Engaging Children in Cryptology and Cybersecurity Learning and Career Awareness

Antonenko, P., Xu, Z., Wusylko, C. Dawson, K., Koh, D. H., Benedict, A., & Bhunia, S. (2022). Engaging Children in Cryptology and Cybersecurity Learning and Career Awareness. American Society for Engineering Education, NSF Grantees Poster Session. Minneapolis, MN.

Cryptology, the art of making and breaking secret codes (Stepheson, 1999), has been used to hide secret messages since ancient times. Nowadays, with the popularization of the Internet, cryptology serves as the backbone of cybersecurity to protect the information security of the nation, business, and individuals (Parr & Penzl, 2010). This design-based research project aims to design and develop a technology-enhanced cryptology and cybersecurity curriculum to engage 3rd- to 5th-grade students, especially girls and African Americans, in afterschool environments. The curriculum is designed to cultivate students’ interest and career awareness in cryptology and cybersecurity, and increase their symbolic and morphological awareness. This afterschool curriculum strategically integrates a comic book, a series of digital activities in a mobile and web-based app, unplugged activities, role model videos, and teacher guides to maximize students’ experience in the curriculum (Figure 1). This curriculum experienced two pilot implementations in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. We were able to test the feasibility, usability, and effectiveness of the curriculum, and made careful modifications to all the curriculum components based on the results of the pilot implementations. The results showed that students developed important cryptology and cybersecurity skills and understanding and became more aware of cybersecurity professions. The two pilot implementations also provided us important design implications in how to support STEM learning for elementary students in afterschool environments.