Monday, December 27, 2010

The Science of Cyberspace Education: An overview

by Craig Harm

As I mentioned in my recent blog, one of the four tasks for the SENDS Pilot Study is to outline a concept that will lead to the "establishment of modern cyberspace education curricula for government and non-government training and education." While I noted other initiatives in this area in the last blog, we feel creating an education plan specifically focused on a study of the Science of Cyberspace requires unique and intrinsic elements.

In a bit of a twist, we have an opportunity to develop curricula that anticipates the emergence of the actual new science. Historically, an academic and education curriculum develops and matures concurrently with the development of a science, and continues to evolve as the science evolves.
With the pace and progress on cyberspace development, traditional education evolution processes may be unable to keep up. Our attempt with the SENDS Project is to “kick-start” educational curricula that better prepares cyberspace users and defenders before cyberspace becomes too complex to study and understand.

I believe the first step in this process is to scope what it is we are trying to achieve, for whom we are doing it and with what content; in other words bound our problem. In order to succeed with the academic approach to cyberspace prosperity and security, we need to address some important issues. We are starting to frame our work with focus on some key points
  1. Determine the Scope: Basic entry to Post Graduate level? Continuing education? Industry, Government or Academia as students? Or all?
  2. Address how content is determined, developed and maintained?
  3. Comment on how, where and by whom is it administered?
  4. Determine elements of relevance
  5. Address how to make education adaptive and career-level appropriate
  6. Ensure education is technically current
  7. Speak to cultural alignment
  8. Formulate study questions for research to military and civilian academic institutions
My intent is to address each of these over the next couple of months and to provide periodic updates on our progress. However, for this initial overview there are a couple of key points I would like to discuss.

As mentioned in previous blogs, the study of the science of cyberspace will bring a diverse, multi-discipline approach to education. Wicked Problems, Complex Adaptive Systems and Social Science will all play foundational roles in the development of a Science of Cyberspace. Each of these disciplines has their own academic framework and SENDS may be able to synergize with those existing programs. The task for the SENDS pilot and the science of cyberspace itself will be to integrate and infuse these disciplines with those of the traditional sciences to create a logical and comprehensive curricula.

Any study of science requires the knowledge, skills and experience to work in a laboratory. Sciences like biology, chemistry, and physics go to great lengths to build this experience in students. For most elementary students, their first experience in a laboratory was in science class. It was as simple as mixing two liquids together to see a change in color, or as complex as building a structure out of toothpicks to learn about geometric shapes and strengths.

As students advanced in the subject content of the science, so too did they advance in the complexity of the laboratory activities. But it was not just the activities of a laboratory that were integral to learning. Maybe more importantly it was the laboratory skills which were both specifically taught, and subconsciously absorbed. Most science students will remember learning the skills of observation and recording by watching and describing a burning candle. Others will remember learning to use a Bunsen burner. Many learned about the importance of explaining and predicting new phenomena, the essence of science. This same graduated approach of experience and skills will be needed for any student of the science of cyberspace.

In previous blogs we made the assertion that modeling and simulation is the laboratory for the science of cyberspace. Based on the fundamental role laboratories serve in the experimentation process for the study of science, any scientific study of cyberspace will require training, experience and understanding in modeling and simulation. Modeling and simulation, when infused with a disciplined study of social science, will help us determine the behavioral aspects we seek to learn through experimentation. Many previous blogs have addressed the need to understand cyberspace as a social phenomenon (here and here, for example).

While some cyberspace scientists may specialize in model creation, all cyberspace scientists will require the skills to effectively design, use, and analyze models. This is just one of the areas where SENDS will be able to interlink and complement work being currently being done in the education of the sciences and technologies.

There are many other areas like the laboratory example in the education of cyberspace scientists which we must address, but we’ll leave that to future blogs. There is however one area I would like to close with. Effective education in the study of cyberspace will by its very nature require continual adaptation to new technologies and culture.

In observations from their recently completed Cyber Security Certification course, SENDS collaborator Joseph Cuenco, Executive Director, Science Center of Pinellas County, FL recently commented to us that “Perhaps our electronically immersed world has provided our students a more robust basis for their understanding of hardware and software components. The majority of these students were very familiar with the course material and concepts from a hands-on perspective.” This observation highlights what I believe: our current education system is vastly underestimating our young students’ practical experience and grasp of computers, both their use and construct.

Anyone who has or works with young students has seen the vast familiarity, comfort and knowledge about the workings of computers, the Web and even the social attitudes of working, playing and living in cyberspace. The study of the science of cyberspace must address this and evolve to capture this experience our younger generations are getting. Is it too farfetched to hope that we can start to adapt industry and academia to be as accepting of the hand-on knowledge of young folks as they are of a diploma?

We have built a small team to begin the development of a concept for this curriculum and will be posting future blogs as our work matures. The task continues!

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