Online Cybersecurity Degree at Roger Williams University | Interview with Dr. Douglas White

Online Cybersecurity Degree at Roger Williams University | Interview with Dr. Douglas White

We met with Douglas White to discuss the online cybersecurity degree program at Roger Williams University, including the benefits of the program, and the future of the field of cybersecurity. Enjoy!

What began as a course in “Hacking 101” that evolved into a forensic track, has now become a cybersecurity degree at Roger Williams University. The program is carefully designed to be geared towards the skills employers are looking for. The online cybersecurity degree program is structured into short “bite size” video lessons rather than traditional long lectures, and focuses on introducing practical skills. Instead of video taping traditional lectures, Douglas White has worked to create a course that is more accessible and practical for every student.

White believes that cybersecurity is a booming field, so the job opportunities are seemingly limitless. Listen in to find out more about the accessible and faster model of education Douglas White has integrated into his online program!

Roger Williams University’s online cybersecurity programs rank highly based on the influence of their faculty and alumni in the field of cybersecurity:

Karina’s Interview with Douglas White


Considering a degree in computer science? Visit Our Computer Science Page, where you’ll find the best computer science colleges and universities, career information, interviews with top computer scientists, influential scholars in the field of computer science, great books, a history of the discipline, online computer science degrees, and more.

As mentioned above, Roger Williams University has one of the most highly-ranked online programs in cybersecurity. If you would like to check out the full list of schools that also rank highly for bachelor’s degree programs, take a look at the Best Online Bachelor’s in Cybersecurity programs.


Interview Transcript

(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)

0:00:19.4How did your program get started?

Karina: Hi, my name is Karina Macosko from Academic Influence, and I am here with Doug White, who today we are gonna be talking about a cybersecurity program. And so I am just really interested and fascinated by an online degree in cybersecurity, and so we just wanna first hear how your program got started and what was kind of the original vision for that.

Douglas White: Sure. A long time ago, back in the 20th century, in the late ’90s, I got this sort of crazy idea that maybe we should start teaching people something about security. I taught networking and programming and things like that. And I had been involved in the hacking community since the 1980s, and decided this might be a thing, got some private money at the University of Northern Colorado, and we started this program called Hacking 101, and got a lot of interest. Of course, it got a lot of bad press because of the name, and it turned out that was a pretty dumb name to use, but it seemed kind of snarky and fun at the time. Fast forward then into the 21st century, there was a lot of interest by various people, including civilians, but a lot of law enforcement, military interest, in forensics, in digital forensics. And there were a lot of TV shows started to spring up about digital forensics and this kind of investigation, and we decided to create at Roger Williams University, a forensics track, since I was a law enforcement forensics trainer. And I thought, well, we could do that on campus. And that program got started, and we offered it online because we felt like there was a bigger marketplace there, and I had the ability to put the technology in place to do it online.

And then, alongside that, I started getting interest from various people in the industry about hiring people with cybersecurity skills. And we were not really teaching that and neither was anybody else. I do not know if there were any other programs around. So this was about 2007. I built a track that was called cyberSecurity, it was available to computer science students and computer information systems students who wanted to do something a little different. And we built an industry board that guided that program and it determined what the curriculum would look like based on what they wanted to hire. So if the industry people said, We wanna hire C programmers, which was what I was hoping for, oh please oh please, but they did not, then we would train in that direction. And that track then evolved into an actual major, that then turned into a graduate and an undergraduate program over time, because there is just so much demand in that industry.

Karina: And so you were really hoping that they’d be C programmers because that was your particular interest, right?

Douglas White: Well, yeah, I love C, and it is just been a thing that I have taught for a long time, and it is one of my favorite programming languages. So that was not where they went with it, but that is okay. There is other programming languages.

0:03:41.9How does your program compare to traditional classroom teaching?

Karina: Right, exactly. And so that kind of brings me to the next point, is, this is really what people were looking for, and you guys were kind of one of the first to do this as an online degree. And so that is kind of what we are focusing in on is, what do you think is the benefit of doing something, especially something like cybersecurity, online compared to going into a classroom and sitting with a professor right in front of you teaching this?

Douglas White: Well, I have some strong opinions about it. A] I think that online, and the model of online, so more important than just the fact that I put a camera in a classroom, I mean, this is something that people do; they take a camera, they stick it in a room and then they do a lecture. I think the world moved away from that. That is a very, to me, a very 19th-century kind of idea. And when I wanna learn something, and maybe you do too, when I wanna learn I go on YouTube, I go on various sites and I watch 10-minute videos. If I look at a video and it says four hours, I go, No, thanks, I am out. If you cannot tell it to me in 15 minutes, I am done, I do not have that kind of attention span anymore. And I started getting the idea that this hybrid world of being able to acquire knowledge by looking at things that you wanted to learn, when you wanted to learn them, and they were concise and they were short, was probably where a lot of younger people were gonna be in a few years. That you are not gonna get people who wanna sit through a three-hour lecture on something with a chalkboard. That they wanna say, I need to know how a router works, so I wanna see it quick. What are the pieces I need to learn? Maybe I know some of those pieces too, so I may know some of that already.

And I was talking to students and our board of industry people, and that was what they wanted. And students liked the idea that they could take these chunks of information and combine that with experiential tools that were available in virtual machines or whatever, and they could fast forward through the parts they were not interested in or that did not matter so much to them. Because I looked really hard at a lot of stuff I had been doing for a long time, and said, Well, what a waste; how much time do you waste here on this, and yeah, maybe I can tell you a funny story and everybody gets to laugh, but is that really the best use of your time? And I found out that students were running videos on two times and four times and all these kind of things that people your age do all the time. I have a daughter who’s in college and they play these videos and, yeah, my voice sounds even weirder if you play it on four times speed, but So, Who cares? And so the idea that people could learn in a different approach was very appealing to me. The online then, the technology caught up with what I wanted to do. Instead of somebody saying, park a television camera in a room and try to broadcast a lecture, there was the technology through whole stacks of different things that would allow me to do that, on my own, I did not need an editing crew.

It was just the same stuff that people are doing podcasts with, I can do that at home, I could do that in any room, anywhere, with a camera I could afford, and I could put that content out there. And then the online piece, to me, for universities, was, Look, I do not have to rely on people who are willing to move to Bristol, Rhode Island, or to wherever, Greeley, Colorado, to attend this program, I could market this program to somebody in Indonesia. And yeah, there is a bit of a time lag problem there with... I have taught classes like that, where I was teaching classes from here that were being taken in Hong Kong, and it is 12-hour time difference so it is a little weird, but it is still doable. And so that is really why I went down that road, and I really felt like I did the right thing and that it was a smart thing to do. I still think that.

0:07:45.4What is the future goal of your program?

Karina: Yeah, well, and with a lot of these online programs we are hearing a similar thing that you are saying, is just accessibility and efficiency is really the push with these online degrees. And so these kind of YouTube equivalents of a giant user manual that you have created with education, what is the future goal with that? So we heard the past vision, and obviously a lot of that will still continue into the future goal, but where do you see this going, not only for your program, but how people can use what they learn in the program past into their career?

Douglas White: Well, A] One thing I always tell students in cybersecurity is, get ready, because you will never get to stop. I mean, if, for instance, let us just say I wanna study the Revolutionary War, that that is my field. And no offense, I think that stuff’s very interesting too, but once you learn it, it does not change. The war of 1812 will still happen in 1812, it will not change to some different war or some different... There may be new perspectives and all kinds of things you could talk about, but in the end, once you have learned it, you have kind of learned it. Cybersecurity changes every day. And it does not stop changing, it changes faster all the time. And that means that you, as a cybersecurity practitioner, regardless of whether you are in school or not, have got to learn ways to acquire information and knowledge constantly. And, again, back to the YouTube kind of thing, it is like, we wanna learn, or what happened with that music act that I heard about last night? You jump on and you look at tweets, you look at all these little chunks of things. There is two things I think come out of all this. One is I think education gets a lot chunkier, meaning that it gets broken down into smaller, more digestible pieces that are more relevant. And it allows you to skip over the pieces you already know, it allows you to focus on things you do not know.

There’s YouTube videos I have watched 10 times. I may watch some of them every year, because I forget that. I looked it up, I was doing it, I made some notes. Oh, I gotta do this again next year, I am gonna go back and look at that again. It means I could watch that video as many times as I wanted to watch it. I can turn on subtitles if I want to, because my hearing is not so great, or just because I like subtitles, which I do. I could probably find somebody doing that same material in another language. If I wanna hear it in French or Farsi or Urdu, all those languages are out there with a lot of different subjects. So I think that kind of convenience continues to come around. The other thing I would like to see is that if we could reduce education down to very, very granular information, instead of, there is gonna be a test at the end of the semester. If we could reduce it down to a set of key points: I need to know how to do a For Loop in C. When you can demonstrate mastery of that, you can check that box. And when you check all the boxes you are done.

I would love to see universities get away from this old-fashioned, Oh, it is a 15-week term and you plod your way along, and we get a lot of demands for, How can I finish this quicker? I already have a bunch of background. And the sad answer for a lot of people today is, Well, no, you gotta take this and this, and it takes 15 weeks to blah, blah, blah. And there is courses that I think some students might take 30 weeks to do, and there is courses that some students could do in a week. And all those different models, I think the more we focus on those models, the more we start to get closer to what is going on in the real world right now. Because that is how you and me and a lot of other people are learning things currently. Because if I wanna learn French today, and I wish I had time, it would be fun, I am not gonna go sign up for a three-year French program at a university, I am gonna jump on, I am gonna find some resources, I am gonna find some chat rooms where I can talk to people in French, and when I do not know how something is, oh, how do you conjugate this verb, I am not gonna go sign up for a class on verb conjugation, I wanna jump on YouTube and go, How do you conjugate this verb in French? And I bet you somebody has already put that material up.

So I do think that education becomes a curator process in the future, where some of us will be combining material. Like, I currently use a lot of material from my shows, from Security Weekly, I do that, I am on episode almost 200 of Security Weekly News, from Paul’s Security Weekly is on episode 700, from my old show Secure Digital Life was 200 episodes. I use material from those things all the time. And I let students go watch that, instead of me re-doing it again and again and again. So I think there is a sort of curator process that is gonna come about to vet things, because there is a lot of misinformation too, and to try to help students find good resources that they can use. But they are not all the same for everybody, so I try to tell students, if you do not like listening to me, there is plenty of other people, listen to them. The important thing is that you can do this C program or that you can configure this router, and not that you heard me talk about it. It is that, Can you do this task? Can you complete this successfully? And if you can, I do not really care beyond that.

0:13:13.6Sign Off

Karina: Wow, yeah, and I think you are absolutely right with the curator, is that especially with these online degrees, it is really getting specific to what a student needs. And a lot of the target audiences, especially in other online degrees, is people who have maybe been out of school for a little bit who are looking to go back to school, and so, again, I think it is just really encouraging for them to hear that there is a different approach to education than kind of this ancient [chuckle] way of education that you kind of talked about. And so, yeah, I hope it is gonna be really encouraging for people, especially if they are considering going back to school, or if they wanna get a degree in cybersecurity, which is really, especially today, kind of at the forefront of people that we need. So, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. It was really interesting hearing about your program, and yeah, it was just so nice talking with you.

Douglas White: Thank you very much.