2024 Polytechnic Showcase Spotlight: How Fanshawe is Exploring the Symbiosis of Cybersecurity and AI

From improving healthcare to confronting climate change, polytechnics have a front-row seat to industry’s most pressing talent and productivity challenges. Ahead of the 2024 Polytechnic Showcase, Polytechnics Canada connected with Fanshawe to discuss their session Guardians of the Digital Realm: Exploring the Symbiosis of Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence.

The Associate Dean at Fanshawe’s School of Information Technology, Dr. Dev Sainani, shares how the institution is preparing students for success in an increasingly digital world.

Polytechnics Canada: Your session addresses a topic very much on people’s minds as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity reshape the nature of the online world. How does Fanshawe stay ahead of the curve in a digital world that is still evolving?

Dr. Dev Sainani: Fanshawe’s School of Information Technology is preparing students for the workforce, attempting to foster a culture of continuous learning and relentless curiosity. Our faculty are subject-matter experts. By leveraging their research pursuits and extensive industry networks, we are able to stay abreast of industry trends.

Fanshawe’s focus on emerging technologies across many areas of IT, including cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), enterprise computing and development, is reflected in the programs we develop and in the learning experiences we create. As a result, our graduates are in high demand.

We actively integrate the concepts of collaboration and confluence to help students address complex challenges. IT domains are now intersecting, calling for a combination of expertise. By helping students develop non-linear thinking skills, they are better prepared to provide innovative solutions to solve client and end-user problems.

PC: Speaking of the evolving nature of this field, graduates will clearly need both technical skills and the ability to move at the pace of change. What do you tell students about the nature of the work they’re learning to do? How do you ensure they’re ready to succeed?

DS: In the IT domain, the innovation and product development cycles are constantly shortening and time to market is often a differentiator between market dominance and being one of many players in the field.

For our students, creating a mindset of continuous learning, flexibility and adaptability is of utmost importance. Fanshawe is known for producing great graduates who can hit the ground running and make a difference from the moment they are hired.

The work environment they will enter upon graduation will be one of continuous change and will likely operate cross-functional teams across widely distributed areas of the business and geographies. Clear communication, information gathering and decision formulation are sought-after skills that are crucial for graduate success.

PC: There are very few businesses today that don’t have an online footprint. Are employers generally aware of the risk environment in which they’re operating? How do you keep those lines of communication open when it comes to ensuring the curriculum remains relevant?

DS: It is almost impossible to run a successful business without an online presence, but businesses do so with enhanced risk. Their brand, credibility and customer base are all hard won, but can be too easily lost if something goes wrong. In today’s online environment, identifiable data is the asset that merits the most protection from any organization since phishing threats, attacks and data breaches are increasingly common.

In terms of ensuring the relevance of our curriculum, Fanshawe prioritizes open communication with educational and industry partners through advisory committees, industry roundtables and events. These sources provide input that we integrate into our programs, teaching and research, which is central to creating excellent programs and ensuring graduates are in high demand.

Fanshawe arms students with both awareness and expertise by teaching principles and applications of responsible, ethical and secure IT. Ongoing communication with our industry partners, employers and other stakeholders ensures all parties are aware of what’s working and where we face challenges.

PC: Being responsive to industry needs must come with the additional challenge of ensuring faculty are informed and current in their knowledge. Does Fanshawe have a strategy for engaging instructors in continuous learning?

DS: Fanshawe values professional development that maintains our position as a highly regarded educational institution, one where people want to work and learn. The college provides several professional development courses and modules itself but also facilitates ongoing education and encourages faculty to pursue additional credentials and advanced degrees.

Nowhere is this more crucial than in the School of Information Technology, where the IT domain is facing transformational change, fundamentally altering the way Canadians conduct their personal and professional lives on an ongoing basis.

PC: Increasingly, public institutions are also prime targets for cyber-threats. As an expert in this field, do you have advice for your colleagues as artificial intelligence and other technologies permeate classrooms and operations?

DS: Data is the commodity at risk in most organizations, with the potential for profound impacts to the business and end users.

As consumers, many of us have a lackadaisical approach to the personal data we give away in return for some free consideration. We don’t have to look too far to understand and appreciate this – consider Gmail accounts, our search history, free public Wi-Fi – the list goes on.

Now overlay AI and, as it insinuates itself into the mix, we are increasingly hard-pressed to distinguish reality from deepfakes, AI-generated images, audio and video. It is incumbent on all of us to question the credibility of what we see before providing information or money. This is essential to safeguarding family, friends and our workplaces.

The AI overlays will only evolve in complexity. Therefore, it is important to remain vigilant about our online behaviour and to be guarded about how we utilize our personal technologies to achieve our online goals.

About the Author

Dr. Dev Sainani, Associate Dean, Fanshawe’s School of Information Technology