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Using Content Analysis to Evaluate Student Inquiry-based Learning: The Case of High School Students Preparing for a Cyber Defense Competition

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Assessment and Evaluation of K-12 Engineering Programs

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1423.1 - 25.1423.20



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Paper Authors


Julie Ann Rursch Iowa State University

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Julie A. Rursch is currently is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. She will graduate with a degree in computer engineering with a focus on secure computing. Her research includes a unique approach to critical infrastructure modeling which provides emergency planners and first responders with resilient and flexible critical infrastructure evaluation in the face of non-recurrent, disruptive events. Her approach creates a new paradigm for modeling critical infrastructure sectors, analyzing real-time physical data, and providing best fit mitigations to impending failures and responses.
At Iowa State University, Rursch is very involved in the IT-Adventures high school outreach program, serving as the Assistant Director since the program’s inception in 2007.

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Douglas W. Jacobson Iowa State University Orcid 16x16

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Doug Jacobson is a university professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. He is the Drector the ISU Information Assurance Center, which has been recognized by the National Security Agency as a charter Center of Academic Excellence for Information Assurance Education. Jacobson teaches network security and information warfare and has written a textbook on network security and is completing a second book on computer security literacy. He is director of the IT-Adventures program and oversees the cyber defense competitions hosted at ISU. His research is targeted at developing large scale attack simulation environments and is the Director of the Internet-Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment (ISEAGE) test bed project.

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Andy Luse Iowa State University

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Andy Luse is a Ph.D. student in business and technology specializing in management of information technology at Iowa State University. Luse received his Ph.D. in human computer interaction and computer engineering from Iowa State University in 2009. His research interests include computer and network security, visualization for computer and network security, and user interface design and usability. He is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Information Systems.

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Using Content Analysis to Evaluate Student Inquiry-Based Learning:The Case of High School Students Preparing for a Cyber Defense CompetitionAlthough it has been demonstrated that inquiry-based learning is a successful method to increasestudent understanding in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas, aswell as facilitate critical thinking, there have been few studies investigating the interactions anddiscussions among students participating in group inquiry-based learning projects. We believethat by evaluating the chat logs from a high school cyber defense competition (CDC) we can addto our understanding of student learning, interests in computer engineering, and motivations forstudying security, networking and information assurance.The high school students who participated in the CDC were part of an information technology(IT) club formed in the fall of the academic year to study network and information security usingan inquiry-based approach. Students spent the year using the learning materials provided by alarge Midwestern university, asking their own questions about network security and informationassurance, exploring additional resources and determining how to solve the challenges presentedto them. The capstone event for students who participated in the IT club is a day-long CDC,where students remotely design, configure and maintain a set of servers and a network in asecure manner one month prior to the competition.This paper utilizes content analysis where the chat conversations of students are quantitativelyanalyzed for overarching themes and questions. The paper examines the logs from the 2007 highschool cyber defense competition and categorizes the conversations as to content, as well as tothe topic change over time. As the deadline draws near to the competition, the conversationthemes change to reflect what the students are most interested in at that point in the setupprocess. Since college students in Computer Engineering provide technical support for themonth remote setup leading up to the CDC, there is learning both between teams of studentsfrom different high schools, and among college and high school students. The study shows theinteractions in an online community of high school and college students who don’t know eachother, but are working toward their goal of configuring a secure, fully functional network.While coding of content analysis relies heavily upon manual coding which is time consuming, itprovides a richness of understanding of student learning and interactions in inquiry-basedlearning that other methods do not cover. While we have five years of chat log data, this paper isan evaluation of the first year of chat logs and constructs the framework and methodology forutilizing content analysis to understand student learning and motivations in inquiry-basedlearning programs. We believe that building this framework allows us, and others, to extend it tothe examination of other types of logs where students are communicating to each other bothsocially and about their coursework and projects. Course management software, as well as socialmedia, has similar log files and, with the appropriate permissions, evaluations of these messagescould also provide a valuable look into what students are thinking and discussing while they arelearning.

Rursch, J. A., & Jacobson, D. W., & Luse, A. (2012, June), Using Content Analysis to Evaluate Student Inquiry-based Learning: The Case of High School Students Preparing for a Cyber Defense Competition Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22180

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