Bjorn Beam, a veteran of the intelligence community who has worked with both the FBI and CIA, cares a lot about cybersecurity. His educational program Security Squad is designed to teach children essential lessons about digital safety and conduct while under the guise of a ‘choose your own adventure’ video game.
Bjorn answered some questions about his program and how he developed it.
What inspired you to start Security Squad?
After spending more than 8 years working in the intelligence community, I had seen firsthand the dangers that ignorance about cybersecurity can bring. Issues like identity theft and malicious malware can be avoided if people are vigilant about what they click on and what information they volunteer – teaching kids how to avoid these threats while they are young will prepare them for the future.
I saw that since today’s world is so digitally connected, children need a way to learn how to safely interact with the online world. The use of social media platforms and other services prompt us to share personal information and put our trust in cybersecurity measures – these are things children need to know about and be prepared for so they can thrive in the future.
What were the early challenges in establishing Security Squad?
Trying to find the right balance between gamification and education. You want it to be fun without distracting from the educational purpose of the activity. Luckily, I believe we have found this balance with Security Squad.
How did you discover gamification as a tool to enhance learning outcomes?
I noticed that gamification was already being used to educate children about other important subjects like science and mathematics. I thought, ‘why can’t I teach children about cybersecurity in the same way?’.
Gamification is really great as a means of getting a child to sit down with and try a new experience. Since kids are naturally drawn to video games and digital media, it’s an excellent way to capture them as an audience and teach them valuable lessons.
How have you designed Security Squad to provide positive reinforcement?
Our ‘choose your own adventure’ games are designed so that no answer a child gives is deemed wrong; the game simply shows what the world might look like if that answer was true. This helps minimise negative reinforcement as children are given a chance to see why they might want to choose another answer; not simply be told they made a mistake. We do not want to say no, but ask why?
What kind of games are there?
As mentioned, we have choose your own adventure games known as ‘security squad adventures’. We also have a hidden objects game that tests a child’s ability to find and recognised cybersecurity-related objects. We also have a couple of shorter video games that are meant to instill positive behavioral changes that we are excited to release this coming year.
In what ways does Security Squad also help prepare kids for the future job market?
Security Squad teaches children the basic principles of online safety and cybersecurity. This gives children a good framework from which to pursue careers in cybersecurity but also in areas like programming and business intelligence. We know we have done our job when a kid learns that messages or pictures he or she posts now can haunt them down the road in future college admissions, job interviews, or even getting applying for insurance.
Thank you Bjorn for sharing your thoughts with us!
You can follow up with Bjorn Beam at https://securitysquad.org