Building community and shaping the future: How CyBOK is helping to inspire the next generation of cyber security innovators

Building community and shaping the future: How CyBOK is helping to inspire the next generation of cyber security innovators

Published: 9 Jul 2024, 4:20 p.m.

As a nationwide educational initiative, CyberFirst Wales is focused on educating and inspiring students from a young age to consider a career in cyber security. As the CyberFirst Project Lead for the University for South Wales, Holly worked with the network’s partners at the universities of Bangor and Swansea to create an interactive showcase aimed at GCSE, A-Level and BTech students. The first event of its kind, hosted by the University of South Wales in December 2023, attracted almost 300 people and has laid the groundwork for future events. With plans to deliver the event as an annual offering across the whole of Wales, CyberFirst has a fundamental role to play in helping young people to explore their passion for technology, connecting them with industry and academic routes into the future.

How do you use CyBOK in your work?

I’m Project Lead for CyberFirst Wales, which is a National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) education outreach programme. My role is all about encouraging students and teachers to engage in cyber, so CyBOK has been central to my work. Working with other educators, and the schools and colleges who are part of the CyberFirst network, we’ve found that the word “cyber” can be quite vague – it covers such a broad area that unless we get into the specifics, it can raise more questions from students than it answers! CyBOK provides the perfect framework for addressing this, and for what we wanted to achieve with the Cyber Pathways event. December 2023 was the first time we hosted the event, which we hope will become an annual activity.

What were your ambitions with the first Cyber Pathways event and how has CyBOK helped to lay the groundwork for your ongoing aspirations?

We wanted to address the fact that many people, including teachers and students, may not have as in-depth an understanding of the field as we might assume. Our aim was to host an event that would involve the colleges and schools that are part of CyberFirst, and encourage students to learn more about the different vocational pathways they might be interested in. For students to be able to get a handle on the different aspects of the field, it’s important that we find ways to break it down and help them understand the delineations within cyber security – rather like with Law as a subject and a career pathway, there is so much more to it than the word “law” implies.

Cyber Pathways saw you map a day’s worth of talks, activities and workshops on the CyBOK Knowledge Areas. What was your thinking behind that?

Our audience for the event was students in Years 11,12 and 13 (aged 15 and over), who are studying computing at GCSE, A-level and BTech, and who have expressed an interest into studying or pursuing an early career pathway in computing. We wanted to give them a taste of the different fields they might explore. CyBOK was ideal for that because it gave us a ready-made framework to group a full day’s worth of opportunities thematically. We covered everything from Human Factors, Forensics and Online Rights, to Security Operations. The campus where we held the event happens to have five floors, so we were able to split the event over all of those floors and group the different Knowledge Areas together across the space, which worked out perfectly. We organised things with a traffic light system so that students could gauge their understanding and interest, and there were a variety of lecture-style events as well as more hands-on activities. Our hope was that students would gain a clearer idea of the area of cyber that they might want to pursue vocationally – for instance, some came away with a connection to a university that specialises in digital forensics, and an awareness of the companies that they might approach, and tied to that, a sense of the modules they’d need to study to pursue that pathway.

How did people respond to the event and how has this shaped your future plans?

Building a feedback model into the event was important from the outset because we want to encourage people to come back, and to learn and share our findings with other networks who might want to replicate our approach. The responses we’ve received so far show that everyone can see that we’re doing something valuable. The students had the opportunity for some facetime with companies and other lecturers, which gave us a sense of what they want and benefited from. One of the frequent pieces of feedback from students was that the more popular activities were oversubscribed, so there was disappointment around people not being able to experience everything, which has been a valuable lesson for us as organisers because we have a sense of how we need to adjust the next event. For instance, next year, we’ll explore how we might align the events to the themes rather than trying to cover all 21 Knowledge Areas. The teachers were really enthusiastic; that’s made us aware of the potential for approaching this from a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) perspective as well. A lot of teachers made some valuable connections on the day with other teachers, lecturers and industry partners. Several teachers commented on how useful CyBOK was as a resource and how they could see themselves utilising that more, now that they’re aware of it.

What are your plans as you look towards 2024 and beyond?

We’d like to involve more colleges and schools from the network. This first event was focused on South East Wales but we’d like to extend and expand things to include the whole of Wales, maybe by hosting three events each year. We know that we are on the road to a really valuable event for the cyber calendar. CyBOK has helped to lay that groundwork. I imagine there is a lot more potential for benefiting from the funding opportunities that CyBOK has, and from the network of people whose expertise could definitely help to shape future events.