WWU students educate Port Orchard middle schoolers on data privacy and online security

Nearly one hundred students from Cedar Heights Middle School in Port Orchard recently learned about online safety and how to keep their personal data secure in a lesson taught by senior cybersecurity majors Ryan Stege and Matthew Goit and computer science senior Joe Hainje as part of Data Privacy Week.

The team taught middle schoolers about their privacy and the types of information that make them personally identifiable online. The team led a game where the students were given “free” building supplies in exchange for personal information. The students were given the option to receive Play-Doh, craft sticks, straws and masking tape. Each material had its own unique set of questions, and the students were able to get as many or few materials as they wanted in exchange for their answers.

“The idea was to get the students to think about ‘free’ services and games that trade access to their service or game for their personal information,” Goit said. “The lesson revolved around this thought process, why businesses wanted their personal information, and ways businesses could use that information.”

Matthew Goit

While some activities may be monetarily free, like social media, most users end up paying with personal information, Stege said. This data can then be sold and used for innocuous reasons like ad targeting or for more nefarious reasons, such as identity fraud.

Some students didn’t seem to mind sharing their personal information.

“One student was even telling me his account information for his Roblox account,” Goit said.

Other students refused to share any information at all after learning about the day’s topic or gave false information, an approach the team encouraged them to take into the real world.

“Students were not terribly happy when we talked about the amount of information they had given us for free,” Stege said. “I think a lot of them had never thought about what happens to that information once they give it to a business, so it was enlightening for many.”

Cybersecurity is important for young people to know because they are already interacting with the internet and their information could already be at risk, Stege said.

Ryan Stege

“They are growing up in a world that is completely online. Pretty much everything they know has been on a screen and as they grow into having important data like credit cards, it's important for them to know just how at risk they are,” Stege said. “Secondly, they are probably the most tech savvy people in their family, having grown up on this technology. This means they can be a point of education for their older family members or even their parents, taking what they learned today and having their family follow these same practices.”

After the activity, the team led the students in a discussion about tracking cookies, cyber careers, digital profiles and how the information we share online can determine what companies and advertisers think about them.

Data Privacy Week is an annual event hosted by the National Cybersecurity Alliance focused on educating citizens about online privacy and helping organizations understand why it’s important to respect user data.

Computer science education is a growing field, and CS education was adopted as an endorsement area in 2021 by the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board. Western became one the first programs in the country to offer CS education courses, which the team took full advantage of.

By working with a variety of ages, abilities, and backgrounds, I think the K-12 outreach team may have a deeper appreciation for their own learning journeys.

Angela Henderson

Angela Henderson, the Department of Computer Science’s cyber range academic liaison and the team’s advisor, said the class, “Introduction to Computing Education,” gave the team the tools to plan and execute their teaching activities.

“The class provided a theoretical and practical basis for approaching K-12 cybersecurity education outreach,” she said. “This framework provided a common understanding of not only how to sequence activities for a cohesive lesson but also how to place the student at the center of the learning experience.”

The team performed teaching demos, received teaching tips, and planned and delivered the first outreach lesson as a part of the class.

“By working with a variety of ages, abilities, and backgrounds, I think the K-12 outreach team may have a deeper appreciation for their own learning journeys,” Henderson said. “Certainly, they are better prepared to teach, train, and present in their future careers.”

Since their first event in January, the team has continued to teach at local and regional schools and has reached 370 middle and high school students. The team customizes each event, and they were able to host three events during winter quarter with more planned for the spring.

To learn more about Cybersecurity and CS Education programs at Western, visit the Department of Computer Science’s webpage.