the moment you have your browser bookmarks or desktop shortcuts open, students will spend more time looking at these shortcuts than on the presentation. 

Share only the program, not your entire screen

The most basic advice to reduce the likelihood that you will share private information is to only share the program that you want to share, rather than your entire screen.

Even if you think you have closed private tabs, there is always a danger of a pop-up that you never intended, and only sharing the desired application reduces the likelihood of that impacting your call. 

Closing all applications prior to starting your call

Even if you plan on sharing a specific application, it is good practice to close all other applications (and maybe especially private ones like email applications). If you have a lot of applications open it is easy to click the wrong one when video sharing, or to accidentally share your entire screen.

One approach: Different log-on account

One approach for ensuring that nothing else is on-screen, or possible to pop-up when screen sharing is to have a completely separate login account that you create just for teaching. This can be particularly useful if you have email messages that pop up on your main account. 

Ensuring nothing visible in the background

One of the key dangers of recording classes from your office (or bedroom) is that personal information or photos may be visible in the background. While many of these may not be confidential, it may still not be the personal window that you want to share with your students.

Ways of reducing the likelihood that you are over-sharing, potentially without even realizing it include:

  • Systematically tidying your office: This may seem an obvious suggestion, but the more cluttered your backdrop is, the greater the likelihood that there are personal items on display without you even realizing it. 
  • Reviewing your backdrop: Finally, it’s important to systematically review how you look onscreen, considering how your background appears to those that will be on the call. Sometimes it’s possible to assume that you have everything sufficiently tidy, however only to notice things on the recording that are not visible when assessing your backdrop in person.
  • Virtual background: Another possibility is to use the virtual background available in Zoom. This ensures that even if you have a cluttered office, then all of the items that are on display. I no longer visible on your webcam.

Reducing the likelihood students don't share private details in recorded discussions

Many institutions have policies about class recordings. Some schools and universities mandate class recordings of online classes to allow students who are not able to make the original recording to make the class. Others may prevent it, potentially due to privacy concerns, to provide a safe place for open student discussions, or to ensure that students actually attend classes in person.

If you are recording classes, it is important to: 

  • Make students aware if the class is recorded: Students may reveal information express opinions during the call, without realizing that the call is being recorded. Even though Zoom includes a notification indicating the recording, it is also important to highlight to students if the class will be recorded and made available afterwards. 
  • Remove content that contains private material: If you become aware that students have shared private discussions (e.g., particularly sensitive material that they would not want becoming known), it is important to remove it from the recording.
  • Consider the duration that the recording will be available: You may also consider only making available the recording for a limited period of time (e.g., a few months after the class) – providing the benefit of students who missed class being able to catch up, while ensuring that the recording does not persist indefinitely (while recognizing that it may still be possible for students to download it in the intermediary period). 
  • Consider where the recording is made available: It is also important to consider how the video will be made available, limiting its availability to only those who need to access to it rather than making it publicly available online. 


Ensuring privacy in an online setting is not easy. There are competing depends for making sure that the class is accessible to all, including those who may not be able to attend for example due to illness, as well as respecting the privacy of those on the call.

Overall though, it is important to be aware of the situations where private information – including your own – may be inadvertently shared. Some simple steps can often reduce the likelihood of issues arising during the call. 

Related articles

Disable Zoom Chat

The chat feature on Zoom can sometimes be useful – potentially for sharing links with others – but it can also be distracting when presenting. Getting a flashing notification can interrupt the flow of a presentation, and allowing others to share messages when you are presenting can lead to side-conversations. Learn how to temporarily and permanently disable the chat feature. 

Display 49 Participants in Zoom Gallery View

Although the default settings in Zoom limits the number of thumbnails displayed in the gallery view to 25, this can be increased to 49. This article explains how to increase the number of participants displayed and the technical requirements to do.

Increasing Student Preparation for Online Classes

While maintaining energy and engagement may be some of the most important parts of ensuring the successful delivery of online classes, this is particularly difficult if few students have prepared in advance for the class. Particularly for discussion-focused classes, ensuring that students take steps to engage with the material in advance of the class can go a long way to avoiding situations where the conversations remaining very superficial in nature.

5 Features We Hope Zoom Adds Soon

Zoom has quickly become the go-to video conferencing software for online learning. But it is far from perfect, and some much-needed features would make the online learning experience a much more satisfying experience, for students and educators alike. Here is our wish list for features we would love Zoom to have.

See a Participant View of Zoom

It can be useful to see Zoom as your students do – this makes it easier to know what they are likely seeing at there end and provide guidance and instructions. This article shows how Zooms looks from the student perspective.

Enhancing the Integrity of Online Examination

While remote, unsupervised exams are inherently difficult to supervise, there are approaches that can reduce the risk of integrity issues in an online environment. This article explores approaches for enhancing the entirety of remote examinations.

Personalizing Zoom

Although Zoom does not allow many opportunities for customization, there are several small adjustments to make Zoom slightly more personalized. This article will explain changing your profile picture, waiting room interface, and other personalization opportunities.

Setting up a Doc Cam with Zoom

If you need to capture your handwriting as part of presenting online via Zoom, a document camera can be the way to go. This article explores two different ways of sharing your document camera via Zoom.

Related articles

Display 49 Participants in Zoom Gallery View

Although the default settings in Zoom limits the number of thumbnails displayed in the gallery view to 25, this can be increased to 49. This article explains how to increase the number of participants displayed and the technical requirements to do.

Read More »

Bringing Energy to your Online Class

One of the most important considerations when teaching online is how to maintain student energy and engagement. This article explores ways of bringing some energy to the class, with a specific focus on online teaching environments.

Read More »

Scheduling a Zoom Meeting

If you are new to Zoom, there are a lot of settings that are useful to be aware of when setting up a meeting. This article explores those settings, with guidance on what may be useful for your class.

Read More »

Contingency Planning your Online Classes

Online teaching presents some new difficulties that have the potential of derailing a class. This article explores some possible sources of disruption and considers ways of reducing the likelihood of issues arising, or dealing with such problems should they occur in the class.

Read More »

Establishing Online Class Norms

Establishing clear norms and expectations around online learning is important for ensuring a smooth and successful class delivery. This article explores some of the important expectations to establish to help deliver a smooth and successful class.

Read More »

Downloading Attendance from Zoom

If your class incorporates attendance as part of its grading structure, it is useful to be able to download a list of class attendance, rather than have to manually record participation levels – this article describes how to download attendance for each class.

Read More »

Sharing a PowerPoint via Zoom

One of the most common ways of presenting on Zoom is to share a PowerPoint Presentation. In this article, we will explore how to set PowerPoint presentations to open as a separate Windows that can then be shared from within Zoom.

Read More »

To Sit or to Stand when Teaching Online

It’s easy to assume that sitting is the best way of teaching on-line – all your students will be sitting down. However, there are some advantages to consider of standing up when delivering your class. This article will explore the benefits of both options.

Read More »

Resolving Technical Issues with Zoom

From connection and internet issues to microphone and webcam problems, there will inevitably be at least some technology issues during your Zoom classes. This article and its accompanying student-companion, is intended to help you to provide support to students who are having issues connecting to your Zoom call.

Read More »

See a Participant View of Zoom

It can be useful to see Zoom as your students do – this makes it easier to know what they are likely seeing at there end and provide guidance and instructions. This article shows how Zooms looks from the student perspective.

Read More »