Randall Joyce and Brandon Dixon are lecturers at Murray State University and contributed to "The Open Organization Guide for Educators," a new book including chapters by 20 authors, written "the open-source way" via GitHub.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts a shortage of 1.8 million cybersecurity professionals by next year, and educators will play a critical role in meeting this challenge for years to come.
From our vantage point as instructors working at the intersection of education and technology, we believe we’ll meet our goals if we take an open approach to educating tomorrow's cybersecurity experts. And we mean "open" in terms of both software and mindset.
Here at Murray State University in Kentucky, we’ve done just that for the last decade.
Being recently recognized by the NSA as a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyberdefense (CAE-CD), we're using open principles gleaned from open source software communities to empower students to train themselves in the use of tools to resolve problems. In so doing, we prepare students not simply for cybersecurity jobs, but for careers that involve continuous learning — which is critical given the current pace of technological, societal and business change.
Seeding the spark
To develop a strong cybersecurity workforce, educators need to start early to spark students' interest at a young age. This shouldn't be too hard given the often natural inclination of students to love digital technologies.
But once in a classroom seat, how do educators make the most of their time with students and create the professionals who will be ready to grow with the job demands of tomorrow?
We see two major initiatives at play, both at Murray and in the broader software ecosystem:
Leveraging open source software pays huge dividends. Most of the cybersecurity tools used in industry are open source tools that anyone can obtain freely. By familiarizing students with using these tools in a safe and secure classroom environment prior to entering into the field, we help them learn not only how to use the tools but also how to access vast and vibrant open source communities to help troubleshoot all kinds of problems. With access to a wide variety of tools and communities, they’ll be prepared for a life of learning when they go into the workforce. And they'll embody a methodology that prepares them to keep their skills updated and stay ahead of the competition.
Finding partnerships boosts efforts. Another great asset to educators are partnerships available to supply faculty and students with access to training and resources to broaden their cybersecurity expertise.
For example, one such partner in our work is Red Hat Academy, which provides high schools and higher education institutions worldwide the technology and support to offer Red Hat courses and exams. Since Red Hat is a leading provider of open source software, partnerships like this are a great way to obtain additional resources and supplementary material that may not otherwise be available to schools and school budgets.
In the Telecommunications Systems Management (TSM) program at Murray State University, we leverage these types of alliances to give students more exposure to companies that produce the products they’ll one day deal with at work.
With Red Hat Academy as a partner, the TSM program can use supplementary material and lab resources to help cultivate a strong Linux foundation for students — which is useful since most cybersecurity tools are developed for Linux, the best-known and most-used open source operating system. With this methodology, students gain more knowledge of and hands-on experience with Linux, and they build a foundation that will help them in their educational and career endeavors.
Preparing for careers, not jobs
Our courses don't just incorporate open source tools and open practices to simulate real-world environments. We also create learning experiences in the classroom that’ll mirror what students are likely to experience in the corporate world. That means we challenge students to develop critical thinking skills, and to be able to seek, assess and understand resources from cybersecurity and open source communities.
Educators can never prepare students for every conceivable situation they might encounter in the field, but we can prepare them to be able to bring their own skills to bear to handle such situations.
By being open to partnerships, unique ways of teaching and learning, and to the principles that underlie the incredible success of open source software, we’re in a good position to help create the innovators of tomorrow.