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Two UMUC faculty members were featured in EDUlab@Lightcity, part of the Light City festival in Baltimore on April 5. Edulab, sponsored by the University System of Maryland, included panel discussions, short presentations and an innovative ideas-fair designed, in the words of festival organizers, to bring together thinkers and thought leaders, and generate an ecosystem of learning.

Jesse Varsalone, associate professor of computer networks and cybersecurity at UMUC, participated in a session entitled, “Dear Mr. President,“ as one of six academics  given seven minutes each to hypothetically address the President of the United States on a topic of their choosing.

Varsalone focused his time on the importance of growing the cybersecurity pipeline to address the challenges we face in protecting our identity and personal information in a hyper-connected world.

“Twenty years ago, the only people who could hack into a system were people who had computer science degrees,” said Varsalone. “Now, a nine-year-old can use sophisticated tools to hack.”

Varsalone said his son recently was playing a game on the computer and looking happy because he was able to get into the game’s system. “I said to him: ‘how did you do that?’” His son’s response was: “I watched a YouTube video.”

His point to the president was that today, a vast amount of information is available to a wider range of people than ever before—who have the ability to use it.

“We need to encourage kids to keep doing what they are doing, which is using technology, including iPads, smartphones, and notebooks.  We need more people to get into cyber because that is where they are spending more and more of their time.”

Varsalone closed his hypothetical presidential audience with this reality check: “My four-year-old daughter learned to use Siri before she learned to write!”

In the afternoon, Steven Henick, UMUC’s vice dean for business and professional programs, moderated the panel, “How Education Technology is Redefining Learning and Access: Baltimore Educational Startups.”

The discussion centered on the ways that technology is making learning more accessible—not only for traditional learners and adults but also for student groups underserved in the past. Those groups include students with disabilities, those studying English as a second language, and the economically disadvantaged.

Henick steered the discussion with panelists, Katie Egan, co-founder and CEO of CourseArc, and Jonathan Moore, founder and CEO of Rowdy Orbit, toward the increase in coding “boot camps” and other technology training programs.

Egan established a program to train elementary schoolgirls in coding. Her goal is increasing the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. And Moore is helping to reduce prison recidivism and reentry among minorities in Baltimore with a training program in technology and data skills.

Because education technology continues to evolve at an increasingly faster pace, the discussion also focused on the value of education technology tools, the risk posed by unequal access to technology and education, which can widen the achievement gap, and the ability and willingness of teachers to adapt to new technologies.