Transforming Distance Learning: Technology and Tools for Today’s Educators

From pre-school to Ph.D. programs, education is undergoing a sea-change.  Due to the immediacy of pandemic defense, it was necessary to jump into online meeting apps in March 2020 for everything from storytime with the librarian to class lectures to dissertation defense. But the experiences of the last few months have shown us that ‘distance learning’ must continue to evolve to be more intuitive, more engaging, and more accessible for instructors and students across the education spectrum.

Three trends are already clear:

  1. Hybrid and multi-modal learning are here to stay.
  2. Students are asking for customized learning experiences to include career building and community interactions
  3. Learning Management Systems for instructors must quickly expand to Learning Experience Systems that unite multi-modal learning for instructors AND students into digital hubs that deliver engagement and collaboration.

Circadence and Microsoft shared insights about technology and distance learning solutions in a recent Circadence hosted webinar.  Experts talked about how Circadence’s Project Ares (specific to cyber security education) and Microsoft’s Teams for Education and Azure Labs (both applicable across learning disciplines) deliver solutions that address the three trends mentioned above.

  • Project Ares is an on-demand cyber range with integrated cyber scenarios that gives users hands-on experience as close to real work experience as possible short of doing an internship. This is a true career building tool.
  • Microsoft Teams for Education is a Learning Experience Platform for classrooms and course programs of all sizes. All sorts of tools and applications (course material and videos, calendars, assignments, assessments, and AI-driven analytics) can be snapped to the Teams hub for easy access by instructors and students.
  • Students use computer labs at high schools and universities for everything from word processing to applied research, big data computing to robotics and artificial intelligence. While physical computer labs are closed, and even after they open again, Microsoft Azure Labs provides a way to offer all this compute capability online in a way that is 1-2-3 simple for instructors to set up and students to access.

“It’s more important than ever to sustain engagement.  Collaborative environments like Microsoft Teams and Circadence Project Ares are necessary to replace many things that we take for granted with ‘in person’ education. Using dashboards to see student progress and then reaching out for 1:1 communication in email or chat apps or video meetings helps to foster engagement beyond just the video lecture. “  ~ Dr. Brad Hayes, University of Colorado – Boulder and Circadence.

Teaching online is not easy and it is not as simple as giving the same lecture in a meeting app as you would in a classroom.  Sustaining real and meaningful connection between instructors and students who are now all physically distant is the new normal.

Educators are realizing that they will need to teach in remote or hybrid environments for a longer timeframe than they originally expected (and probably prefer). As a result, they are working with fellow colleagues and technology procurement decision-makers to understand how (if at all) technology can support their remote teaching pedagogy in a way that is unifying and collaborative, not divisive and barrier building. With these intentions in mind, we thought the below quote from C.S. Lewis captured the mindset for technology adoption in distance learning best.

“You never know what you can do until you try, and very few try unless they have to.” –C.S. Lewis

We honor all the dedicated educators who find themselves in ‘have to’ mode and are working hard to learn new skills, new tools, new teaching techniques, and new communication methods to deliver the very best educational experience they can for their students in these changing times.  We send an enthusiastic ‘Thank you’ to all educators!

Check out the webinar

to learn more about online tools that can keep your teaching on track AND help bridge the ‘engagement gap’ with your students.

Real World Cyber Security Experience: From Learning to Earning

Real world, experiential learning helps students develop knowledge, skills, and abilities that they can take directly from the classroom to the workplace.

This direct connection from learning to earning is important to all students, but none more so than adult learners who have gone back to school, often while continuing to work full-time. Maybe their goal is to grow in their current job role or career. Maybe they are ramping up for a job or career change. Maybe they are exploring new interests. Regardless of motivation, after juggling the many demands of working while going to school, most adult learners expect to graduate with skills that they can immediately apply in the workforce or other direct activity.

To say that the cyber security industry is seeking skilled job candidates is an understatement.  Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be 3.5 million (that’s million) unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally by 2021.   The interactive Cyber Seek website shows over 500,000 U.S. cybersecurity job openings as I write.  With gaps of this magnitude between open jobs and applicants, cyber security is a perfect discipline for educators to focus on and provide experiential learning that students can directly apply outside the classroom.

Capella University, an online university headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently did just that by adding a hands-on lab component to the capstone course for its BS in Information Technology, Information Assurance and Cybersecurity program.  One of their over-arching design goals was to make the course as close as possible to the “real world” of cyber security work. We are proud that they chose Project Ares by Circadence to deliver this critical element.

In a recent Circadence webinar, Dr. James W. Barker, Adjunct Faculty in the School of Business and Technology spoke in detail about the process the team at Capella went through to integrate Project Ares into their capstone course.  Project Ares enabled them to address three objectives:

  1. Give students hands-on practice using their cyber skills against a variable adversary
  2. Provide authentic learning scenarios that students could report on to demonstrate their knowledge of the attack and recommendations for future prevention
  3. Create an opportunity for teamwork and collaborative problem solving, which are essential skill requirements for cyber teams and hiring managers

“By the end of the second week of the course,” said Dr. Barker, “almost to an individual, students stated that this is the most realistic, engaging, and challenging course that they have taken.  One group was so engaged and motivated by working on the Project Ares platform that they completed their final group mission two weeks early.”

From his faculty point of view, Dr. Barker is pleased that Capella has delivered the equivalent of a formal cyber security internship and cannot envision a better means of exposing their learners to “real world” security work.  And Capella isn’t stopping here; they are considering plans to incorporate Project Ares learning exercises into other courses at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Check out the webinar where Dr. Barker shares more about how he set up the course syllabus and learn more about the power of Project Ares as an on-demand and hands-on learning platform ​that uses cyber range-as-a-service technology to deliver Virtual Machine-based cyber security training exercises.

 

Photo Credit: Thanks to Joshua Ness for sharing their work on Unsplash.

Distance Learning and Teaching for Cyber Security Programs

Distance Learning Today

Practically overnight distance learning has become the ‘new norm’ for academic institutions. Educators worldwide are figuring out what Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) means for their specific courses and subject matter for summer term and likely fall term 2020. And while the immediate remote learning requirements for pandemic mitigation will eventually recede, there is a growing awareness that online and blended learning options in Higher Education curriculum will likely be a strategic part of the post-pandemic norm.

“Every faculty member is going to be delivering education online. Every student is going to be receiving education online. And the resistance to online education is going to go away as a practical matter,” James N. Bradley, chief information officer at Texas Trinity University, wrote in a LinkedIn post.

Job opportunities in the cyber security field

Let’s take a specific look at higher education programs for Information Technology and the related cyber security discipline. For starters, they can’t graduate students fast enough to fill the existing job openings in the cyber security field. Even before the pandemic, there was a well-documented talent gap between the growing number of open cyber security jobs and skilled applicants to fill them. In November 2019, ISC2 calculated that the cyber workforce would need to increase by more than 145% to fill gaps in talent across the U.S.  Cyberseek.org tracks this unique employment landscape and states that “the average cybersecurity role takes 20% longer to fill than other IT jobs in the U.S.” because employers struggle to find workers with cyber security-related skills.

The dynamics of this gap have probably gotten worse. Today’s stay-at-home world has cyber security vulnerability written all over it. Online activities have exploded with remote work access, distance learning, telemedicine, video conferencing, online shopping, gaming, media streaming, and more all happening at once….and creating a world of opportunity for threats to identity, systems and data. And, in the post-pandemic world that we are looking forward to, many of the new and unexpectedly ‘proven’ activities like distance learning and telemedicine will likely stay with us to some extent as part of the ‘new norm’.

The result is that behind the physical coronavirus crises is the shadow of a virtual cyber virus crisis. And it means that cyber security is quickly moving to the frontlines of mission-critical skillsets for healthcare, higher education, retail, and every employer that enabled work-from-home for the safety of their workforce. Now, more than ever, organizations and institutions need to stop thinking in terms of IF they are breached and start planning in terms of WHEN they are breached.

Does that sound ominous? It is! But buried in the dramatic shortage of cyber skills, is opportunity. Opportunity for STEM/IT focused students (high school and collegiate) to specialize in cyber security and find jobs upon graduation. And opportunity for higher education institutions to ramp up their cyber security program enrollment.

  • In March 2019, Cyber Crime Magazine reported that only 3% of U.S. Bachelor’s Degree graduates had a skill set in cyber security.
  • And in another 2019 report, Burning Tree Technologies learned that while federal data showed the number of postsecondary programs in key cyber security areas had increased 33%, the ratio of currently employed cyber security workers to job openings, had hardly budged since 2015. In other words, the pool of available talent has remained proportionally the same.

 

Developing the cyber security skills that employers are desperate for is a multi-faceted challenge. Employers want to bring in new hires who have both a strong foundation in basic security principles and concepts as well as practical job role specific skills like networking protocols, scripting, regular expressions, kill chain and network defense, etc. And maybe most importantly, employers categorize top talent as those applicants with power skills like strategic thinking, problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration.

Distance learning and the IT / cyber security discipline

At Circadence, we specialize in cyber security learning, specifically through an immersive learning platform that provides hands-on experience and strategic thinking activities for students working towards careers in the field of cyber security.

Today’s educators are looking for engaging student activities that teach designated core curriculum topics to meet learning objectives. And, it is equally critical to assess student comprehension of learned material and measure progress to ensure the effectiveness of the curriculum and teaching approach. These challenges can be met head-on with Circadence’s Project Ares in the online classroom. Project Ares is a browser-based learning platform specifically designed for teaching cyber security in a hands-on, applied manner.

It can help transform existing cyber security curriculum to support current distance learning challenges as well as integrate into future course design.

For cyber security instructors:

•     The built-in learning exercises can augment existing syllabi.

•     Anytime access enables flexible asynchronous delivery to support current circumstances for instructors and students.

•     Self-directed student learning opportunities are supported through hints, Q&A chat bot, and session playback and review.

•     Optional live observation or interaction within the exercises supports tutoring as well as assessment.

•     Immersive, gamified environment sustains student engagement with scores and leaderboards to incent practice and improvement.

•     Global chat enables peer-to-peer community and support for students.

Additional Distance Learning & Teaching Resources

As higher education instructors shift to deliver, proctor and advise online, we anticipate teaching strategies continuing to adapt to use new and immersive tools that enable alternative online courses to positively impact student learning now and into the future. Circadence is excited to be a part of this shift in learning and proud to partner with today’s cyber security educators that prepares tomorrow’s much-needed workforce of cyber defenders.

For more information, check out these resources:

•     Microsoft technology helps enable remote classrooms https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/remote-learning?&ef_id=EAIaIQobChMIjrP4qvSQ6QIVlxatBh347wMJEAAYASAAEgL-VvD_BwE:G:s&OCID=AID2000043_SEM_6M11V6Kq&utm_source=google&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIjrP4qvSQ6QIVlxatBh347wMJEAAYASAAEgL-VvD_BwE

•     Circadence White Paper Teaching Cyber Security Remotely: Online Learning with Project Ares https://marketing.circadence.com/acton/media/36273/whitepaper-rise-of-distance-e-learning-in-higher-education

•     Project Ares Curriculum Example. Building an Immersive Cyber Curriculum with Project Ares: A use case from a public research institution in the Western U.S. https://marketing.circadence.com/acton/media/36273/immersive-cyber-curriculum-with-project-ares-use-case  

•     Cyberdegrees.org provides a comprehensive directory of colleges and universities offering cyber security degrees, as well as a wealth of information on career paths within the cyber security field, security clearances, the range of professional security certifications available.

If there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us all, is that out of chaos arises opportunity: Opportunity to be better professionals, better neighbors, better defenders, and overall, better people. We hope each of you continues to stay safe and secure during this time.

 

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Resources for starting a career in Cyber Security

Jumpstarting a new cyber security career path can feel like a daunting initiative, however, it may be more attainable than you think. By utilizing online cyber resources and persistent learning exercises, you can start learning everything you need to know to understand career options and land your dream job.

Virtual machines and digital libraries are great places to start on your cyber learning journey. A virtual machine is a software program or operating system that exhibits the behavior of a separate computer and is capable of performing tasks such as running applications and programs like a separate computer. This enables you to create multiple independent VMs environments on one physical machine and it aids in detecting things like malware and ransomware attacks. A digital library is an online platform that offers a diverse collection of cyber security learning objectives, along with an online database of digital materials like videos and reports.

Here are some resources that can help you pursue a career in cyber security:

  • Oracle VM VirtualBox – this powerful virtualization product is for enterprise as well as home personal use. This is the best VM for home users and can be run on a multitude of operating systems.
  • Kali Linux – this is an open source tool used in information security training and penetration testing services. Kali Linux is one tool available for use in our Project Ares platform for offensive skill building and practice.
  • Security Onion Virtual Machine – this free and open sourced Linux distribution aids in intrusion detections, enterprise security monitoring, and log management. Security Onion is also available in Project Ares.
  • Flare Virtual Machine – a freely available and open sourced Windows-based program that offers a fully configured platform with a comprehensive collection of Windows security tools.
  • Cybrary – this community based digital library gives you the ability to collaborate in an open source way and create an ever-growing catalog of online courses and experiential tools to learn all things cyber security from offensive, defensive and governance.
  • Clark Cybersecurity Library – a digital library that hosts a diverse collection of cyber security learning objectives from Intro to Cyber to Adversarial Thinking. It is a high-quality and high-availability repository for curricular resources in the cyber education community.

From entry level positions to cyber security professionals, digital libraries help in understanding cyber concepts and virtual machines allow learners to apply and hone cyber skills that security professionals use on the job such as risk management, information systems security, and network security.

To complete your well-rounded cyber education, pairing these tools with hands-on practice in cyber range like Project Ares is key.

Circadence’s own Project Ares uses gamified cyber range learning environments to emulate immersive and mission-specific network threats for a variety of cyber security work roles and job titles. The Project Ares platform is constantly evolving with foundational and specialized scenarios we call Battle Rooms and Missions to address the latest threats in the workplace. Learn tools, tactics and procedures and apply multiple skill sets in Mission scenarios hands-on to build experience. Using Project Ares is a great stepping stone to launching into a career in cyber security.

From concept learning to skills application, gamification paired with persistent, hands-on training in virtual environments is an ideal approach to understanding the ins and outs of complex cyber networks and how to recognize potential vulnerabilities in today’s evolving threat landscape. Pairing Project Ares with any of the aforementioned resources is a sure-fire way to kick off your cyber security career and prepare for security certifications!

Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash

Nichols College Students Spearhead Cyber Security Education for the Entire Campus 

Policy makers are now prioritizing data security over talent, efficiency and controlling costs. As students growing up and being educated in the digital age, we are just starting to understand the importance of cyber security to individuals and their companies. Taking part in a Research Associate Internship on campus at Nichols College, our eyes have been opened to the vast number of threats we face on a daily basis.

Oracle conducted a study titled “Security in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” where 341 C-Suite executives and 110 policy makers were asked of their plans to improve their company’s security in the next two years. The top answer from this sample was to train existing staff. Human error poses the greatest risk to these companies (Oracle). In order to mitigate this risk, it is imperative to understand the opportunity cost of training employees on the importance of cybersecurity. Prioritizing training would prevent small mistakes, potentially costing a company much more in the long run.

A Nichols College Associate Professor of Accounting and Finance, Bryant Richards, noticed a gap in cyber security education, wanting to bring cyber to campus in a big way, stating “As cyber risks have become ubiquitous throughout the industry, it is our responsibility to provide some degree of cyber literacy to our business students. We must train our accounting students to be data and technology professionals who understand accounting. The realistic and experiential nature of Project Ares matches how our students learn and provides a transformative learning experience.” Richards along with the two of us, helped Nichols partner with Circadence to complete a three-month pilot program of their gamified cybersecurity learning platform Project Ares.

What We Found: Circadence did a great job with Project Ares, with an appealing, gamified user interface that sucks you in and is easy to use. As a student with no technical experience in the cybersecurity field, Project Ares proved to be both engaging and challenging. It provided an abundance of resources through its Media Center and Mini Games. Users can obtain a base layer of knowledge, progressing into education on concepts like the Cyber Kill Chain and how hackers utilize it. The interactive Battle Rooms provide real-life, technical lab environments where users can spin up virtual machines, explore real-world tools, build their confidence, and hone their skills.

What We Learned: You do not have to be a professional hacker to steal someone else’s information or gain access to their computer. Understanding the code is no longer enough; this is much more than an individual problem. If your own device is compromised, the hacker can steal your personal information, and steal information from your employer and worse. This harsh reality surprised us when we first commenced our research. From clicking a wrong link in an email, to accidentally tapping an advertisement banner on your phone; these small errors can seem harmless but are really detrimental to your overall security.

The gamification of cybersecurity training has allowed those of us with no prior knowledge, a chance to get a leg up. With increased demand to train existing staff, new training approaches must be made for the next generation of cybersecurity specialists. Gamifying the process made it easily digestible, directly benefitting any potential company or individual.

The first step in becoming educated on cybersecurity is understanding that there are threats present in our everyday lives. In the words of the man who gave us our initial walkthrough of Project Ares, Brad Wolfenden compared cybersecurity to buying a gallon of milk, saying:

“I believe that part of the disconnect around cybersecurity best practices comes from the assumptions we make as consumers in general – that what we’re buying is designed and sold with our best interests, and security, in mind … The food you buy and eat is certified by the Food & Drug Administration to indicate it has been safely grown/ raised and suitable for human consumption. When making technology purchases, we cannot take these same conveniences for granted.”

It is everyone’s ‘job’ to maintain high ethical standards and awareness when operating on the Internet nowadays. It is no longer up to one person or pre-installed software to protect your personal information. The more we are educated on the basic underlying principles of cybersecurity, the safer we will all be.

References

Oracle. “SECURITY IN THE AGE OF AI .” Oracle, 2018, www.oracle.com/a/ocom/docs/data-security-report.pdf.

Wolfenden, Brad. “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Celebrating National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.” Circadence, 30 Oct. 2018, www.circadence.com/national-cybersecurity-awareness-month/.

*Students R.J. LeBrun & Lorenzo Secola guest authored this blog post as part of their Research Associate Internship at Nichols College