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Teachers Glimpse Potential of Virtual Reality in Classroom

Alex Kasten
By Alex Kasten
GenCyber campers use virtual reality headsets.

For five days this summer, 20 high school and middle school teachers underwent virtual reality experiences, immersed themselves in labs, and learned cybersecurity concepts so they could incorporate information security into their schools’ curriculum. The summer camp, last offered by University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) in 2021, also provided educators with an array of skills, games, and supporting tools and technologies to take back to their classrooms this fall.

“Teaching K-12 students about cybersecurity early empowers them to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly,” said Brandie Shatto, program chair for the GenCyber Camp and professor of instructional technology at UMGC. “Equipping students with cybersecurity knowledge fosters a culture of digital citizenship, enhances their critical thinking skills, and prepares them to protect themselves and others from cyber threats in the future.”

From July 17-21, the teachers came together for the intensive hybrid-format workshop titled “2023 GenCyber Infusion and Immersion Teacher Camp.” The 2023 program focused on training non-STEM teachers to infuse cybersecurity concepts into their courses. The goal is to introduce more students to cybersecurity fundamentals, concepts, and ethics, and the emerging world of virtual reality.

“The aim of the virtual reality immersion component was to ensure that teachers received training and support to effectively integrate VR into their curriculum,” said Dr. Loyce Pailen, GenCyber program director and director of the Center of Security Studies at UMGC. “With proper preparation and planning, VR can be a powerful tool to enrich education and enhance student learning experiences.” 

Participants learned techniques to make learning more interactive and captivating for students. Additionally, they were taught how VR’s tailored experiences can accommodate different learning abilities, making them particularly beneficial for students with special needs.

“Teachers gained experiences that are customizable learning examples for individual students based on their unique needs and learning styles,” said Pailen. “The experiences demonstrated multi-sensory approaches that can enhance memory retention and comprehension and make learning more effective.”

Guest VR experts offered teachers virtual travel experiences designed to broaden students’ horizons and enrich their understanding of the world. Teachers were taught that VR can provide a safe environment for students to conduct experiments that might be otherwise impractical or hazardous. 

“What stood out to me was the way that we were able to build a community of teachers by the end of the week,” said Shatto. “We were able to incorporate activities throughout the camp that required collaboration and allowed the teachers to get to know each other and the instructional staff.

Exposing students to the field and helping them see potential career pathways also addresses the shortage of cybersecurity professionals across the nation, especially in Maryland.

“The camp helps support these needs by introducing cybersecurity concepts to K-12 teachers in a variety of content areas and by helping teachers integrate cybersecurity in their lessons and, ultimately, fill the pipeline of open positions,” said Shatto. “Training K-12 teachers through experiences like the GenCyber Camp helps to deepen their knowledge of cybersecurity concepts and careers so that they can help prepare the next generation of cyber leaders.”