When it comes to cybersecurity and digital citizenship training in schools, David Roberts believes the process needs a top-down approach. To the chief technology officer and administrator of technology for Idaho's Boise School District, that means making sure teachers have all the professional development, training and support they need — before that learning can be seeded in students.
To that end, teachers are encouraged to sign up for short online courses, or e-modules, that are hosted with Schoology, and focus on cybersecurity and digital citizenship. Classes are short, and the first one took educators just 10 minutes to complete. Educators also learn the difference between a personal account and a professional one, and the parameters of social media — a point that's also emphasized with students.
“What you do with Snapchat outside of school is not the same as what you do with technology in school,” he said to Education Dive. “It’s not wrong to use Snapchat. But you need to understand the difference.”
No one fails
Still, Roberts knows that when it comes to technology, things can get tricky. Though teachers have access to some assistance, he still gets questions and requests for help. For example, he recently heard from a teacher who was unsure about an email and what to do with it. “It was clearly a phishing attempt,” he said, or a fraudulent attempt to get someone to release their personal and sensitive information.
Rather than chastise anyone, Roberts leads teachers at his district's 52 schools the way he their students are taught — step by step and supported as they make mistakes along the way. “This isn’t a gotcha,” he said, noting that none of the online modules covering these details are mandatory. Ultimately, he doesn’t want teachers to see cybersecurity as a “scary thing,” he said — but just another basic step in their work day.
Making sure teachers are comfortable is key to having them teach students how to use technology responsibly as well. A fluency in digital tools will be as crucial for today’s K-12 students as it was for previous generations to learn to type and wield a digital calculator.
That’s one reason Kevin Nolten also starts by working with teachers, showing them ways to navigate technology and related terms with students. For example, a math question asking, "How many apples does a student need if friends come over after school?" could just as easily ask how many gigabytes are needed to download a robust computer program.
“Now we can ask what a gigabyte is, and talk about how it’s computer memory,” Nolten, academic outreach director at the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City, Louisiana, told Education Dive. “We introduce students to systems engineering and computer hardware all the while teaching them the fundamentals they need to learn.”
Working off a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — which was renewed in October for another five years for $21.5 million — the group has 15 courses online that K-12 teachers anywhere can dive into.
Nolten said teachers from all 50 states and three U.S. territories have tapped into the free lesson plans, PowerPoints and assessments. But districts can also request in-person training as long as there are 25 teachers who will attend the workshops available on the ground. During the program's first year, the group worked with 100 teachers, and by the second year, that rose to 360. This past year, they trained 4,000 educators, Nolten said.
“If you are a science, math or ELA (English language arts) teacher, we design the content so that you can integrate components into each academic discipline,” he said.
Roberts agrees technology can play an integral part in academics as well, and said the administrators and teachers in his district now view tech tools as elementary to student learning. He added that it's so integral that his district has moved beyond a point where it would consider taking technology tools away from students who use it inappropriately.
“There’s much greater acceptance that technology tools are really just that — they’re tools,” he said. “We wouldn’t take away a pencil, and that’s a shift.”