Jacksonville State University plans to train middle and high school teachers next week how to better protect students’ and their own private information online.
The five-day course, paid for with a $98,000 federal grant, will instruct faculty from Calhoun and surrounding counties on how to identify security holes and defend themselves from cyber attacks and private information theft. The new program addresses a need for more education on cyber security, some technology experts say.
Registration is already full for the training program, funded by a grant from the National Security Agency. The program will offer 25 science, math, computer, technology and social studies teachers training in subjects like cyber threats and vulnerabilities, security risk management, cryptography, ethics and online safety practices.
“The focus is on rural and underserved communities, to infuse cyber security into middle schools and high schools,” said Gretchen Richards, assistant professor of emergency management at JSU and one of four instructors for the program. “Those teachers will go back and train their students and other faculty about cyber security.”
Richards said participants will be taught in 10 different modules, including hands-on training and course materials that they can take back to their classrooms.
“We’ll go from basic knowledge to really in depth,” Richards said. “My module will be an introduction to cyber security and how it's tied to the national emergency preparedness plan.”
Participants were selected based on an application process, which included a letter of recommendation from their principal and an essay describing how they could benefit from the program and how they plan to use their training in the classroom.
Cheri Hayes, education administrator for the Alabama Department of Education, said there is a growing need for cyber security training in public education. Hayes said the state pushes programs and policies to protect information of teachers and students.
“Technology is a pervasive part of our lives and children now are carrying cellphones with them as soon as they’re old enough to punch buttons and through those devices, they’re connected to the world,” Hayes said. “We need to maximize the security information they have so we can minimize the risk.”
Hayes said schools in Alabama are required by law to provide protocols to ensure teachers and students are using software with proper security features. They also have procedures to help teachers identify safe websites to use for teaching purposes.
Jenel Travis, technology director for Calhoun County schools, said her system updates its cyber security procedures regularly.
“As technology changes, naturally policies need to change,” Travis said. “It’s a federal and state push that we are protecting student data and following certain guidelines.”
Travis said administration updates faculty once a year on policies created to keep their data safe. Still, receiving extra training from JSU would be beneficial.
“You can’t have too much education,” Travis said.
Richards said the plan is to make the program an annual event.
“We have already started a waiting list for next year in anticipation of renewing the grant,” Richards said.