CIC project aids students with disabilities

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CIC project aids students with disabilities

July 26, 2017

When the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC) was approached by Virginia’s Dept. for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) to discuss curriculum and workforce opportunities for its client students, Chuck Gardner recognized a chance to do something truly unique.

By the time Gardner and his team designed and implemented the specially crafted instructional model, and witnessed the results first-hand, the unique opportunity became “…a life-changing event, and I don’t use that term lightly.”

NICERC (National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center) has worked with students in the past, Gardner explained. This was, however, the first time NICERC or the CIC had the opportunity to assist students with these particular disabilities.

“Some students were blind and visually impaired, a variety of students were on the autism spectrum, there were hearing impaired students and even some were foreign language speaking,” said Gardner, director of curriculum at CIC in Bossier City.

For the 24 students who participated in the five-day instructional camp, it was a transformational experience. Likewise, Gardner and his instructor partner, NICERC subject matter expert Josh Coriell, saw and felt the transformation.

Now, as a result of the five days of intense instruction, these students could find themselves on equal footing with their peers who some may believe have more opportunities. Despite their disabilities, the students grew in confidence and proficiency.

“The curriculum was designed for two things,” Gardner explained. “First, to give them workplace skills, but second, we wanted to give them exposure to the content their mainstream classmates had already experienced at the camp last year.”

Typically, NICERC trains teachers as part of its curriculum development and deployment plan. Since being named in 2014 as the Dept. of Homeland Security’s national model for cyber education in the country, content has been developed that reaches more than 5,500 teachers and has impacted more than 1.6 million students.

NICERC is that branch of CIC responsible for growing an organic workforce at the necessary starting point in education to develop a successful student in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degree and career fields. What has been created is now being used throughout the nation to develop this high-demand workforce population.

“We know the biggest bang for our training dollars is going to come from educating teachers,” Gardner said. “After our training, they can then go back to their classrooms where we calculate that they reach, on average, 122 students each.

“But this was the first time we were asked to align our content for a camp and to also help facilitate the camp,” Gardner said. “And it was thrilling.”

Cyber Summer Camp 2016, an initiative begun by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in cooperation with the state Dept. of Education, was the impetus for CIC/NICERC’s specially tailored curriculum for these students with disabilities.

At that event, the state of Virginia asked the CIC team to identify three weeks of content to get students introduced to the concept of cyber, cyber security and ethical responsibilities of interaction in the cyber world. Included was a real-world connection to jobs available in Virginia.

Schools were asked to invite STEM teachers, math teachers, science teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators, Gardner said. The goal was to gather anyone who may influence a student’s decision about life after graduation and cyber opportunities in general.

“As a result of this camp concept, we trained more than 200 teachers from across the state,” Gardner said. “We impacted more than 700 students from 32 high schools in the three-week camp based on NICERC’s EDA (Explore, Discover, Apply) and cyber literacy curriculum.”

Those results led to the call from Virginia’s DBVI.

“Tommy Gober, a NICERC subject matter expert in BOE-Bots and computer science, and I met with them probably two or three times through February, 2017, and identified that yes, we could help them out,” Gardner said.

There was one major challenge facing Gardner and the team. How does an instructor enable students to “see” the project when they literally cannot see?

“When you think of teachers’ needs in the classroom it’s Power Points, it’s handouts, textbooks maybe or resources and materials. With this group we really had to change our thinking. We couldn’t use those materials. The request was, give me something I can magnify or convert to Braille,” Gardner said.

“We had to take all our traditional thought on how we approach cyber literacy and deliver it literally with our eyes closed, and receive it also with our eyes closed. We had to transform how we spoke about components,” he added.

At the camp, that was primarily funded by a Virginia Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities grant, students built their own BOE-Bot from start to finish. BOE-Bot is short for Board of Education robot, the trade name of a robot kit used in junior high, high school and college robotics classes. It derives its name from the sensitive main circuit board.

“Many of these students hadn’t even held a screwdriver, much less used one,” Gardner said. “Every student programmed their own bots, wired their own circuits and engaged in conversations about cyber. They participated as a team; they worked independently.”

For curriculum, Gardner and Gober pulled content from cyber literacy and more advanced builds from cyber literacy 2. The students’ performance in their exercises was more than a pleasant surprise for the instructors.

“They accomplished everything not only in the time frame I had prepared for, but ahead of any time frame I could have expected,” Gardner said.

“We had set aside hours to complete each task. When you consider the five days we were there, they probably finished every task I gave them 30 minutes to an hour earlier than I anticipated. It was phenomenal,” he said.

Gardner said one of the many challenges was to take everything back to basics and describe it in an entirely new way. One example: building circuit boards.

“When we build circuits on the bread boards, it takes a certain set of skills to understand how wires connect. We had to go back and deconstruct how a traditional student would build a circuit and adapt our approach, and these guys built their own circuits,” he said.

Despite long hours and highly technical instruction, students told the instructors they had a great time. But Gardner said he and Coriell were those who had the best experiences.

“For us, it was a transformational event. It was truly amazing to see what these students were capable of. We’re so excited to see what’s next for those students and what’s next for DBVI and its sister organization, the Dept. of Aging and Rehabilitative Services,” Gardner said.

Camp was completed in June and Gardner’s team is waiting for survey results so more data can be published. He believes once other states learn how transformational the event was for curriculum engineers, instructors and this group of students, there will be knocks on the CIC/NICERC doors.

Camp was completed in June and Gardner’s team is waiting for survey results so more data can be published. He believes once other states learn how transformational the event was for all those involved, there will be knocks on the CIC/NICERC doors.

“Moving forward, I’d like to see how we could catch them earlier or even catch them at differing levels of abilities academically,” Gardner said. “We haven’t given much thought to whom else we can impact yet because we’re all still on Cloud 9. I haven’t quite come down yet.”