School students can learn how to crack a code, build Lego using algorithms, create a virtual pet, and write a computer program under an innovative new initiative aimed at fostering the cyber-security workers of the future.
The Australian Government has invested more than $9 million in Australian Digital Technologies Challenges, which provides free online activities for students in Years 3 to 8.
A series of online activities are available to boost student skills in digital technologies (DT) including coding and data interpretation. The content is aligned to the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies and the ICT general capability.
The initiative is being delivered to schools across the country by the Australian Computing Academy (ACA) at the University of Sydney. The ACA also offers Dive into Code, providing a suite of fun and engaging coding activities for students in Years 3 to 12.
Dr. James R. Curran, Associate Professor for the Australian Computing Academy, at The University of Sydney, said learning about digital technologies is an increasingly important skill.
“Nearly every aspect of our lives has been remade, and is continuing to be remade, by digital technologies. Ask a taxi driver how they feel about technology now versus five years ago before Uber started taking over,” Dr. Curran said.
“Almost every industry is changing. Do we want Australian children to be in charge of the change or do we want them just to be inheriting the changes that other people elsewhere in the world think is the direction we should be going?”
The Digital Technologies (DT) Challenges and activities are freely available to students in Years 3 to 8 and all teachers in Australian schools. Students can start a series of activities that are specifically targeted at the student’s year level, including algorithms, coding, data representation and data interpretation. As at June 2020, there were 377,000 students enrolled in one or more DT Challenges.
The activities are designed to be fun and become progressively harder as a student progresses. An automated marking system provides the student with immediate, intelligent feedback on their progression.
In addition to the DT Challenges, the ACA has also introduced the Schools Cyber Security Challenges for students in Years 7 to 12. These classroom-ready challenges provide high school teachers with resources to support the teaching of cyber security concepts, and to inform students of career opportunities in the field.
Dr. Curran said the program has been a great success.
“So far, we’ve had 100,000 enrolments in these cyber security challenges that do two things — teach kids cyber security skills and knowledge, and also give kids an awareness of what career opportunities there are in cyber security,” Dr. Curran said.
The ACA has worked hard to deliver resources to students and teachers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, they added functionality to the website to enable teachers to follow students’ work while they were at home, replicating a ‘real-life’ classroom environment.
“Teachers are able to see a student’s progression, whether they are trying to solve a particular question and whether they appeared to be stuck. The teacher can then message that student and help them. That’s what a teacher does in the classroom every day, but when students are at home, it is harder to do these things,” Dr. Curran said.
“We are living in an era where few people will do just one thing with their careers. Computer science is a highly-creative career and students can do a combination of STEM subjects and the humanities if they choose, which can take them into any industry and any career.”