Innovating Online Teaching Techniques and Methods for Undergraduate Cybersecurity Course

Course(s): CIS 475 – Computer Security 

Department: Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 

Institution: Cleveland State University 

Instructor(s): Sathish Kumar 

Syllabus (submitted as PDF): CIS 475 – Computer Security

Number & Level of Students Enrolled: 53 Undergraduate Students 

Digital Tools/Technologies Used: Nessus, NMAP, Metasploit 

Author Bio (50-100 words): Dr. Sathish A.P. Kumar is an Associate Professor of Computer Science in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. He earned his PhD degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, USA in 2007. He is a Senior Member of IEEE. His current research and teaching interests are in cybersecurity, machine learning, big data analytics and secure distributed systems and their applications. He has published more than 50 technical papers in international journals and conference proceedings.  


Due to technological advancements, online course options are getting popular over the last decade or so. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that the online mode of education is here to stay. Hence, it is important to design and deploy innovative online teaching techniques and methods for the courses that are traditionally taught in person. Cybersecurity-related courses are becoming very popular among students and their prospective employers. This case study describes the best practices related to offering the Cybersecurity course in an online mode using a hands-on virtual lab that complements the theoretical security concepts that the student will learn over the semester. From a deployment perspective, we will also discuss the best practices on how to use the LMS effectively. Student feedback revealed that these techniques and methods are effective. The few limitations that were noted will be addressed during our next course offering. 

1. Introduction 

While online learning was getting noticed in the higher education over past decade due to technological advancements, it became a critical platform during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Effective instructional design and deployment are critical for high-quality student learning outcomes. Cybersecurity is one of the popular subjects among tech-savvy students especially among computer science and information technology majors. In order to successfully practice cybersecurity, experiential learning is critical. In this case study, using the lessons learned from the course taught in Spring 2021, the strategies for instructors interested in implementing an introductory undergraduate level cybersecurity course in an asynchronous online format are discussed in this case study.  These strategies and techniques are classified by course design and course deployment.  

2. Online Course Design Techniques and Methods 

2.1 Course Design – Clear Expectations: 

Courses should be designed with clear roles and responsibilities for the students in mind. A detailed syllabus is important from a design perspective, including the course calendar, which has due dates and the schedule clearly laid out. Rubric/Guidelines for deliverables should be clearly laid out in the syllabus and/or Blackboard learning management system (LMS). 

2.2 Course Design – Weekly Learning Guide 

It is very important to clearly lay out a consistent weekly learning guide, with the weekly learning outcomes aligning with the course-level objectives and student learning outcomes. These weekly learning outcomes need to be measurable and understandable. In addition, the learning guide should clearly outline the weekly learning activities and the corresponding assessments. 

2.3 Course Design – Real World Related Course Content 

If the course content aligns to real-world problems and needs, it will motivate the students. Hence, in our course, we used virtual labs on ethical hacking that align with the theoretical concepts the students learn during the semester (Oriyano, S. P, 2013). In addition, the course content included videos related to cybersecurity news. Also, the assignment exercises and the exam questions reflected real-world contexts of cybersecurity.

2.4 Course Design – Online Orientation 

Since the course was offered in an asynchronous online format, it is important to establish a consistent pattern of activity with due dates. Also, as studies indicate that longer videos are not preferred by the students, it is important to break the course content into smaller chunks (Giannakos, M. N et al., 2016). In addition to the videos created by the instructor, YouTube videos that reinforce the concepts covered were also used. Due to the lack of physical support, the syllabus/LMS clearly laid out technical support information that the students can make use of in case they need help. It is also important to clearly specify the expectations for online participation and communication including the netiquette expectations. It is also important to organize folders in Learning Management System such as Blackboard LMS clearly. For example, the folders can be created for each deliverable and all the resources involved. It is also important to clearly explain special technologies, such as virtual lab software to be used online. 

3. Online Course Deployment Techniques and Methods 

3.1 Course Deployment – Instructor Presence 

Since there is no physical interaction in an asynchronous online course, it is important to demonstrate passion and expertise as much as possible. It is important to email a welcome letter and checklist a week before the semester begins.  More communication is always better. It is also important for the instructor to post announcements constantly and participate in threaded discussions by posting at least few posts per week. The reflection discussions are designed in such a way that a student has to post at least one question that needs to be answered by another student. If a question is not answered by any other student, the instructor should try to answer that question.  

3.2 Course Deployment – Constant and Quality Student Engagement 

It is important to have a constant and quality engagement by the student. The graded reflection discussion, where the students reflected on the course materials they studied, ensured there is constant student engagement on the course material. The reflection discussions are designed in such a way that a student has to post at least one question that needs to be answered by another student. That way the students are forced to post the question and answer another student’s question. The LMS needs to be leveraged to ensure quality online student-student and student-instructor interaction through threaded discussions. It is also important to specify the due dates in an explicit manner, in such a way that it is not missed (Thomas, E & John Jirik, 2020). 

3.3 Course Deployment – Prompt Instructor Feedback 

It is important to provide timely and useful feedback to the students, so that similar issues in the subsequent assessments will not be repeated. While providing the feedback, it is important to reinforce materials, concepts and skills that the students can apply during the course (Poulos, A., & Mahony, 2008). 

3.4 Course Deployment – Student Feedback and Building Online Community 

It is not only important for the instructor to provide feedback but also for the students to provide each other feedback and build an online community. For example, the students were required to complete a self-assessment form during the beginning and end of the semester, so that the students can reflect and provide feedback on if they felt the student learning outcomes were achieved. It is also important to conduct online reading quizzes consistently, so that they can provide the feedback on if the concepts introduced in that week are understood. 

4. Mid Term Survey Results 

An anonymous mid-term survey was conducted to obtain anonymous feedback on how useful is the design and deployment of the course is or is there any opportunities for improvement.  

The survey was made available to 53 students and 50 students participated in it. Figure 1 and Figure 2 depict the summary of the mid-term survey results. 

Figure 1. Number of students who liked the course component/found it useful
Figure 2. Number of students who did not like the course component/found it least useful 

As per survey results shown in Figure 1, students seem to like the asynchronous online mode of course delivery. Students also liked virtual lab/experiential learning. Furthermore, students liked course material/readings and quizzes that reinforced the learning. Figure 2, on the other hand, shows that students did not appreciate the repetitive work in the reflection discussions, mindmap as part of the assignments. This is possibly due to the fact that in addition to the concepts they had to describe in the reflection discussion, I had them explain the five concepts after they create the mind map.  

Adjustments to the course were made based on the feedback. For example, organization of folders to make it easy to use the LMS. Additional feedbacks and personalization of the discussions were made possible through the creation of the hallway conversations forum in LMS. 

5. Conclusion 

In this paper, I presented the design and delivery of the asynchronous undergraduate online course in Cybersecurity. This was implemented in the Spring 2021 semester at Cleveland State University. Anonymous mid-term student survey indicates that the majority of the students did like the asynchronous online mode of instruction. Students liked the ethical hacking-related virtual labs that reinforce experiential learning. Students liked the majority of the course components as well as the material/readings. Students did not particularly like some of the repetitive work related to the assignment, mind map exercises, and reflection discussions. When the course is offered next, this feedback will be adopted in the future course design. 



M. Rahouti, &  K. Xiong. “A Customized Educational Booster for Online Students in Cybersecurity Education.” In CSEDU (2), pp. 535-541. 2019. 

S. Baldwin, Y. Ching, & Y. Hsu. “Online course design in higher education: A review of national and statewide evaluation instruments.” TechTrends 62, no. 1 (2018): 46-57. 

Poulos, A., & Mahony, M. J. (2008). Effectiveness of feedback: The students’ perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2), 143-154. 

Thomas, E & John Jirik, J, (2020), Utilizing Multiple Learning Modalities for Remote Teaching of Journalism and Promotional Communication Students 

Case Studies, CTC, Summer 2020 Cohort Retrieved from Last Accessed June, 2021 

Oriyano, S. P. (2013). Hacker techniques, tools, and incident handling. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. 

Giannakos, M. N., Jaccheri, L., & Krogstie, J. (2016). Exploring the relationship between video lecture usage patterns and students’ attitudes. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(6), 1259-1275. 

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