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A nationwide, high school level cybersecurity curriculum for students who are deaf is now in development by the Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education (CCRE) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

The program is being developed under phase one of a grant from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf Regional STEM Center (NRSC).

The NRSC provides training in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) across the Southeast for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. It has national initiatives in cybersecurity, robotics and coding.

“The grant grew out of the CCRE’s GenCyber summer camps for students who are deaf and hard of hearing,” said Tania Williams, a CCRE research scientist who is the project’s principal investigator. “We have been hosting cybersecurity camps for students who are deaf and hard of hearing since 2017. Through the camps, we have benefited from a strong partnership with the National Technical Institute for the Deaf Regional STEM Center (NRSC).”

Cyber Security

“While doing the camps, UAH and the NRSC recognized that cybersecurity is a field where students who are deaf and hard of hearing can find success,” said Williams, who has an educational specialist’s degree in teacher leadership and almost 20 years of seventh through 12th grade teaching experience “In fact, we have a former camp participant now studying cybersecurity here at UAH.”

“We are making a cybersecurity curriculum that is fun and exciting,” said Tania Williams. “We are creating something that will appeal to teenagers. It is age-appropriate and built on sound instructional design.” The first course for deaf students, covering cybersecurity fundamentals, will roll out in August 2020.
Source: Michael Mercier/UAH

National Initiative
Once it is developed, the curriculum will be a part of a national NRSC initiative to equip high school students who are deaf and hard of hearing with valuable job skills and help fill the national shortage of cybersecurity professionals.

Currently, other than student clubs, there are few cybersecurity-related curricular choices in high schools and those choices often include text-heavy materials that have been adapted from college texts or from other materials intended for adult learners.

“We are making a cybersecurity curriculum that is fun and exciting. We are creating something that will appeal to teenagers,” Williams said. “It is age-appropriate and built on sound instructional design.”

The curriculum will be hands-on and visual, two characteristics Williams said students who are deaf need. It features an interactive learning suite that teaches the same skills taught in many college courses by using a project based, problem solving approach.

“Students will learn about cryptography, secure software design, system hardening and even risk assessment, and they will be learning it in an engaging way,” she said.

Pilot Launches in 2020
The NRSC will select schools serving the deaf to pilot the curriculum. As the coursework is refined it will be pushed out to other schools. The first course, covering cybersecurity fundamentals, will roll out in August 2020. The next course, focusing on programming and system security, will be piloted the following year.

The first course is also a pilot of the Cybersecurity Curriculum Framework being developed by the Cyber Center for Education and Innovation, which is the home of the National Cryptologic Museum and several nationally recognized cybersecurity education experts.

“Every aspect of the curriculum is being reviewed by cybersecurity professionals and by educators of the deaf,” Williams said. “The curriculum aligns with nationally recognized standards and with Alabama’s Digital Course of Study.”

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