Featured Radford University to offer cybersecurity courses for high schoolers | Education

Published on July 3rd, 2022 📆 | 3532 Views ⚑


Radford University to offer cybersecurity courses for high schoolers | Education


An expansion of Radford University’s cybersecurity program will make online programs available this fall that could lead to high-paying and in-demand jobs.

The university’s Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab is expanding its course offerings to junior and senior high schoolers and K-12 teachers, said Matt Dunleavy, executive director at the lab. A new set of online programs is coming available in October, thanks to a $1.2 million federal grant, he said.

“It ranges from basic understanding: what is cybersecurity? What does it mean to be safe online and not fall prey to a phishing campaign, for example,” Dunleavy said. “From basic awareness, to a relatively high level of sophistication, if someone goes through the full certificate.”

The full certificate is equivalent to about 18 university credit hours, which equates to a pretty intensive college semester, he said. Successful students will be eligible to test for industry-endorsed certifications, like CompTIA Security+.

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There are “hundreds of competencies that are embedded within the full certificate,” Dunleavy said. “It’s a very practical way to ensure that not only are they learning skills that will help them secure jobs, but they’re also receiving academic certifications and credit, as well as industry-endorsed and recognized certifications.”

The cyber sector boasts a faster-than-average growth outlook for the 2020s, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median annual wage was about $97,000 for computer and information technology sector jobs as of May 2021, the data said.

Meanwhile, more than $350 million of federal pandemic-relief tax dollars are now pouring into the western side of the state, as Virginia localities and internet service providers at long last connect their most rural residents to the worldwide web. More Virginians are logging on to high-speed internet than ever before, and accessing the oncoming opportunity.

“Our goal is to provide students and teachers in rural schools with world-class, state-of-the-art training in these high-demand fields,” Dunleavy said. “In Southwest Virginia and Southside Virginia, there’s a lot of fantastic teachers, schools and kids in those schools that can really benefit.”

While cybersecurity for high-schoolers is a new development at the Radford IMPACT Lab, it has offered online cybersecurity certification programs since launch. The lab, which opened in 2017 using $14 million in federal grant backing, also offers credential and professional development programs for data science, geospatial intelligence and K-12 education, Dunleavy said.

“This indicates us staying on the path of service, and moving into the future of cutting-edge technologies,” he said of Radford. “We can really support the community and workforce development, and it aligns directly with the goals of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Coursework at the Radford IMPACT Lab is largely video-based instruction, and the programs focus on competency, requiring learners to pass assessments before progressing to more advanced modules, Dunleavy said. Radford educators stand by through cyberspace, serving as “learning coaches” to encourage and assist whenever needed, he said.

“We’ve built a pathway that will take a person from that entry level, all the way through the technical skill level,” he said. “Not everyone’s going to go through that entire pathway, but by building entry points and off-ramps, we’re able to hopefully benefit not only the individual, but also the businesses and the schools and the communities within which these individuals live.”

It’s self-paced learning, allowing ample time for users to complete as much curriculum as fast or as slow as desired, without any oversleeping through 8 a.m. lecture classes. The self-driven aspect is part of what makes learning through the Radford IMPACT Lab so powerful, Dunleavy said.

“Your free time may consist of an hour on a Thursday night… or maybe two hours on a Saturday morning,” Dunleavy said. “It could be that an online, self-paced program is exactly what you need.”

Self-paced and competency-based learning is increasingly becoming a model through which higher education is taught, and is more so becoming how people receive professional training, because it’s scientifically proven to work, he said.

“From day one, we have worked… to make sure that everything we design, not only the content itself, but also how we present the content, is aligned directly with science of how people learn,” Dunleavy said. “One of our goals is to provide learners, both students as well as teachers, with a learning environment that is interesting, that is engaging, and ultimately that is effective.”

Because if people are not engaged, they are not going to learn, he said. And research at Radford University continues, as the IMPACT Lab approaches its fifth anniversary in September.

“I see the field moving in the direction of deeper and deeper engagement, as well as gamification and almost cinematic-level instruction,” Dunleavy said. “Think about a flight simulator as a good example… that’s an extremely powerful learning environment for a pilot.”

The same idea of using video game technology, simulation and immersion to teach people safely and effectively can be applied to so many other fields of study, Dunleavy said.

“We’re going to continue to try to build that type of immersive, authentic learning,” he said.

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