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EAGER: SaTC AI-Cybersecurity: Opening Doors for Cybersecurity & AI: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Engaging Middle School Students

Principal Investigators
Chandra Orrill – UMass Dartmouth
Shakhnoza Kayumova – UMass Dartmouth
Pratim Sengupta – University of Calgary

National Science Foundation – EAGER program
August 1, 2021 – July 31, 2023

As reliance on technology increases across society, it is critical to develop a population that is more knowledgeable about and engaged in the topics of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI). The aim of the Opening Doors project is to engage industry professionals in the fields of cybersecurity and AI in conversations with educational researchers, AI and cybersecurity researchers, and K-12 teachers. These conversations will serve as a means to identify disciplinary knowledge, including needs and benefits, at the intersection of cybersecurity and AI. The group will work to identify ways to engage middle school students and their teachers in learning about AI, cybersecurity, and the intersections between them. By including this array of voices, the project will generate knowledge about the differences and similarities between industry and academic expectations. The discussion will also drive the development of a survey that can be used to determine what students know about AI and cybersecurity as well as a proof-of-concept instructional module that addresses one of the identified gaps in knowledge. The project team will also document the process for building this interdisciplinary community of practice to focus on a single issue in ways that shape students’ educational experiences. The project will determine whether investing effort into deciphering what middle school students do know, and what they can know, will lead to students who are more engaged in cybersecurity and AI as citizens, users, programmers, or in other roles as they mature into adulthood.

The outcomes of this project will advance understanding of the nature of expertise of researchers and professionals in AI and cybersecurity, as well as supporting and studying communication between them, while exploring ways to translate that expertise into curricula for widespread dissemination to middle school teachers and students. The project team will use a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches to accomplish the following outcomes: (1) the development of an interdisciplinary think tank along with a documented process for creating it that can inform others interested in building similar partnerships; (2) the development of survey instruments designed to uncover what middle grades students understand about AI, cybersecurity, and the intersection of these two areas as they affect their lives, as well as possible careers available in this interdisciplinary space; (3) findings from the survey on possible gaps as well as what middle grades students understand about these areas; and (4) one proof-of-concept learning module that can be implemented by any middle school teacher anywhere.

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