LEVELING-UP EDUCATION TO THE WORLD OUTSIDE: SAN ANTONIO'S CYBER-STEM MODEL
Jim Brazell, San Antonio, Texas (www.ventureramp.com)
Cyberspace: A Call to Action
Cyberspace is the new imperative for education and workforce and economic development. Headlines remind us every day of the far-reaching implications of cyberspace and our need to respond—from political revolution in Libya fueled by Tweeting Google Earth coordinates to NATO, to the Target retail heist that exposed the personal identities of up to a third of the American population, to Snowden's espionage ultimately calling the President of the United States to the podium to address national security policy and practice.
We live in a sea of information, yet there are very few drops to drink. A new world is emerging. This world exists in the spaces between how we have done things until now and innovations flowing from the commercialization of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and arts innovation. What is fundamental about change in the 21st century is that cyber (computers, networks, and software) is at the center of every major challenge and opportunity facing society.
Today, cyberspace is simultaneously both a domain of communication, entertainment, commerce, and political organization and a domain of warfare, crime, and black markets. Cyberspace is ushering in a new economic era fueled by automation, cyber control of processes fundamental to daily life, and robotics (Internet 2.0: What's Next in Computing). It is an understatement to say that cyberspace should be a topic of study for all levels of education and virtually all subjects and disciplines across the spectrum of schools. Yet cyberspace and technology more broadly are absent, for the most part, from American education.
When cyber is allowed in school, it is often relegated, out of fear of distraction, to a lab, a library, or a workspace rather than integrated into the fabric of learning. One of the biggest challenges facing schools today is to integrate the global perspectives, tools, and information students have as part of their daily lives into the school experience—while fostering critical thinking, creativity, and online safety.
The San Antonio Model
During the 2013 National Career Pathway Network preconference in San Antonio, Texas, a half-day workshop was held on the topic of San Antonio's Cyber-STEM network. Started in 2001, cyber education initiatives now include city-wide competitions for cyber security (8th grade to PhD) and robotics (Pre-K to 12th grade); CyberStar for middle school, targeting computer science in the core; Information Technology and Security Academy, for high school students to earn college credit and certificates while working in the cyber field; Texas A&M San Antonio, full articulation of cyber AS degrees to junior status for entering students; and the Cyber Innovation and Research Consortium, all cyber programs and schools in the region from Pre-K-to-PhD.
During the NCPN workshop, cyber security education was discussed as a vehicle for unifying academic and CTE programs of study across career clusters (STEM, IT, arts, health, manufacturing, telecommunications, energy, etc.). While many regions and schools approach cyber security as a specialized discipline or sequence of courses, San Antonio's Cyber-STEM network focuses on skill development and knowledge innovation, while leaving specific academic and career paths open to students. Students can pursue multiple pathways related to cyber security and non-security programs ranging from computer repair to terrorism law.
Cyber skills include personal information management, public versus private communication, ethics, computer operating systems, network configuration, systems administration, database programming, cryptography, and more. What is unique about San Antonio's program is the time spent on applied practice and the integration of security as a foundation to all aspects of computer science and information technology.
The split between competition and preparation and formal cyber security studies in the classroom is approximately 50/50. By placing so much weight on applied practice, many students are able to develop enough experience to be sought after by enterprise employers for work at the city's largest businesses—from USAA to the 24th Air Force (Cyber)—before graduation from high school.
An emerging mentor network includes hundreds of volunteers who hire, train, teach, and support the 100 high school and middle school cyber teams in the tri-county region surrounding the Alamo City. In competitive practice and live rounds, students exercise their problem solving skills through inductive and deductive reasoning, computer programming, oral expression and teamwork, systems administration, adaptive decision-making, and defensive cyber strategies (offensive play is emerging in a game called Cyber Panopoly).
This is the knowledge innovation side of cyber. Knowledge innovation is creativity—creating new knowledge, new processes, new systems, and new languages. Because of the complexity of cyber and its requirement for creativity, mentors generally encourage student development in the humanities, health and sports, and the arts, in addition to technical studies.
San Antonio's programs are an indicator of the movement to incorporate computers, networks, and software (cyber) into mainstream educational practice. Today, there is a movement to mainstream cyber education as a science course across the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels of education. This computer-at-the-core movement along with STEM-motivated change opens new doors for CTE in mainstream education.
Implications for CTE Nationally
While many people are working to integrate STEM education and instructional technology into everyday practice, the CTE community has mastered technology and instructional integration. With 104 years of accumulated experience in technology education and at least 25 years of IT instruction, CTE offers the U.S. education system a model for how to prepare today's youth for the rigors of living, learning, playing, and working in the 21st century. Rigorous Programs of Study, unifying academic, arts, health, and CTE practice, are the way ahead.
In the cyber context, CTE instructors must all work to prepare students to be careful and caring citizens, consumers, operators, and designers of technological systems. This means continuing to integrate the latest industry tools into educational practice across career clusters, but it also means preparing students with appropriate Internet, safety, and security skills across disciplines.
Because cyberspace is a dual-edged sword presenting promise and peril, the preparation of the next generation of students must include a focus on cyberspace and security across the disciplines. The increasing technological world drives complexity and change. Our response should be to look backward, to look at our feet, and to look over the horizon. Contrary to popular practice, the increasing technological world requires that we educate global citizens who are critical, creative, rational, and imaginative. This means that social studies, civics, and English have a role in cyber education as well as CTE.
The call to education practitioners is to find answers for behavior such as cyber bullying in the unification of CTE information technology practice and mainstream classical education—what I like to call classical contemporary education. The key ingredient of classical contemporary education is the intersection of classical knowledge and contemporary skill with the goal of enabling student-driven transformation of society and the natural world through design-innovation.
The call to change is a call for CTE to raise our heads and be proud of our heritage and our experience and what we have to offer the world. Technology, cyberspace, networks, computers, robots, biotechnology, health technology, planes, trains, and automobiles are our domain. CTE is in a unique position to support technology education in schools because our goal is parity among education and work needs. Today, entry-level middle skill and high skill jobs all require at least two years of education beyond high school.
This synergistic relationship between education and work constantly balances the needs of employers, with the design, delivery, and graduation of students with the experience necessary to gain employment and earn a livable family wage. Similarly, technology-driven change in society requires synchronization of education to the emerging patterns of the world outside of the school. It is here in the space between community and school, disinformation and information, academic and CTE, engineering and science, the fine arts and the practical arts, computer science and cyber security, and technology and society that we can and must level-up education to prepare students for their future—rather than our past.
CTE's opportunity is to become an important cornerstone in the education of all students by connecting cyber to the core and thereby mainstreaming CTE practice up and down the ladder of education levels—while facilitating collaboration across the disciplines. It is time for CTE to lead!
About the Author
Jim Brazell is a technology forecaster, public speaker, and entrepreneur based in San Antonio, Texas. Recent innovation workshops with IDEAS Orlando, the innovation studio, include: the University of Alabama Birmingham Conceptual-STEM program for area high school students (2014); STEM School in a School concept for 40 Middle Schools at Alief ISD Houston (2014); conceptual design of arts education for the Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts (2013); and modeling commercialization and learning strategies for the International Space Station (Center for the Advancement of Space Research) (2013). Learn more about Jim Brazell online at www.ventureramp.com.