Brandon Workentin: EDTECH Learning Log

Using Technology to Improve Education

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How Securing the Power Grid is like Teaching Middle Schoolers

1. Some people just won’t care what you have to say

And sometimes, the person who doesn’t care to listen is the most important person who should be listening. As a teacher, there were students who didn’t think they needed to be in school. I had an 8th-grader tell me, straight up, that he already knew everything he needed to know. He didn’t pay attention in class, didn’t do any work, and crucially, his parents didn’t think his lack of effort in school (failing every class, including PE) was a problem. The dad was a dropout who worked as a logger, and since “his life was fine,” his kid’s education wasn’t important. Despite a number of caring, hard-working teachers at that school, there could be no progress until the child’s (or possibly the parents’) attitude changed.

Similarly, securing our power grid is important. But, unless there is buy-in from corporate leadership, any efforts that a security professional does will likely be insufficient and “band-aid” style fixing of problems.

2. Some people care too much

In teaching, these people are called “Helicopter Parents.” They are the ones who do their kid’s homework, believe that their child can do no wrong, and think that it’s their job as a parent to make sure their child is successful and doesn’t encounter any difficulties in life. I had one student whose mom was on the school board. He did very little work, and when the first report cards came out, he was failing the class. Mom didn’t like that. One teacher, who had taught at the school for over 30 years, said to just change the grade to a “D,” because it wasn’t worth the hassle to deal with the mother. He said he had done that several years prior with the student’s older brother, who Mom had also tried to “protect” in the same way. Another teacher told me that the same older brother was currently in jail on serious charges, after never having to deal with the consequences of his actions while growing up. By caring so much about short-term effects of something like a failing grade, the mom had set him up for failure in the long-term.

When it comes to the power grid, I think the people who care too much are those who think we can protect the electric system from 100% of the threats, 100% of the time. That’s just not a realistic goal, and ignores the “Best Practices” of risk management planning. A similar problem case are those who think that their issue is the only important issue. For example, Senator xxxxxx from Texas had his “pet issue” of electromagnetic pulse weapons. By wearing blinders and expecting industry to follow his ideas, it leads to things like him saying that the electric industry’s actions in the area of EMP weapons should be considered treason. That kind of hyperbole actually hurts your cause, because it leads to industry discounting any any legitimate concerns you have or points you do make.

3. Some people are doing really cool stuff with technology

Technology can make school more engaging for students. I’ve known students who the main reason they enjoyed school was because they were able to be a part of a robotics club. And there are teachers who use technology in their classrooms every day to make school more engaging for students. Likewise, there are some cool projects and tools which can be used by industry to help make organizations more secure. A lot of them, like OpenNSM, are even open source projects which are developed by volunteers, and can be implemented at little to no cost.

4. Money Helps

There’s a reason thousands of teachers are using things like [find name of the crowd source site I used to use] to raise money for their classrooms. It requires money to provide the art supplies which can inspire some kids to be better students, or to provide experiences which make learning more fun and hands-on, like the awesome Outdoor School program in Oregon. In the same way, some security projects just can’t get done without spending some money. For example, the Cyber Threat Alliance is a great project being done by some large security vendors. It requires the vendors to be willing not only to question their business model, but also to be willing to give their employees the leeway to spend time on a project with no direct impact on their bottom line.

5. But, Money Isn’t Everything.

There are some schools doing great things with almost no money. They exist in the inner city and the rural world. And they are proof that things can be accomplished with hard work and commitment, even when the funds might not be there. Likewise, it doesn’t necessarily take money to improve a security program. Maybe somebody will give up an hour of lunch to give a short talk to employees about how to be safe online, or how to make their home wifi network secure. There are little things that can be done, which cost little or no money, which can have a large, cumulative effect on security.

6. It Takes Teamwork

Every great teacher I’ve known has given credit to other people. Whether it’s a principal who creates a great culture at a school, aides who have the patience and skills to work with the hardest students and assist the teacher, previous teachers who have helped cultivate a love of learning in the students, or parents who provide a home environment conducive to learning, there is always someone who has helped to make it possible to connect and have a productive relationship with students.

A security department, working by itself, will not be able to ensure an organization is adequately protected. They will need to work with executives and normal users, work with their vendors, and, yes, even work with their regulators in order to be as successful as possible.

7. Most Important: Dedication is What Leads to Success

There’s a tradition at the Cedar Ridge Outdoor School that (some) leaders will lick banana slugs. I did it when my group was doing a post-activity question/quiz time, an a game called “Stump the Leader.” I said that if my group could beat the leaders at the game, then I would lick a slug. After one of the leaders threw the game, I had to pay up on my bet. It’s the kind of stunt that makes learning and playing an educational game fun for the students. And I wasn’t alone in it, either, as three of us teachers or leaders licked the same slug (I lucked out and got the middle section, I felt sorry for the lady who got the tail).

Dedication will help make a team, department, organization, or industry successful. By being dedicated enough to teach others about security, you can help make your peers more secure in their computing habits. By having the dedication to chase down that alert you think might be a false positive, but you’re just not sure, you can find the evidence which allows an adversary to be discovered. By coming in at 3:00am because all hell has broken loose, you can help make things right. And, by being dedicated enough to craft to be willing to learn, even on your own time (we all do it), you’re helping to build the capacity for your organization to respond to new challenges.

Note: This post is based on a 5-minute “Lightning Talk” I gave at the 2015 TCIPG Sumer School. The Summer School is put on every other year, in the Chicago area, and I could not recommend it more. If you are a cybersecurity person wanting to learn more about the power grid, or an electrical/power engineer wanting to learn more about cybersecurity, then you should make a point of attending the next session. The grant money for “TCIPG” recently ran out earlier this year, but the organization is continuing under the Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium (CREDC) name.


Digital Inequality Assignment

For this assignment, we created a narrated Powerpoint presentation to share using authorSTREAM to share it on the Internet. I learned several things from this assignment. I was able to get more experience using Google Docs, which I haven’t used very much before. Our group was a little slow getting off the ground on this assignment, because none of us had much experience using Google Docs to work together so we had to learn about that before we could work on creating the content for the presentation.

It was also interesting to research about ways that different groups are trying to combat digital inequality. There were some interesting things I learned in that regard, such as how important it is to have early exposure to computers in order to have the best chance of finding them useful to a person.

This project demonstrates knowledge and experience of the following AECT standards:

STANDARD 2 DEVELOPMENT Candidates demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to develop instructional materials and experiences using print, audiovisual, computer-based, and integrated technologies.

2.2 Audiovisual Technologies Audiovisual technologies are ways to produce or deliver materials by using mechanical devices or electronic machines to present auditory and visual messages.

2.3 Computer-Based Technologies Computer-based technologies are ways to produce or deliver materials using microprocessor-based resources.

2.4 Integrated Technologies Integrated technologies are ways to produce and deliver materials which encompass several forms of media under the control of a computer.

We created a narrated demonstration that can be found on the Internet, or could be used in a classroom or conference-type situation. The presentation used narration, as well as recording a presentation so it can be watched on its own, without the speaker having to be right there.

STANDARD 3 UTILIZATION Candidates demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to use processes and resources for learning by applying principles and theories of media utilization, diffusion, implementation, and policy-making.

3.2 Diffusion of Innovations Diffusion of innovations is the process of communicating through planned strategies for the purpose of gaining adoption.

3.4 Policies and Regulations Policies and regulations are the rules and actions of society (or its surrogates) that affect the diffusion and use of Instructional Technology.

This assignment demonstrates knowledge about the diffusion of innovations since it is focused on how to bring the benefits of technology to everybody, not just those who are lucky enough to be on the positive side of the Digital Inequality continuum. This assignment focused on helping society by focusing on the policies and regulations that could be enacted to help remedy Digital Inequality.

STANDARD 4 MANAGEMENT Candidates demonstrate knowledge, skills, and dispositions to plan, organize, coordinate, and supervise instructional technology by applying principles of project, resource, delivery system, and information management.

4.1 Project Management Project management involves planning, monitoring, and controlling instructional design and development projects.

4.2 Resource Management Resource management involves planning, monitoring, and controlling resource support systems and services.

As a group, we had to work together to get this assignment done. We had to plan roles, communicate effectively with each other, and perform tasks both independently and as a group. The project itself is also related to the management of resources, and how to make access to resources more equitable.

STANDARD 5 EVALUATION Candidates demonstrate knowledge, skills, and dispositions to evaluate the adequacy of instruction and learning by applying principles of problem analysis, criterion-referenced measurement, formative and summative evaluation, and long-range planning.

5.1 Problem Analysis Problem analysis involves determining the nature and parameters of the problem by using information-gathering and decision-making strategies.

5.4 Long-Range Planning Long-range planning that focuses on the organization as a whole is strategic planning….Long-range is usually defined as a future period of about three to five years or longer. During strategic planning, managers are trying to decide in the present what must be done to ensure organizational success in the future.

We researched the problem of digital inequality, and several different ideas for how to remedy this problem. We then ranked those ideas, and decided what  the best options were if a state were to receive money to help combat digital inequality. We had to plan what could be done to help fight digital inequality as we move forward into the next several years.

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