Local teachers tap into Kennesaw State for cybersecurity instruction

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jul 23, 2021

Faculty members from Kennesaw State University’s College of Computing and Software Engineering and Bagwell College of Education are helping metro Atlanta middle and high school teachers educate their students about cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity education camp
Through a grant they received from the GenCyber program, assistant professors of information technology Shirley Tian and Zhigang Li and assistant professor of instructional technology Yi Jin have been leading a cybersecurity education camp for the past two weeks. The 25 local teachers selected to participate, at no cost to them, have been learning how to integrate the basics of cybersecurity, algorithmic thinking and computational problem solving into their curriculum.

“The GenCyber teacher camp is a great collaboration that aligns with the University’s R2 research agenda,” Jin said. “We have merged our expertise, with KSU’s School of Instructional Technology and Innovation providing the practical K-12 teaching knowledge and the College of Computing and Software Engineering providing the hard science of cybersecurity, to equip the participating teachers with training in both aspects.”

That knowledge, in turn, will be passed on to the teachers’ middle and high school students. The stated goals of the camp are to increase interest in cybersecurity careers and diversity in the cybersecurity workforce, help all students understand correct and safe online behavior, and improve the methods for teaching cybersecurity content in K-12 school systems.

Along with completing individual coursework and group activities online, the GenCyber camp participants visited both the Kennesaw and Marietta campuses for hands-on labs and face-to-face lectures. The camp culminated with the teachers working in small groups to develop lesson plans that they will implement in their classrooms in the coming school year.

“Having a growing community of cybersecurity advocates at the middle and high school level enables us as educators to promote this field to grade 6-12 students, which will help us in our diversity and inclusion efforts,” Tian said. “The true finish line of a GenCyber Teacher Camp is not the last day of camp. The finish line is the successful transfer of cybersecurity into each teacher’s classroom.”

Cybersecurity camp
From left, Shirley Tian, Zhigang Li, and Yi Jin
Continuing KSU’s reputation as a leader in instructional technology – including elevating the School of Instructional Technology and Innovation from a department to a school earlier this year – Jin will lead research tracking how effectively the lesson plans and training from the GenCyber camp translate into actual practice in the teachers’ classrooms. She will share her findings in a follow-up conference with the teachers at the conclusion of fall semester.

“We will be able to make research-based, data-driven decisions on the next steps we are going to take to support the teachers in teaching cybersecurity topics most effectively and engaging students,” Jin said.

Some of the GenCyber camp participants are KSU alumni, including Eva Holston, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Bagwell College of Education. A computer science teacher at a middle school in Cherokee County, Holston looks forward to sharing the insights from the camp with her colleagues and students.

“I am grateful that KSU put on this camp for teachers at no cost,” Holston said. “The job market in cybersecurity is exploding, and I want to be able to empower my students with a foundational knowledge base to prepare them for careers in computer science, including the field of cybersecurity.”

In line with that, the camp organizers are optimistic that the middle and high school students who become interested in cybersecurity will want to attend Kennesaw State. KSU offers both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in cybersecurity and is home to the Institute for Cybersecurity Workforce Development.

Meanwhile, Tian, Li and Jin are looking to build on this year’s inaugural GenCyber teacher camp at KSU. They plan to pursue additional grant funding for Kennesaw State to host this camp again in coming years and envision expanding to include an advanced teacher camp and a student camp.

“This is just the beginning,” Tian said. “The GenCyber initiative is big for KSU since it connects with the dedication to cybersecurity that’s already in place at the University.”

– Paul Floeckher

Photos by Jason Getz

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.