Mixed Reality Based Interactive Cybersecurity Education for Middle School Students
Individuals and organizations around the world are turning to information and communication technology (ICT) to help manage all aspects of life and businesses. ICT companies are at the same time continuously developing new approaches to advance online safety, security, and privacy. The shortage of cybersecurity professionals creates risks for both national and homeland security. These risks are exacerbated by the lack of diversity among cybersecurity professionals. Cybersecurity education programs that meet the needs of a more diverse group of students and can be easily implemented by educators are needed. These programs need to expose students to cybersecurity starting in the middle-school years when they begin to solidify their academic and other identities. By enhancing the knowledge of cybersecurity and positive motivation, such programs could lead to potential future interest in cybersecurity careers, thus creating a pipeline for a robust and diverse cybersecurity workforce. This project will formulate, design, and prototype innovative mixed-reality (MR) learning content to make cybersecurity concepts concrete and engaging for middle school students. The work will be guided by an interdisciplinary team of scholars from the University of Delaware and involves partnerships with the Delaware Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, local schools and districts. The project is intended to directly impact 10 middle school teachers and approximately 350 students including students with disabilities through the design, pilot, and implementation efforts. The project is guided by three goals: (1) iteratively design a set of concrete and interactive MR activities addressing key cybersecurity concepts (e.g., steganography, phishing, and firewalls) with teacher and student input throughout the design process; (2) increase student knowledge of key cybersecurity concepts, understanding of the importance of cybersecurity, and interest in cybersecurity careers; and (3) produce a set of design principles for MR activities in computing. MR activities will be iteratively refined based on observations, teacher interviews, and student survey feedback. Short pre-pilots will test the usability of the materials and provide teachers a classroom context to evaluate success. A final pilot will be conducted in middle school classrooms utilizing a pre/posttest design with assessments of student cybersecurity learning and motivation. Based on the wide attention on cybersecurity in the workforce, this work will help create new models for K-12 cybersecurity education while exposing students to new and emerging technologies. The research instruments, assessment tools, and outcomes of this work will be disseminated through workshops, publications, presentations, and a web portal. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.