SaTC: EDU: Collaborative: Connecting Contexts: Building Foundational Digital Privacy and Security Skills for Elementary School Children, Teachers, and Parents

User behavior plays a crucial role in creating and maintaining cybersecurity, and children are an under-researched user group who are at risk from a range of online privacy and security threats. Young children’s online safety needs are poorly served by existing educational materials and resources, which are typically limited to a single setting (home or school) and rarely consider the contexts where learning occurs. In this project, the research team will leverage understanding of the contexts in which children interact with digital technologies to create life-relevant opportunities for privacy and security skill building for elementary school children. Specifically, the project will promote young children’s privacy cybersecurity learning across the two contexts where they spend most of their time: home and school. The project will develop resources for each of its three stakeholder groups (teachers, children, and parents) to help in teaching and learning about everyday applications of cybersecurity. The project will also impact cybersecurity training for elementary school children by facilitating their learning about basic Internet and technology concepts and developing those skills to help them make smarter and safer decisions online. There will be a significant focus on outreach to ensure developed resources are flexible enough to be used in school districts around the U.S.

This project leverages Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory to develop and test a new framework. Connecting Contexts Framework for Privacy and Security Learning. This framework will be used to establish methods for designing and implementing tools and resources to help children, parents, and teachers develop digital privacy and security skills and practices they can apply in their everyday lives. Through participatory design research with teachers and families, the research team will create curriculum and related educational materials (i.e., micro-lessons for students, training for parents, and professional development and curriculum materials for teachers) that will be tailored across three grade bands (K-1, 2-3, 4-5). This strategy will ensure students can successfully develop and expand their understanding of four core concepts throughout elementary school: how the Internet works, digital privacy, cybersecurity, and being a good digital citizen. The research team will work with parents to identify their needs to help them become partners in the learning process. Data collection will occur at two elementary schools in the Washington, DC and Chicago, IL metropolitan regions. Parent-specific resources will help scaffold parent-child conversations at home to encourage family conversations about digital privacy and security practices in everyday life. Developed resources will be created and maintained through a digital platform to provide widespread access to the resources to teachers, parents, and school districts across the U.S. In the final year, resources will be shared widely, and the team will work with teachers and other educators around the country to encourage wider adoption of curriculum and resources.

This project is supported by the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program, which funds proposals that address cybersecurity and privacy, and in this case specifically cybersecurity education. The SaTC program aligns with the Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development Strategic Plan and the National Privacy Research Strategy to protect and preserve the growing social and economic benefits of cyber systems while ensuring security and privacy. This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

February 2020 - February 2023

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