Cat memes, hashtags key to award-winning approach to teaching data security

Through innovative Twitter feed, LHRIC specialist makes data best practices fun and funny to learn

 Raheela BaigRaheela Baig knows that data privacy and security are not the most exciting topics, but she’s determined at least to make them fun  to learn about.

“Data privacy is not funny,” said Ms. Baig, a Technology Support Specialist at the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center. “It’s depressing and boring and scary at the same time.”

 screen shot of a Ron Swanson gif tweetShe joined the LHRIC’s Data Privacy and Security Team last March and soon enrolled in a program through the Future of Privacy Forum. As part of the classwork, she and a colleague, Barbara Deal at Nassau BOCES, expanded the work they do for the RIC One Data Privacy and Security Twitter account, @dpsric, and created an award-winning presentation.

The award-winning results have been way more fun than it might seem.

Amid reminders to review online privacy settings and tips to help spot phishing attempts, there’s a Cookie Monster meme with the reminder to “Think before you click.” A cat meme has “DPO Cat” telling district privacy officers that Data Privacy Week is coming up. Memes and hashtags figure heavily, wielded with precision and inviting engagement in content users might otherwise scroll past.

After all, it means something when Ron Swanson, the Parks & Recreation character, says - as he does in a pinned tweet - that he’s proud of your efforts “to implement #EdLaw2d and create an environment and culture of #CyberSecurity in your school district during this #COVID19 pandemic.”

“My goal is to bring all these folks in to look at the Twitter account and see that it can be fun,” Ms. Baig said. “It doesn’t have to be scary. We want to train the teachers. We want to train the students as well not to click on the wrong links, not to get hacked.”

 Cookie Monster meme tweetFor their efforts at taking a lighter approach to this serious subject, each was awarded a $2,500 grant to support the educational cause of their choosing. Ms. Baig chose SWBOCES’ own Center for Career Services, specifically scholarships for students to participate in the annual statewide Skills USA competition.

The suggestion of CTE as the award recipient came from LHRIC Executive Director Kathy Conley. For years, LHRIC staff have supported an annual fundraiser for CTE and raised an additional $455 this year.

The RIC One DPSS Team includes 50 members and supports 575 schools across New York. Her supervisor, Dr. Madalyn Romano, said Ms. Baig and Ms. Deal took the DPSS Twitter presence to a new level. She added that Ms. Baig will share what she learned in future Data Privacy User Group sessions.

“We are very proud of her hard work and appreciate her sharing the award with the Center for Career Services,” said Dr. Romano. “We hope that this donation will provide the opportunity for more students to participate in the Skills USA Competition in the spring and enable them to receive awards for their hard work."

cat meme tweetCareer Services Director Dahlia Jackson Agreed. “I’m so grateful to our LHRIC colleagues, and to Raheela Baig in particular this year, for their ongoing support of our CTE students,” Ms. Jackson. “It really exemplifies our values here at SWBOCES to put students first in a unique way.”

 The Future of Privacy Forum is a nonprofit that brings together members of industry, academia and society to advance principled data practices in support of emerging technologies. They offer many educational programs around data privacy and security.

The nine-month course in which Ms. Baig enrolled met the third Friday of each month and required significant outside work. Students made multiple presentations and were required to blog about their work. Their instructor mentioned how much he loved the RIC One DPSS Twitter account and asked Ms. Baig and Ms. Deal to present on it.

Ms. Baig has worked in education since 1997, including six years as a classroom teacher. She joined the LHRIC in 2006.

She currently supports 53 districts, providing training in the use of software designed to help protect them. She works with directors of technology and data privacy officers and shares vital information about available tools for compliance with New York State Education Law 2-d and Part 121 of the Commissioner’s Regulations, which govern the handling of personally identifiable information. The goal of her team is to ensure every school district they support is Ed Law 2-d-compliant.

The Data Privacy and Security Service provides professional development and tools for District Data Protection Officers and their teams. There is a Data Privacy Inventory tool that facilitates the gathering of data on third-party contracts, a NIST Cybersecurity Framework tool that enables districts to assess their cybersecurity posture, professional development modules that align with Ed Law 2-d requirements, monthly workshops and user groups, and just-in-time and quarterly communications on issues related to cybersecurity and data privacy.

“There’s a lot of collaboration,” Ms. Baig said. “We all work as a team. There are different departments, but we work cross-functionally together.”

She loved the idea of giving the award money to the CTE programs because the teachers and students there were her clients in her earlier role with the LHRIC’s Instructional Technology division.

“I said I’d love to see this because I’ve worked with those kids, and I’ve worked with those teachers,” Ms. Baig said. “That’s the best solution for that award that I’ve gotten.”