Article

Increasing Cybersecurity Career Interest through Playable Case Studies

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Abstract

In this paper we introduce an approach to cybersecurity education and helping students develop professional understanding in the form of a Playable Case Study (PCS), a form of educational simulation that draws on affordances of the broader educational simulation genre, case study instruction, and educational Alternate Reality Games (or ARGs). A PCS is an interactive simulation that allows students to “play” through an authentic scenario (case study) as a member of a professional team. We report our findings over a multi-year study of a PCS called Cybermatics, with data from 111 students from two different U.S. universities who interacted with the PCS. Cybermatics increased student understanding about certain key aspects of professional cybersecurity work, improved their confidence in being able to successfully apply certain skills associated with cybersecurity, and increased about half of the students’ interest in pursuing a cybersecurity career. Students also reported a number of reasons why their perceptions changed in these areas (both positive and negative). We also discuss design tensions we experienced in our process that might be encountered by others when creating simulations like a PCS, as they attempt to balance the authenticity of designed learning experiences while also sufficiently scaffolding them for newcomers who have little background in a discipline.

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... Game-based and experiential learning studies have long investigated how role-playing activities (e.g., "playing as an urban planner") enable learners to adopt epistemic frames, or ways of knowing in simulated contexts that may transfer to "real world," professional contexts (e.g., Shaffer et al., 2005;Arastoopour et al., 2014). This Interactive Tools and Demo paper introduces a new genre of interactive, role-based simulation called a Playable Case Study (PCS) (Balzotti et al., 2019;Giboney et al., 2021). The PCS architecture is a "designed experience" rather than a content delivery platform (Squire, 2006), enabling learners to take on various professional roles and interact with peers and fictional characters to carry out discipline-specific tasks. ...
... The online experience can be augmented by in-class activities designed to provide educational scaffolding. The PCS provides a scalable way to simulate high-risk activities for novices to experience in a safe environment, as well as a platform in which to study individual and group activities (Giboney et al., 2021). As players take on unique roles in a PCS, they enact principles of productive disciplinary engagement (Engle & Conant, 2002) by (1) tackling disciplinary problems, (2) gaining authority to make in-game decisions, (3) holding each other and themselves to disciplinary norms, and (4) using resources provided by the PCS. Figure 1 presents the core elements of a PCS, using our team-based, Risk Analysis cybersecurity PCS as an example. ...
... Cybermatics is a single-player PCS that has been run with hundreds of students at multiple universities and high schools, resulting in several publications about its design and impact (Balzotti et al., 2019;Giboney et al., 2021). Players take on the role of a junior cybersecurity penetration tester, working with a team of fictional characters to perform ethical hacking on a client's website (https://riptech.xyz). ...
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Playable Case Studies (PCSs) are online simulations that allow learners to adopt (play) a professional role within an authentic scenario (case) as they solve realistic problems alongside fictionalized experts in an unfolding narrative. The PCS architecture offers scalable options for creating learning activities for individual learners and student teams, and the means for observing and analyzing these activities. This interactive demo will showcase PCSs the team has developed for topics ranging from cybersecurity to technical writing to disaster response, illustrating how we embed learning assessments and research surveys and run them in classroom environments. Participants and potential collaborators will interact with and provide feedback on the prototype PCS Authoring Tool, designed to streamline the creation of new PCSs.
... A playable case study where students can act out a virtual internship and learn cybersecurity skills showed that using such experiential career exploration can allow students to make a better decision whether or not to pursue a career, understand the skills and trait needed for a career and increase their confidence to succeed in a specific career (Giboney et al., 2019). The proposed framework aims to provide students with a "weekin-the-life" simulated experience of a cybersecurity professional where the character is hired for a company called Cybermatics and has to solve intriguing problems as part of a storyline (Giboney et al., 2021). A comprehensive platform that can integrate the various career clusters (States Career Clusters, 2007) into a NL-based application has the potential to revolutionize career exploration and guidance. ...
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