Calgary

Calgary Catholic School District investigates multiple online class intrusions

The Calgary Catholic School District says it is looking into several instances of uninvited strangers joining online classes and disrupting lessons.

One student says people 'who aren't part of our school or class' have been joining online calls

A young student watches a lesson online while learning from home. (Rido/Shutterstock)

The Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) says it is looking into several instances of uninvited strangers joining online classes and disrupting lessons.

Nathalie Seskus, a Grade 7 St. Alphonsus School student — and the daughter of a CBC employee — said that since moving online this week, her class has been crashed by uninvited strangers more than once.

"It happened in two calls — one on [a] Google meeting, one on Zoom, where people who aren't part of our school or class have just been joining in calls," Seskus said.

Seskus, 12, said the students and teacher can tell when someone uninvited had joined their chat rooms because of their usernames.

"We noticed because we're always supposed to use our real names when we're on calls. When we don't, we're asked to change them," she said. 

"In one case, when we were on a Zoom meeting, a man who was posing as a student had a random username."

Seskus said the teacher told him to leave because he wasn't part of her class.

"She had kicked him out of the meeting and he joined again," Seskus said.

She said in the other case, the intruder claimed to be a new student. 

"But he sounded like a man, not a child," Seskus said. "Everyone in the class was telling our teacher to kick them out.  So she did, and we didn't see him pop up again."

Disruptions were more common in the spring

Bryan Szumlas, chief superintendent of the CCSD, said these disruptions are definitely happening — but were more common in the spring.

"For example, zoom back from March to June, there were some security issues with them, but they have since improved their technology significantly," Szumlas said. "It has been assessed by our Calgary Catholic technology team and it is a platform that we are comfortable with."

Szumlas said the process of moving all Grade 7 to 12 students online this week was bound to include hiccups along the way. 

Chief Superintendent Bryan Szumlas says teachers are allowed to use whatever virtual platform they are most comfortable with. (CBC)

"What I did hear wasn't a huge problem," Szumlas said. "But I did hear about it in one or two classrooms where a teacher never clicked on a security feature and consequently [people outside the class joined].

"We suspect it was just another student playing a prank and jumping into a class and making an inappropriate comment and then taking off."

Szumlas said these types of incidents are taken very seriously and investigated fully.

"When something like this happens, obviously the teacher would communicate that to the principal and the principal would then start an investigation," Szumlas said. 

Szumlas said that should an incident be criminal, then the principal would also contact Calgary police, adding that police have not yet been required.

Moving students online

The superintendent said the direction from the province to move older students online came relatively quickly.

"There was only four or five days for teachers to prepare," he said. "So the direction that we've given our teachers is that, use whatever platform you're comfortable with, so that we can continue the continuity of education.

"We've tried to give our teachers choice here. And I think we live in a world today that is so full of different technologies that are improving continuously, that having that rich variety is only good for our staff and good for our students."

Szumlas said the district is constantly working with staff to help them understand some of the new security features on Zoom and other online platforms.

"One of the measures is that all students need to wait in the waiting room and then be admitted by the teacher and the teacher by clicking a few buttons within Zoom can lock in the student names and also prevent other people from accessing the room," he said.

Calgary Board of Education experience

The Calgary Board of Education said this is not an issue it has been seeing.

"We have not heard of incidences of strangers being a part of online lessons with our students," said the CBE in an emailed statement.

The majority of the CBE's online learning takes place through Google Classrooms or D2L, according to the district.

"Classroom spaces, physical or digital, are learning environments specific for guiding interactions between teachers and students," the statement read.

The CBE said there have been instances where a parent or guardian pops in on a lesson. 

"Caregivers entering a classroom space without invite and without following all of our guidelines are asked to leave and reminded of the importance of privacy for all students," the statement read.

"In most cases, our school-based administrators share the expectations of the classroom and parallel these expectations with face-to-face learning environments, and parents or caregivers are very understanding and receptive."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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