Two state centers based at the University of South Florida have announced an ambitious partnership to help Florida public schools provide classes on cybersecurity skills to their K-12 students.
The Florida Center for Instructional Technology (FCIT) and Cyber Florida: The Florida Center for Cybersecurity will develop and implement curricula and outreach programs to teach K-12 educators and students about the importance of cybersecurity, the possibilities of a career path in the field, and for those students who demonstrate the aptitude and interest, even classes in basic cybersecurity skills.
“Cybersecurity is a rapidly growing and high-paying field that is critical to our nation, and we’re dealing with a critical shortage of talent at both the state and national levels,” said Mike McConnell, the former director of U.S. National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, who now serves as the executive director of Cyber Florida. “We must engage students as early as we can to introduce and encourage their interest in cybersecurity; that’s the only way that we will be able to build a larger talent pool to protect our country’s national and economic interests.”
As a relatively new and technically complex profession, cybersecurity can be a daunting subject for teachers as well as students. Many K-12 educators are not comfortable dealing with the potential complexities of the subject in the classroom. To overcome this challenge, Cyber Florida and the FCIT will partner with area school districts and educators to help prepare them. This includes conducting free workshops and webinars, sponsoring summer camps and academies, and developing classroom instructional materials that can be used “out of the box” or adapted to fit local needs.
“Community is an important part of the mission. We will provide coordination and resources—technical, pedagogical, and financial—to support delivery of K-12 cybersecurity education programming at schools, colleges, universities, community centers and other cultural institutions across Florida,” said James Welsh, director of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology at USF. “We want to support and expand programs that are already helping engage the K-12 cybersecurity community across the state and develop new resources to help Florida’s K-12 students and teachers.”
As part of the collaboration, the team will produce and pilot a semester-long course on “Cybersecurity Essentials” for those high school juniors and seniors who have the interest and the aptitude for more college-level study (and eventually a career) in this area. The course will also help prepare students to earn one of the most sought-after cybersecurity professional certifications, a credential that is typically required for entry-level cybersecurity positions in business and government. High schools in Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties will be the first to offer this course to students this fall, with the objective of offering the course materials and “classroom playbooks” to other school districts and teachers across the state.