FIU experts are training local high school teachers to develop cybersecurity lesson plans for their students.

The Cybernet Miami Academy is an FIU-led virtual, interactive program about digital forensics, which is the process of interpreting and uncovering electronic data. 

In the first phase of the academy this summer, high school teachers met with FIU electrical and computer engineering faculty and cybersecurity professionals to learn skills, gather resources and build lesson plans. They learned how to extract hidden information from hard drives, accumulated free cybersecurity tools and planned activities for their information technology and career-learning classrooms. 

The teachers are now preparing for the second phase of the program: implementing their lessons. 

“Teachers are leaving with at least one lesson plan that they have customized to best fit their students,” says Alexander Pons, principal investigator of Cybernet Miami Academy and a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing. 

The teachers earned $1,000 to complete FIU’s 80-hour training course. They will receive another $1,000 after conducting their lesson plans. The program is funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant and delegated to FIU via Luminary Labs. 

FIU customized the program to be effective for high school classrooms. In the first phase, one speaker was a cybersecurity education expert who discussed how teachers might best tailor their lessons for teenagers. Another speaker from the National Initiative for Cyber Education explained the career opportunities in cybersecurity. According to Cyber Seek, there were 714,548 cybersecurity-related job listings in the U.S. from May 2021 through April 2022. 

The academy also provided insights into digital forensics techniques. FIU personnel covered computer programming, security issues and information storage. An expert from the Global Forensic and Justice Center at FIU gave teachers an inside look at the industry.

“Since we spent 80 hours with the teachers, we were able to cover a lot of material, and not just generally. It was in a rigorous way where they would be able to apply the knowledge,” says Gustavo Chaparro-Baquero, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at CEC and primary instructor of Cybernet Miami Academy. 

A main point of discussion throughout the training program was the ethics of equipping students with powerful digital forensics skills. 

“It’s important that students understand what can be done, but shouldn’t be done,” Chaparro says. “We heard a mixture of ideas about how to teach cybersecurity responsibly. It seems that teachers may be managing their approaches case by case, kid by kid.”

As the school year progresses, FIU faculty will remain connected with the teachers to support them.

“We are establishing a channel between university skills in cybersecurity and how to convey that effectively to high school students,” Pons says. “The conduits in that process are the teachers.”