Cybersecurity Curriculum from Iowa State Will Hit Schools in the Fall

A university research team plans lessons to teach middle and high school students about computer literacy.

by Julie Ferrell, Ames Tribune, Iowa / May 4, 2015 0
Iowa State University plans curriculum to help middle and high school students understand cybersecurity. Photo of the National Security Agency headquarters. "National Security Agency, 2013" by Trevor Paglen - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

(TNS) — Researchers at Iowa State University are hoping to bring the subject of cybersecurity to grade school classrooms.  

The team is releasing the nation's first computer literacy curriculum aimed at middle and high school students, and it is expected to be ready as early as this fall.

Teachers were introduced to the free program last weekend during a workshop at the IT-Olympics computer competition on ISU's campus.

Doug Jacobson, professor of electrical and computer engineering at ISU, said 15 schools already expressed interest in the program during the workshop.

"We've been doing this literacy course at the college level for non-computer people, and we've been teaching that for three years just as a one-credit, half-semester course," he said. "We've always thought we could do a better job of teaching everybody about security."

Jacobson said the lessons are even more relevant to students now, as many schools are introducing one-to-one laptop initiatives to students as early as middle school.

The curriculum will include several workshops, videos, activities and presentation materials that can teach students about malicious software, scams and spam and unsecure wireless networks. But the content will also teach them how to adapt to changes, Jacobson said, as hackers continue to evolve.

"Some of these simple awareness things people tell you, it's really hard to know what to do. You can't just say not to open email attachments, sometimes those are good," he said. "So we want them to understand what these things are doing and how they can change."

The lessons can also be used in several ways, Jacobson said. Teachers can use them regularly in their class, either as a "full-blown semester curriculum," or a few workshops during a unit in the class, he said. Schools are also encouraged to use portions of the curriculum during occasional school-wide assemblies.

Jacobson said that while the main goal is to spread education on cybersecurity, he also hopes the lessons can be a way to introduce more students to the computer world, and maybe inspire a few students to try their hand at a career in the field."

"The primary goal is we believe everyone should be security literate," he said. "We discovered when we teach this on campus, students think this might be a cool thing to study. So hopefully a few kids will think this could be cool and pursue that." 

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