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Edmonton university offering free cybersecurity course to Indigenous people across Canada

It usually costs $299 plus GST to register for this course
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Photo is of the Concordia University of Edmonton campus. Photo courtesy of Concordia University of Edmonton.

Officials of an Edmonton-based university are hoping one of their latest offerings will lead to an increase in the number of Indigenous students that enroll at the school.

In honour of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which has been held each October since 2003, Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE) is offering a free introductory cybersecurity course to not just any Indigenous student but to any Indigenous person in Canada.

Those interested can sign up as an individual or as a group within their community.

“This is really a small gesture,” said Danielle Powder, the manager of the Indigenous Knowledge and Research Centre, which opened at the university in August 2018. “But it’s a wonderful starting place.”

The online course is called Fundamentals of Cybersecurity. Students can work away at the course at their own pace.

School officials estimate it should take anywhere between 15 to 25 hours to finish the class.

Upon registering for the course, students will have 30 days to complete it. The course will be offered until Dec. 15.

Though it is an online course, CUE’s registration system can only accommodate 100 registered students in the course per month.

One hundred spots are available for October, with intake of another 100 in November and again in December, for a total of 300 people able to take advantage of the free offering.

It usually costs $299 plus GST to register for this course.

Powder said school officials are hoping the course will appeal to many Indigenous students who will then consider CUE for their post-secondary education.

In a 2019-20 school year survey, 5.9 per cent of the university’s students self-identified as Indigenous. This figure signified a 24 per cent increase from the 2018-19 academic year.

Though there has been an increase in the number of Indigenous students at the university in recent years, Powder said this particular course has not attracted many Indigenous students.

“Information technology is not really an area represented by Indigenous folks,” Powder said.

Xinxin Fang, the director of the Office of Extension and Culture, the CUE department offering the course, said the venture is part of the university’s recent partnership with Indigenous Works.

This partnership includes the creation of Luminary, which is a six-year project that began this fall. The goal is to design and implement an Indigenous innovation strategy and plan which will lead to economic transformation and wellbeing.

Providing CUE’s free cybersecurity course to Indigenous people is a step in that process.

Indigenous Works has a mandate to improve the inclusion and engagement of Indigenous people in the Canadian economy.  

“Indigenous people have always been innovative and have made tremendous contributions to the world,” Fang said.

The Fundamentals of Cybersecurity includes video modules, readings and quizzes throughout the course. There will also be a final quiz at the end.

Those in the course will need to achieve a mark of 70 per cent or higher on all the quizzes in order to pass. Students will have unlimited attempts on each quiz in order to obtain a passing grade.

“It is our hope this course will provide a lot of the tools to understand the online risks and security protocols in the information process system,” Fang said.

Barbara van Ingen, CUE’s vice-president of Student Life and Learning, also believes Indigenous people have been underrepresented in cybersecurity and information technology fields. 

She’s not only hoping for positive feedback from this course but also looking for input on other possible offerings.

“Our hope is this program is successful,” she said. “And we’d love to hear from potential students on other courses they’d like to see.”

Depending on how well this course is received, van Ingen said CUE could add other free classes in additional efforts to entice more Indigenous students.

“It’s a strong possibility,” she said. 

Powder said she has contacted various Edmonton-area First Nations, companies and organizations that might have people interested in taking the cybersecurity course.

“Of course, we’re open to anybody across the country taking it,” Powder said.

Indigenous people interested in taking the course must fill out a request form in order to receive a promotional code that will waive all course fees.

Those seeking more information can send an email to mailto:extension@concordia.ab.ca

Besides having students work away at the course at their own pace, Powder said CUE officials would also welcome groups who want to take the class at the same time, perhaps even in a First Nations’ administration office.

“We can do it both ways,” Powder said. “We can assign a community code or an individual code.”

Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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