With support from the NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program: Education and Human Resources (IUSE:EHR), this project aims to serve the national interest by building the nation's additive manufacturing engineering workforce. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is redefining manufacturing in ways that make it increasingly accessible to the average citizen. It is also deeply connected through digital platforms and the Internet. This connectivity provides opportunities, such as allowing design of parts to happen in one place and 3D printing of the parts to happen elsewhere. However, this connectivity has also exposed additive manufacturing to cyber-threats. Reportedly, manufacturing is the leading target for infrastructure-related cyberattacks, sustaining even more of these attacks than the energy and utilities sectors. Therefore, it is critical to national security and the nation's financial growth to educate the next generation of engineers, computer scientists, and other STEM professionals about cybersecurity for additive manufacturing. Future STEM professionals will be needed who can detect, address, and prevent additive manufacturing cyberattacks. To support education in cybersecurity-additive manufacturing, this project includes the use of virtual reality, an emergent technology with increasing uses in eduation. Fueled by powerful computing that can simulate nearly unlimited environments, virtual reality allows students to access and explore environments that, historically, have only been available for passive viewing in images and videos. This Engaged Student Learning project at Southern University Baton Rouge, a Historically Black College/University, explores using multiple forms of virtual reality to educate students to identify and resolve cybersecurity threats in additive manufacturing.
Both the development and use of technology such as additive manufacturing, and the development of solutions to complex open-ended problems such as cybersecurity-additive manufacturing require deep knowledge and higher-order thinking skills. Thus, in addition to developing a cybersecurity-additive manufacturing curriculum, this project also aims to study the use of virtual reality, in the cybersecurity-additive manufacturing context, to develop computational thinking. Computational thinking is a problem-solving methodology that originated as a programming approach in computer science and is now widely recognized as an effective method for solving open-ended problems in all disciplines. In this project, students will be exposed to virtual reality cybersecurity-additive manufacturing training appropriate for their major and interests. The project will use the Computational Thinking Scale to survey students engaged in cybersecurity-additive manufacturing. Administration and analysis of pre- and post-surveys should reveal computational thinking development in students exposed to virtual reality environments. The research study also incorporates semi-structured student interviews to explore the relationship between virtual reality fidelity and scalability. The results of the study are anticipated to identify correlations and emergent themes related to virtual reality and computational thinking. Peer reviewed publications, presentations, a workshop, and partnership with America Makes, the national accelerator for additive manufacturing and 3D printing, will provide educators and industry access to the projects' cybersecurity-additive manufacturing curricular materials and project findings. The NSF IUSE:EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.