Exam cheating at Newfoundland high school: Lessons to be learned

February 7, 2020
photo of student inside classroom

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

My day started with an interview with Bernice Hillier from the CBC Newfoundland Morning show about the recent case of exam cheating at Exploits Valley High school in Grand Falls-Windsor, NL. According to a CBC news article, there was an alleged break and enter at the school last week during the school’s mid-term exam period.

CBC news quoted the school principal, Mr. Paul Lewis, as saying:

“Early last week, the school administration became aware that unauthorized entry was recently gained to our school and individuals accessed sensitive curriculum-related school materials,” read Lewis’ letter to parents. “We understand that copies of the exams were made available and a number of students may have chosen to access this stolen material in advance of the exams.” (See the full CBC article.)

Based on my research related to academic misconduct, it is fairly rare for students to break into a school to steal exams these days. It is more likely that exam questions or answers would be posted online, as happened at Brandon University last fall. Breaking and entering is a criminal offence and in the case of the Newfoundland high school the RCMP are involved, according to the media.

As I reflect on this morning’s interview, here are some lessons to be learned from this case:

Schools need an Exam Security Protocol

The CBC article talked about an alleged break and enter. I could not help wondering how secure the exams were inside the school. Were they easily accessible once someone was within the building? Or were they secured in a locked filing cabinet within a locked office?

K-12 school districts and schools can help uphold academic integrity by developing a clear exam security protocol, such as this one at the University of Regina. It can be a plain language document that outlines what the expectations are for keeping testing materials secure throughout the life cycle of an exam.

At the very least, physical copies of printed exams need to be kept in locked filing cabinets within a locked office, with the keys stored in a separate location.

Make the Exam Security Protocol public

Then, ensure the Exam Security Protocol is publicly posted online. The University of Regina does this by posting their protocol as a downloadable .pdf. This makes the expectations for exam security clear to administrators, teachers, parents, students, and other stakeholders.

It also helps to communicate to the public that schools care about academic integrity from an organizational perspective.

Have a Communications Plan in place to address academic misconduct

Because there is an expectation for schools to uphold public trust it is important for school boards to have a communications plan in place and ready to roll out instantly when there are breaches of integrity. Having clear, positive, pro-active messaging in place and a plan to communicate that to the public is critical.

If a school board or a school never needs to implement the plan, that is all the better, but it is important to know what messages to convey, along with how and when, and to whom to convey them. Whether it is tax payer dollars or private school fees that fund education, parents and community members contribute to education. So it is important to have mechanisms in place to communicate openly and transparently about how violations of academic misconduct are handled in a positive and pro-active manner. Upholding public trust is crucial when an academic misconduct crisis occurs.

Engage the public in conversations about how schools uphold integrity

At the beginning of the radio interview this morning Bernice Hillier indicated that the school had declined to comment. Although I have research expertise on the topic of academic integrity, it is also important to get a local perspective. (Even though I grew up in Atlantic Canada, I have lived in Calgary for a long time. I am the first to admit that at times my knowledge of local news is limited.)

Not only is a local perspective important, it is imperative for school leaders to take the opportunity to communicate strong messages of integrity when there are breaches. I was disappointed to hear that neither the Exploits Valley High school, nor the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) would engage with the media, apart from a written statement.

Schools and school boards have an obligation to work continuously to maintain public trust. A breach of integrity is also an opportunity to engage with stakeholders. Key messages to communicate at a time of crisis like this include:

  1. Our students are our first priority. We care about our students and we are here for them.
  2. We are committed to supporting our students to learn in ethical ways.
  3. As a school community, here are the steps we are taking to uphold academic integrity…
  4. As a school community, here is what we have learned from this incident…

Incidents like this are as much an opportunity for school communities, as for students, to learn and grow. Closing ranks and declining to communicate don’t actually do much to restore public trust in the education system.

If school administrators want students to be honest and transparent about what happened, then they could choose to lead by example by being engaging in open communication themselves. This might include:

  1. Town Hall assembly for parents, students and community members.
  2. Open and transparent communications about the lessons learned by the school and school district.
  3. Public statement about the changes that will be made going forward to uphold academic integrity within the school.

There is no doubt that breaking and entering is a serious matter and a crime. This might also be an opportunity to engage educational leaders in conversations about whether a restorative justice approach might be appropriate in a case such as this.

Breaches of academic integrity present opportunities for learning and for community building. There is still time to address this situation in a positive and pro-active manner that keeps the focus on student learning and student success.


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

Managing Social Media Disasters: What to do when employees go off the digital deep end

February 29, 2012

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional developmentSocial media can be an organization’s worst nightmare. What do you do when employees badmouth their boss on Facebook? Or Tweet sensitive company information? These are complex situations with no easy answers. But there are practical strategies you can use to mitigate the effects of employee’s inappropriate behaviour on social networks and more importantly, prevent disasters before they happen.

It only takes one person to create a social media disaster for an organization. When that happens, the situation becomes complex and messy very quickly. You will leave this session with practical ideas that you can implement to control social media damage and prevent your employees from going off the digital deep end. Here are 10 tips to help:

Preventing a social media disaster

#1 – Develop an organizational social media policy

Putting together a social media policy for your organization is a critical first step in ensuring that people understand what is expected of them and why.

#2 – Provide training to your employees and managers

Policies mean nothing if people do not understand how to follow them and why they are important. Offer organizational lunch and learns, webinars and other short, quick training for your employees.

Social media training should not be one-way. It should not involve a trainer standing at the front of the room delivering content or telling employees what the social media rules are as part of compliance training. The most effective social media training involves conversations, dialogue and the participants exchanging ideas and input.

#3 – Establish disciplinary protocols before you need to use them

Most large organizations have standards and disciplinary procedures in place for workplace behavior. In an ideal world, discipline is unnecessary. But let’s face it, sometimes, people do stupid things. Take for example, the Domino’s Pizza employees who thought it would be funny to put snot-covered cheese on the sandwiches they were preparing. Not only did they sell the snotty food to customers, they video-taped their antics and posted their video to YouTube.

In that case, the employees were fired and charged by the local police with delivering prohibited foods to the public. What would you do if this happened at your organization?

Organizational response to a social media disaster

#4 – Respond quickly

A social media disaster is much like other kinds of organizational crises in that it requires an immediate response. You need to respond within 24 hours.

#5 – Apologize

Gone are the days when an organization can try to cover up a disaster. In today’s world, news travels fast. Your customers, clients, investors and funders may know about a situation before you do. If the organization has screwed up, the first step to recovering your reputation is to acknowledge the screw up and say you are sorry. Anything else just makes the situation worse.

#6 – Ditch the “corporate speak”

In addition to the apology, you need to sound genuine. A speech prepared for the TV cameras that is full of multi-syllabic words and corporate jargon is not as effective as a sincere, heart-felt apology, using plain and simple language. In a crisis situation, we tend to use shorter, simpler language. The stilted “corporate speak” of the late 20th century creates an immediate negative visceral reaction among people who hear it today. Be real. Be straight up. Be sincere. Nothing else counts.

Deal with the offender

#7 – Immediate response

In addition to a response from the entire organization, you need to deal with the offender(s) immediately. If nothing else, contact the person and let them know that their behavior has been unacceptable. Make an immediate, polite and straightforward “cease and desist” request. If nothing else say, “I don’t know how we’re going to deal with this. For now, I’m asking you to promise me that you won’t post anything else about this on social media. Would you do that for me, please?”

#8 – Insist on accountability

This is not an easy situation to deal with. An immediate reaction from a manager might be to simply fire the person. Given the circumstances, that may be warranted or it may be an over-reaction. If you decide that the offense does not warrant firing, the offender still needs to account for his or her actions. Asking “Why did you do it?” may help you understand, but it does not really move you towards a solution.

A productive conversation might include questions like: “What would you do if you were me?”, “What will it take to make this situation right?” or even “How do we make this right again?” You may not get the answers you want, but you will gain valuable insight that will help you determine your next steps.

Make it right

#9 – Affirm your commitment to your customers or clients

What makes a social media disaster so terrible is that an employee can go rogue in a matter of seconds… and customers or clients can find out before management does. That means your customers form their own opinions and make decisions based on the information that they have in a given moment, not necessarily based on what is true.

Organizations that serve customers or clients do not exist without them. They are the reason you do what you do. So, taking care of them is top priority. Make your response more about them, than about punishing an offender. A simple statement such as, “This isn’t how we treat our customers. We are going to do whatever it takes to earn your trust back” can be very effective. (Remember to ditch the corporate speak and be sincere).

#10 – Use social media as an engagement tool

This is not the time to silence your fans or supporters who are momentarily angry and express their feelings on your organizational Facebook page. Instead, engage your customers in conversations and dialogue. Re-iterate your apology (but not ad infinitum) and ask them what they would do to make it better. Re-direct the conversation in a positive way that is about helping you re-build the loyalty you may have lost.

These are just a few tips to help you in a complex situation. The reality is that a social media disaster can affect an organization for a long time after it has happened. Using the incident as an opportunity to learn more about your customers, what they want and what matters to them is an effective way to ensure an effective response and a long-term solution to help you re-built your reputation.

Want to get your employees, managers and leaders trained in how to manage social media disasters? Learn how in one of these programs, all of which are offered as live training and e-learning programs:

  • a one-hour webinar
  • a half-day workshop
  • a full-day workshop
Here’s what the curriculum looks like:
View this document on Scribd

Join us on February 29, 2012 at noon Mountain time for a one-hour webinar offered by Chinook Learning on this content. You’ll get the condensed version of the “how to” steps in 55 minutes.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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