Q&A: Can Other Online Students See My Personal Information?

Answer: This is a great question. Often in online classrooms, the instructor has access to a roster. The roster tells the instructor the students' first and last names and sometimes, additional information. The additional information may be the students':

  • address and state
  • phone number
  • student ID#
  • school and/or personal email addresses

In addition to the above information, the instructor may also have the names of other staff working with the student, such as an academic or financial aid counselor. If the student is receiving services and/or academic modifications from Disability Services, this information may be listed as well. In almost all online classrooms, the instructor is the only person privy to this information. Again, these are examples because, sometimes, the instructor may not have access to all of this information either.

Students are usually only able to see other students' first and last names and, perhaps, e-mail addresses, but not all the information the instructor may have access to. Many online schools give students the opportunity to create a profile or bio about themselves. Once entered, the profile is inputted in every class the student takes and the student is able to change and/or add information when they choose. What students share in their profile or bio is at their discretion, as long as it's appropriate and relevant for school. Some students include:

  • where they grew up and are currently living
  • marital status and children
  • motivation for school
  • current job/employment status
  • college major and career goals
  • hobbies

This gives the students in the classroom a chance to get to know one another. However, other than a name and possibly an e-mail, the rest is left up to the student. It's not appropriate to share specific details of a personal nature (i.e. relationship details, hate your boss, etc.). Sometimes, individuals feel more comfortable writing about themselves online because they aren't looking at other students face-to-face. However, it may be best to avoid sharing anything online that you wouldn't share in person and to keep communication and peer conversation appropriate to the class subject.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!