In 2018, the U.S. employed nearly 716,000 people in cybersecurity positions, with approximately 314,000 cybersecurity job openings, according to Cyberseek.org. The demand for a trained cybersecurity workforce is generally expected to grow over the next decade. To close this gap, secure our nation’s computer systems and keep our citizens safe, the U.S. needs to train a vast cohort of people with diverse backgrounds and skills. People must understand a problem in order to be able to fix it, and many of our current cybersecurity challenges are not purely technical: they involve how humans interact with each other, technology and software, as well as law, society and ethics.
To capture the interest of a broad and diverse group students—especially those who are more interested in creative and social issues than science and technology—waiting until college, or even high school, to talk about cybersecurity careers is just too late. Getting young people interested in cybersecurity careers requires reaching down into the middle schools: studies show that early exposure and engagement increase the chances that young people will seek out the courses and extra-curricular activities that will help them to prepare for cybersecurity careers.
The CyberMiSTS program offers a 2-week workshop for middle school CTE teachers that will prepare them to teach their students about cybersecurity. Content for the workshop will be developed with core faculty from the National Security Institute (NSI) at Stony Brook University. The curriculum seeks to inspire students by showing how poor cybersecurity can impact industries such as healthcare, agriculture, transportation, entertainment, and hospitality, and show the wide range of skills and roles that are needed to develop and maintain a more secure future. During the workshop, teachers will develop their own course materials, including creating customized graphic stories using Comic-BEE software created by Secure Decisions, to give teachers and their students a way to engage with, remember, and convey lessons about cybersecurity.
What is Comic-BEE?
Comic-BEE is a web application that helps educators and evaluators rapidly create branching web comics that convey valuable lessons, without need for artists, writers, or programmers. Developed by Secure Decisions with input from instructional design educators and based on research funded by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, Cyber Security Division (DHS S&T/CSD), Comic-BEE simplifies and accelerates the creation and delivery of these interactive, educational materials through a unique system that enables authors to easily develop branching storylines using automation technologies and professionally created art assets. Students can achieve a deeper understanding of cyber concepts by creating their own comic that shows how situations unfold with different positive and negative outcomes.
Our team has successfully tested pedagogical approach to using Comic-BEE in BIGSCE, a prior NSF-funded project, with both middle students and with graduate students in technology education.
In the BIGSCE (Branching Interactive Graphic Stories for Cybersecurity Education) program, we have gained valuable experience teaching cybersecurity to middle school students using Comic-BEE to introduce different roles and career options in cyber security to the kids. Students read a branching, web comic created with Comic-BEE and make choices on behalf of a character, causing the story to follow a variety of branches with different outcomes, both good and bad ones.
We believe this novel genre is a good approach for teaching cybersecurity because these stories give the learner an opportunity to make decisions and, more importantly, explore the consequences of those decisions in a safe environment. In a 10-day workshop that we designed, students read comics on different topics: one on cyber ethics in middle school, and another on a real-world forensic investigation of bank thefts caused by malware. Guided by instructor led discussions about online activities that leave “footprints” and how those footprints can be analyzed to discover information about people, students create their own cybersecurity themed comic based on a real-life case study of pirates stealing from a global container shipping company, creating both a good and a bad ending.