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Starting cyber safety conversations with your students through the curriculum

And how you can involve academic staff in building a strong cyber security culture within your institution


When it comes to cyber safety and students, upskilling, changing attitudes and building habits requires time, effort, and a comprehensive approach. You need all hands on deck - including support from your academic staff.


As outlined by Steven Furnell, Professor of Cyber Security at the University of Nottingham, in an article for Times Higher Education:


‘Arguably the most valuable and impactful approach [to creating cyber security-literate graduates] would somehow integrate cyber security skills training by default within curricula.’


Why academic staff; many of whom will have nothing to do with cyber security? The answer is they are a crucial element of a student's university experience. Academics are often the only regular point of contact for students, and many students build great relationships with their module leaders, valuing both their views and instruction.


So how can you make the most of these great relationships to help your university create a ‘cyber security-first’ environment? With academic staff taking on bigger workloads than ever before, it's important that their involvement is measured and sustainable.


We’ve outlined some key ways to do this below.


Remind staff of their personal interest in staying cyber safe


While we’re talking about students here, cyber security matters to academics too. They’re often in possession of highly-prized research (which can carry huge data protection implications), as well as their own personal information.


Cyber crime spreads like a spider web, so it’s in an academic’s interest to encourage their students to learn key skills and build cyber safe habits.


If an unsuspecting student clicks on a phishing email, this could involve the academics in their contacts list in a follow up phishing attack. If someone gains unauthorised access to a student’s account due to a weak password, an academic’s contact information could be leaked. If a student is exposed to malware as a result of logging onto a malicious public Wi-Fi connection, they could unintentionally spread it from their device.


Without fear-mongering and causing mass hysteria, it’s important that students know about these dangers, and learn key behaviours which can help them stay safe online, so that they can avoid putting others at risk.


Prepare a set of ‘plug and play’ resources for staff


Academics often spend time preparing a set of information before the start of their module - learning outcomes, schedule, important reminders - encourage them to make cyber safety one of these.


Ease is key to getting busy academic staff involved. One way to encourage them to share cyber messages with their students is creating a pack of complete and easy to use resources.


Before the end of summer, have your internal communications team write a series of FAQs, create a series of slides or even interactive material such as polls and surveys that academic staff can distribute to their students.


You can also ask academic librarians to include cyber safety content as part of their study skills sessions for reading week, sharing the workload, and further emphasising the message to students.


Take advantage of every minute in front of students


Throughout three or even four years at university, students spend an awful lot of time sitting in teaching rooms while a member of staff gets set up, or waiting for fellow students to arrive ahead of a lecture, tutorial, or seminar.


These few minutes of quiet between the hustle and bustle of busy campuses, and the beginning of teaching are a great time to display key messages using screensavers or template slides given to staff.


Sharing simple messages such as ‘How safe are your passwords?’, ‘Do you know the risks of connecting to public Wi-Fi?’ or ‘How much data do you share?’ along with a QR code are a great way to expose students to cyber security, and make them think about it, with minimal effort needed from busy academic staff. It's a win-win.


You could also provide academic staff with cyber-themed posters which they can put up in their office for when they hold student contact hours.


Make cyber safety a part of employability skills training


Many departments already feature employment and careers guidance in their curriculum. But do they discuss cyber security in light of preparing students for the workplace?


Cyber safety is a really important aspect of future careers, and it’s a problem which is not going away. Academics don’t have to be experts on cyber security to impart why strong personal cyber security matters so much.


Encouraging departments to share cyber security messages during these hours in the light of preparing students for the workplace is a place where teaching cyber security skills can slot into any curriculum.


Encourage staff to host cyber safety material on their VLE pages


Depending on the customisation-level of your VLE, you can also ask academics to host university cyber safety messages on their module portals. It can be as simple as sharing links to webpages, embedding cyber safety videos in posts, or drawing students’ attention to university-wide cyber messages.


The more exposure and backing from academics, the easier it will be for your institution to build a strong cyber security culture where everyone has the knowledge to be able to play their part in the fight against cyber crime.



We're an award winning internal communications agency with years of experience in engaging key stakeholders with clear and consistent communications. Need a hand getting academics on board with your cyber security strategy? We can help.


We’ve got plenty of expertise and fresh ideas for collateral and resources to get them on your side, as well as our cyber safety behaviour change programme, CyberSafe. Get in touch today to find out more hello@insideoutconsulting.co.uk.


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