Eric Bryant is glad his school recently bought laptops for all its students to use in class and at home.
He just wants to make sure those students are protected.
“Kids are going to learn computers one way or another,” said Bryant, a 10th-grade history teacher at Gadsden City High School. “Hopefully we can teach them the right way to use them.”
Bryant was one of 25 middle school and high school teachers on Thursday who were learning cyber security techniques at Jacksonville State University. The new program offers educators training to protect themselves and their students from cyber attacks and private information theft.
As the use of digital technology in education and among students for private use has grown over the years, so too has the threat from hackers, identity thieves and cyber bullies. Daniel Sigler, an 11th and 12th grade social studies teacher at Gadsden City High, said his school’s recent purchase of new computers for all its students opens the possibility of online threats.
“This is a good opportunity to show them how to be safe online,” Sigler said of the program.
Thursday was the fourth day of the five-day course, taught by JSU faculty and paid for with a $98,000 grant from the National Security Agency. The teachers, from Calhoun and surrounding counties, spent much of Thursday in a competition that called on them to use what they’d learned earlier in the week. The course included training in subjects like cyber threats, vulnerabilities, security risk management, cryptography and online safety practices.
“We learned about encryption and decryption and how to hack computers on a small scale,” Sigler, said. “They showed us how to do it so we can prevent it.”
Sigler said he planned to incorporate some of what he learned in his classes next semester to educate his students.
“I’ll have them crack some code and do some other things before class to get them warmed up,” Sigler said.
Dominic McMath, a computer science and math teacher at Piedmont High, said he’d learned much from the program.
“I’ll probably use almost everything given to us,” McMath said. “I do a lesson on cryptography already, so I’ll add some of this to that.”
Marcus Jones, an observer hired by the NSA to review the JSU course Thursday, said the NSA has offered the program the last three years. According to the NSA website, the agency wants to promote cyber safety, but it also wants to address the shortage of cyber security professionals in the U.S.
“The function of the program is more of an awareness … the hope is maybe this will spark a little interest in some kid’s mind about the cyber security field,” Jones said. “The NSA clearly wants to grow this program.”
Sandra Coats, a business teacher at Gadsden City High, said cyber security is already part of her curriculum, but she plans to add to it with what she learned from the program.
“My students are on computers all day long … we need to know how to keep them and the school safe,” Coats said. “I’ve learned how to encrypt information and keep it protected … and how to let students know why security measures are very important.”