Cyber security meets murder mystery in transdisciplinary collaboration

Oct 26, 2022 | Engineering and Science, General News, Liberal Arts, Students

What would it look like if students were able to gain hands-on experience in interdisciplinary fields of study, such as cyber and liberal arts, through role-play gaming?

Louisiana Tech University faculty members think it might look a little like the famous games many students are familiar with – like Murder Mystery.

Since 2008, Dr. Jeremy Mhire, Dr. Heath Tims, and other members of the Louisiana Tech faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and College of Engineering and Science have taken the initiative to understand what it means for students to gain interdisciplinary experiences through the AICS project (Analysis and Investigations through Cyber-Scenarios). 

AICS was preceded by the Cyber-Discovery project, which brought together faculty from Computer Science, History, Engineering, Literature, Math, and Political Science who were interested in exploring the idea of “Cyber” from a multidisciplinary perspective. 

In order to understand how cyber and areas such as political science or history intertwine, AICS allows students to take part in “Murder Mystery” style games modeled after CIA training, taking a step further with faculty creating simulated environments where issues of cyber-security have large-scale, real world effects.

“We use the scenarios to show the almost limitless ways cyber influences and affects our daily lives,” said Mhire, who serves as Interim Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “This also shows students the countless opportunities cyber can and will continue to create.”

The project builds upon previous collaborative efforts between the faculty across disciplines and focuses on the development of real-time, immersive cyber-based or cyber-oriented simulations. These simulations take the shape of role-play gaming scenarios.

“Cyber is a field that easily spans across both the STEM fields and the liberal arts,” said Tims, who is Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Science. “By using cyber we are able to show not only the science and technology of what is going on, but how it affects everyone from a social, political, and ethical standpoint.”

Government and industry experts have highlighted the need for greater collaboration – between vastly different disciplines – in order to recruit and train students in fields specific to cyberspace. The need for interdisciplinary intersects with the digital domain and promoting integrative learning becomes an operational necessity. 

“It is important to understand how everything fully comes together. It is not just about understanding one core discipline,” Tims said. “We have to know how the technology that we develop and use fits into the broader world around us.”

In these simulations, student-teacher teams are cast as government officials confronted with a possible cyber attack. Attacks range from a disaffected State Department employee leaking sensitive material to a major news outlet, potentially damaging US-Mexico relations to the system that controls a drawbridge in Chicago malfunctions in the middle of a peaceful protest march, injuring dozens.

“The advantage to this type of teaching approach is that the scenario can be tailored to different ages or groups of people because they have their own understanding of the world around them,” Tims said. “Students have to take the history of the situation, how politics influences decisions, and how people interact and think into consideration while putting together the technology to find what is actually possible.”

This project has given Louisiana Tech another recruiting tool across the different colleges, opening doors for students to understand and learn the areas of focus they may want to begin their college or professional careers in. 

“Future careers in cyber will be as broad and diverse as society itself,” Mhire said. “We use AICS to show students the future of work, life and society, which helps them think broadly and expansively about future life and career decisions.”