IT-OT Fundamentals Course

We launched a new course: ESET 181 IT-OT Fundamentals about three years ago. I am the primary course author. I haven’t done a lot of looking, but it could be the only such course in the country.

Industrial Cybersecurity students take the course in their first semester. It is also a required course for ISU’s Electrical Engineering Technology (EET) students. This means that we teach two sections each fall, and one section each spring (EET has a start in the spring and fall).

The first time I offered the course, it was rough. Industrial Cybersecurity students really liked it. But EET students couldn’t see why they needed to learn about computers and networks.

So, we sat down and really worked through the course to make it relevant from day 1. We structured the hands-on elements of the course around a semester long project-based learning (PBL) experience.

I love PBL — especially when the projects are applicable to real life. Because we are in Idaho, we based the project around upgrading the automation system for dehyrated potatoes.

Students read a real news article and a real job posting explaining the needs of a local employer.

The students then learn about the convergence of IT and OT with a variety of hands-on experiences. These include tearing down a computer, designing a SCADA HMI screen, creating a simple temperature control loop with a Raspberry Pi, performing basic switch configuration, and many others. In the end, these aggregate into a final project.

The image below shows the kit students build as they learn about the concepts. Temperature control loop consists of a light bulb, thermocouple, and relay board.

We’ve made several enhancements over the years (and have more to make!), and I am pleased to say we are hitting the mark. Here is some feedback from three of our EET students who just completed the course:

The most important thing I learned from the project was how interconnected OT and networking are. When drawing the network diagram I realized how the two are becoming closer and closer together. I learned that even though I am in an OT role, a good understanding of IT will put me leaps ahead…

The most important thing I learned form the project was the importance of a network and why the Purdue model is such a useful tool. When everything is connected and running it has to work in sync or the whole system doesn’t work. The networking is so much more than I thought it was and I do have a more profound respect for it.

The project helped me understand aspects of IT/OT the most. These were the networking of OT devices, setting up networks, and I was so grateful for the many examples of real world situations and scenarios. I can definitely see myself reflecting on this class and the learning activities as I enter and progress through my career.

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