What does privacy look like? Earlier this year, Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab posed that question to respondents ages 5 to 91. For part of the project, representatives from the tech research and security lab, along with CMU artists, visited Pittsburgh schools and asked the students to draw their answers.
Some of the younger participants—whose work is assembled into a collection called Privacy Illustrated—drew pictures of masks or of kids hiding under blankets. But plenty of the older students’ images invoked social media, cell phones, and even the NSA.
Savvy students know that the internet is both an endless source of information and inspiration as well as a potential danger zone. But they may not know how to best protect themselves. As schools continue to introduce tech tools this new school year, more are developing cybersecurity literacy alongside the technical know-how and other “digital literacies.”
Given that adults are plenty prone to hack attacks, identity theft, and scams too, it can be overwhelming for educators to figure out how to avoid putting their students at risk. (And often students are way ahead of teachers. To wit: the hacking of iPads in Los Angeles school district and in Indiana among others). Districts have long been concerned about issues ranging from student identity theft to plagiarism and cyberbullying. But with each year, digital tools become further integrated into schoolwork, and security becomes even more of an imperative. Districts and companies have lately begun developing curricula aimed at teaching cybersafety in an engaging manner, with some new options out there in time for this academic year.
In Iowa this fall, middle schools are adopting a curriculum created by Iowa State University. Doug Jacobson, the project lead and a professor of engineering, told FedScoop that the lessons are designed to help teachers incorporate cybersecurity topics into existing school subjects.
“That would allow teachers in a math class to talk about passwords, because they’re nothing more than a complex mathematical concept,” he said.
Less immersive though similar is Common Sense Media’s Digital Bytes project. Aimed at teenagers, each byte corresponds with a digital issue—cyberbullying, copyright law, personal data. Young users can watch videos and projects created by other teens proposing ways to respond to the dilemmas, or upload their own.
Some educators are using games-based learning to help teach these concepts. The Center for Identity at the University of Texas at Austin developed a digital game that teaches kids ages 8-10 appropriate social behavior online. According to the Center, children are 35 percent more likely than adults to be victims of identity theft. In the game, they wade through messages, determining whether to send them to their friends, their whole contact list, or nobody. For older students, PBS’ NOVA offers a cybersecurity game where players try to defend a company that is targeted by hackers.
Although these threats are real, and unnerving from an adult’s perspective, abstinence is not the answer. Crafting an online presence and sharing digital creations can be empowering, help kids connect with their peers, or serve as a resume or portfolio that can lead to later opportunities.
Along with imperiled security comes the need for people willing to fight it. Some cybersecurity education includes a career-oriented component, so kids can understand that they are not just potential victims but could play a powerful role in reducing the risks. According to the Peninsula Press, openings for cybersecurity jobs are skyrocketing, with over 209,000 positions available in March.
As of last year, half of all states counted computer science credits as a math or science graduation requirement. Tech education is catching on—and critical complementary cyberliteracy lessons are slowly catching up.