How skillsgapp used mobile gaming to engage students in cybersecurity skills and corresponding career pathways
San Bernardino, the largest geographical county in the country, was hosting its annual STEM event, STEMapalooza, virtually in 2021 due to COVID-19. With two counties’ 4th-8th graders expected to attend, engagement was a concern, along with meaningful career awareness and pathways to support Southern California’s key industry sectors, including the increasingly in-demand, cybersecurity.
To support this initiative, skillsgapp customized a mobile-friendly video game deployed during the event designed to simulate real-world cybersecurity scenarios with an emphasis on the “3 C’s” identified as industry’s skill priorities: Cyber Proficiencies; Critical Thinking; and Communication. Leaderboards, badges, and career facts and pathways were incorporated into game play, along with trackable performance metrics.
“It’s been a challenging and unusual year. Due to the virtual nature of our events, we decided to provide a hands-on, engaging tool that’s both fun for the students and that also supports the needs of industry through skills development for our students. The goal of Alliance for Education has always been to assure both students and industries that we are educating for the world of work.”
Carol Tsushima, Administrator for the Alliance for Education at SBCSS
By introducing a fictional antagonist, BL4CKOUT, a notorious hacker threatening the privacy and security of STEMapalooza, we were able to establish a need for all attending to do their part in saving the event from destruction. In the absence of classrooms, this strategy was designed to promote community between two counties’ districts, all fighting for the same goal within each cyber challenge presented to them.
Awareness and Promotion:
Creating awareness of a never-been-done gaming component of this event included providing teachers with a game trailer to share with their students, a landing page with game registration information, and count-down emails to the teachers with game details and reward information to get the kids excited to play, registered, and their avatar designed.
The game was developed to be accessible on all devices from desktop to mobile to promote ease of play wherever the student may be.
Each player had the opportunity to select and personalize their own avatar based on skills-based job sectors needed in numerous industries, including automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and IT.
STEMapalooza was an all-day event offering virtual class and demonstrations. In between these events we deployed one of four five-minute challenges simulating a real world cyber breach. Increasing in difficulty based on performance, students could see how they ranked among their peers, grade, and county.
Upon completion of each challenge, students were rewarded for their achievements and offered corresponding career facts, salaries, and pathways based on their proficiencies.
Rewards and Incentives:
Those who successfully completed all four challenges received an in-game badge which could be redeemed for in-class rewards, like homework passes and extra credit.
Upon completion of the game, each player’s performance was trackable based on speed, engagement, and accuracy. Exit surveys were administered after the event to capture verbatims and quantifiable analysis to measure recall and interest.
Results reflect the one-day event. Based on success, Hack Out BL4CKOUT will be used at subsequent county STEM events in 2021.
Unique Game Users:
5,285 (4.6 attended virtual event)
Sessions Played Across Users:
Average Playtime Per User:
Total Hours Player Across Users:
Post-game Student Survey:
89% recall on in-game narrative and content
“I learned that with my cyber skills, I can make $85,000 to $131,000 a year.”
6th Grade Student, San Bernardino, CA
“I learned that cybersecurity study programs teach you how to protect computer operating systems, networks, and data from cyber attacks.”
6th Grade Student, San Bernardino, CA
“I learned to protect your stuff, or people will get to it.”
7th Grade Student, Riverside, CA
“The game taught me that the skills I had a lot of fun doing could also make me a lot of money some day.”
6th Grade Student, Riverside, CA
• Mobile gamification is a proven platform to deliver Gen Z skills-based content with corresponding career awareness, trackable engagement, performance and recall, along with artificial intelligence to adapt to and promote their proficiencies.
• Providing in-game rewards and real-world incentives tied to player performance promotes engagement and skill proficiency.
• Linking career pathways and facts to demonstrated skill proficiency in real time generates meaningful recall of actionable content.
• Students preferred the gaming experience over more traditional learning methods like videos and virtual lecture.