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New Brunswick Brings Project-Based Learning to Cybersecurity

Ruth Wilson is a learning specialist with New Brunswick’s Education & Early Childhood Development (EECD) department. She and her team focus on instructional design and development, creating online learning experiences for high school students and professional learning courses for educators. Wilson works with subject matter experts to create interactive courseware offerings, some of which have received international recognition for design and development.

That team is now bringing its expertise to New Brunswick’s world-class cybersecurity sector. Via collaboration with CyberNB, a project-based learning (PBL) initiative is soon set to roll out to New Brunswick grade 11 students. It will be part of a Tech Support and Cybersecurity 110 elective course and will live online.

We spoke to Wilson to learn more.

ONB: Can you first tell us about PBL?

Wilson: PBL is a student-centered approach to learning. Students investigate authentic, real-world problems and come up with solutions with coaching and guidance from teachers. The PBL model we’re using was developed by Thom Markham who was then Associate Director and principal author for California’s Buck Institute. Thom and I toured the province for several weeks demonstrating PBL for educators.

PBL is not like traditional school projects – it’s a completely different approach. Projects usually come at the end of a unit or block of teacher-led instruction. They are like a reward, a fun thing to cap off serious instruction.

PBL is different. It focuses on a driving question or challenge presented up front to engage the learners. Students are responsible for constructing their own learning. We connect it to real-world issues with real-world assessment. Content knowledge is assessed as well as competencies and soft skills. It’s engaging work; both hands-on and heads-on.

ONB: What can you tell us about the new cybersecurity PBL initiative? 

Wilson: CyberNB’s Bill Kierstead came up with the idea. Knowing I was a huge proponent of PBL, he reached out to me to begin collaboration. It’s called Somebody’s Watching Me, and yes that’s a reference to the 1980s Rockwell song.

Five learning outcomes for Tech Support and Cybersecurity 110 will be met by completing the project.

  1. Communicate during individual and group projects and security events
  2. Use team-based management strategies during collaborative efforts
  3. Use creativity and problem-solving skills during project work
  4. Communicate an understanding of cybersecurity event causes, impacts, and outcomes
  5. Develop and demonstrate skills needed to counter cybersecurity threats

Cybersecurity PBL - Province of New Brunswick Students first receive their project package. In it they’ll find a calendar detailing project milestones, scoring guides, and details on what is expected of them — when progress checks will be, for example. There is also a letter to parents/guardians explaining the project and how they can participate.

They next get an introduction to cybersecurity, beginning with terminology and preventative measures. It’s like a scavenger hunt where they search the web to find answers. They also receive the “grabber”, the hook meant to evoke emotion or curiosity.

Students are then assigned to teams based on individual strengths and talents. They can be the writer, the graphics expert, the tech guru, etc. Teams are assigned scenarios based on different types of cybercrime. They could be asked to work on a ransomware attack, data breach, phishing emails, sniffing scenario, etc.

The project then involves:

  • Authoring a victim impact statement; the type of attack, its current and future consequences, and more.
  • Looking at the crime from different POVs. One student has the perpetrator’s POV, another examines it from a financial angle, another from legal, still another from a cyber-strategist’s view. This is where industry leaders come in. Actual industry experts will be brought in—either live or via Skype—to answer questions.
  • Creating a Public Service Announcement (PSA) video. It will answer the guiding question — how can you prevent this cybercrime and protect yourself and your loved ones?
  • Delivering a final public presentation of their findings and PSA. Industry experts, parents, and community members are all invited to attend, and provide teams with feedback.
  • The PBL wraps with a debriefing where teams discuss what they learned.

ONB: This is a great example of collaboration in this province, with CyberNB and EECD working to bolster the New Brunswick tech workforce. 

Wilson: Absolutely. Throughout the PBL, we provide students with information on potential career opportunities within the cybersecurity/IT sector. CyberNB and EECD are highly-focused on creating a robust pipeline of talent to feed the province’s already strong tech sector. Even if students decide not to go that route, they’ll have a good understanding of the basics of cybersecurity; that still bodes well for our workforce. Also, since the PSAs will be created by teens we hope they’ll be of interest to teens, which is important because they’re a vulnerable demographic as it relates to cybercrime.

Bill and the CyberNB team are crucial for getting our department properly connected to the industry itself. That is essential since one of the strengths of this approach is the active involvement of industry experts. Students need to have access to those real-world situations to make this learning relevant to the industry’s actual needs.

CyberNB is executing a deliberate action plan to build upon New Brunswick’s world-class industry cluster to enhance workforce development, education, and cybersecurity research.

Learn more at CyberNB.ca