Episode # 38

Cybersecurity & Tech in the Classroom with James Freeman

August 31, 2023

About This Episode

James is an experienced educator with a passion for science and technology. With a background as a former Chemistry, Physics, General Science, and Physical Science Teacher, James has dedicated his career to inspiring students through engaging educational experiences. His expertise extends beyond the classroom, as he has also taken on roles as a Technology Coordinator and Director in multiple ESC’s and school districts.

James has held significant leadership positions, including Director of Operations at the Fairfield County Educational Service Center and Director of the Office of Statewide Technology and OETC. Beyond his professional accomplishments, James is an avid Amateur Radio (HAM) operator and a Private Pilot, demonstrating his commitment to exploration and learning.


James Freeman

James Freeman is an experienced educator with a passion for science and technology. Diving into topics like cybersecurity and AI in the classroom, James sits down with Kara and Caryn to offers helpful information about how parents & educators can approach talking to their students about how to navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology in the classroom.



[00:00:15] Caryn: Joining us today is James Freeman, and he is going to chat with us a little bit about his journey into education, along with OETC 2024 and some AI and cybersecurity topics. So, hey, James.

[00:00:33] James Freeman: Good afternoon. How are you? Good. How are you? Doing well.

[00:00:37] Caryn: Good. Thank you for talking to us today.

[00:00:40] I’m going to start by just asking you to tell us what your journey was into education. So how did you end up in education?

[00:00:50] James Freeman: I grew up in an agricultural environment, so I started taking things apart. When I was really young and putting them back together. And so that science [00:01:00] interest was started there.

[00:01:03] My interest then evolved into ham radio, which was my technology piece that Started this path. I was always interested in shortwave radio or CB radio back in the day because you could talk to people. And so then I went on a trip our family went to Florida for about three weeks. And so I was out of school for three weeks and the teacher sent us work.

[00:01:32] And it was, more of a hands on project experience of, of, you know, as you go through different states, collect all these leaves and, and find out what these trees are and, you know, find out all that information. And so I put all that together and it helped build my interest in science. So. As I went to college, I had really, one of those, I had an idea I wanted to teach, but it was kind of like, okay, what am I going to do?

[00:01:59] [00:02:00] But I started into a chemistry and physics program at University of Rio Grande. I know. Go you. And I, and I, so I’ve got my bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics and, and I am not a math person, but. Then I, during that time, I got my ham radio license. And so what does that entail? That entails some electronics learning electronics, and you have to take a test for it back in the day of, of my.

[00:02:31] Radio pieces of licensing. You had five different licenses that you can get. You started at the bottom and work your way up to the top one. The lowest one was called novice and the highest one was called extra. So now I didn’t know that existed. Yeah. Well. The, the Dayton ham feng shun happened in Dayton for years until they’ve moved it recently to Xenia to, to the fairgrounds.

[00:02:56] So that has happened for years and years and years, [00:03:00] and it’s the big event in the world, people from across the world come to the event. So, yeah, it is, it is And now you’ve got just three licenses that you have to take tests for, but it just, the, the learning for electronics and radio waves and the rules and the frequency that you can use progresses throughout those licenses.

[00:03:24] So the, you get more privileges as you go along. So currently I’ve got my extra class license and I had to learn more code, as well, do not use it very well or often that’s one of those things I’d rather computerize and use, but I’ve not done that yet. So I did that track a little. That’s all right.

[00:03:47] So that’s, that’s really how I, I, I, I got started with technology. Together with science. And so I ended up teaching and then started in Portsmouth, [00:04:00] Ohio, and spent five years in the classroom there. And we actually used some ham radio stuff. We at the time the space shuttles program was running.

[00:04:12] They, on some of the trips up, they would on those flights, they would take ham radio equipment and have that mounted in the space shuttle. And we, my classroom wasn’t able to talk to them, but we actually heard them from Portsmouth. They were coming across the great lakes and we heard a transmission.

[00:04:31] They were talking to somebody it was kind of that cool thing. Yeah. And, and that was at a point where you had to have a computer program. It wasn’t web based like it is now that you can track things across the sky. And so you actually had to, I had to go home with a floppy drive and download the, the data to.

[00:04:50] Put into the program because we didn’t have internet access at the time at school. So I’d have to use my dialing modem and look at the data, put it on the floppy [00:05:00] drive at first thing in the morning so that I could take it to work and put it in the computer and then track the passes throughout the afternoon.

[00:05:06] So if anything even changed a little bit, it was off. Yeah. So it’s not like it is today and the things that we have. So, so yeah, that’s how I incorporated all those things in the classroom and making it Fun learning environment so that students could could learn and be excited about science.

[00:05:25] Kara: That’s awesome.

[00:05:26] Caryn: I just was going to ask kind of how you decided to leave the classroom to move on to other endeavors. Like, was it. Your drive for technology and making a bigger impact or was it just kind of like you wanted to change something, you know, something different outside of the classroom or,

[00:05:49] James Freeman: I, I was actually doing some of that as being science department chair for Portsmouth city schools.

[00:05:54] So what happened was we had a. Technology [00:06:00] facilitator at the time leave the district abruptly, and they were scrambling like who’s going to do this? Well, they asked me to step up to the plate because they knew I had done all this other stuff with ham radio and. You know, I had that, that little bit of background in electrical background as well.

[00:06:20] So I started, took that role for as technology facilitator for a couple of years at Portsmouth city schools. And that was back in the day of school net and wiring buildings. And some of those buildings were very old and had very thick walls because they were designed as bomb shelters from, from the previous generation.

[00:06:40] So it was a lot of fun putting all that. And so we had server rooms that were next to sinks and custodian closets. It was just the only place that we could put, put things in place. So that all happened. And then I had an opportunity to become the tech coordinator at the Franklin County [00:07:00] ESC. And so I spent some time there and I started while I was in Portsmouth, I had started my master’s in computers and educational technology.

[00:07:09] And so I finished that and then continued in the technology role for a while until I had started my PhD at Ohio state and then needed to go back into the classroom for a couple of years. So I went back in the classroom for three years and was able to finish my dissertation and gathering some data.

[00:07:28] There for my dissertation, and then continued, as the director of technology in, in white hall city schools for a while. And we went through a building project. So building buildings was a fun, fun, interesting piece because you were able to bring all this new technology that was relevant and current at the time.

[00:07:48] So that was a fun, fun, long, fun experience. It was very difficult, but it’s, it’s just a lot of work and then moving buildings and, and all [00:08:00] the. Things that happened with that. So from there, I went to Trotwood Madison city schools on the West side of Dayton and driving from Columbus to Trotwood and back every day.

[00:08:13] So that was about 3 hours of time. So I finally decided to let me look for something closer. So I ended up at Fairfield County. You’ll see. And then. Worked there as the director of operations. What was interesting about Trotwood was the fact that I had all that experience at Whitehall building the buildings and putting brand new stuff in, but Trotwood was done with their projects, but it was like at the 10 year mark.

[00:08:36] And so things started needing replaced. And so we went through a refresh cycle. So that was very helpful, helpful to be able to do that. Knowing what I had, had learned and gone through at Whitehall. So so it’s been, it’s been a, quite a journey. Yeah.

[00:08:51] Caryn: Yeah. That’s wild. I’m always curious. You know, everybody’s is always [00:09:00] interesting and none of them are usually the same.

[00:09:03] And yeah, there’s always zigzags. Yeah. Just like coming in and going out of the classroom.

[00:09:11] James Freeman: Yep. And there are times I miss being in the classroom and working with kids. We had our the department had our booth at the state fair and it was surrounding aviation. So it was fun working with kids, building paper airplanes and, and, and seeing them smile.

[00:09:28] It’s just those things that they had fun doing. When they’re like little kids, we had instructions, unfortunately it was easy for them to fold, but you just had to help them kind of put a plan together to create an airplane for them.

[00:09:46] Caryn: That’s cool. And it’s nice to be able to do little projects that like that .

[00:09:50] James Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of my other hobbies too, is I’ve got my pilot’s license. So and [00:10:00] that is a result of living down the street from the County airport when I was a kid. You know, just seeing all those, you know, there’s a reason that planes fly, it’s Bernoulli’s principle.

[00:10:12] And so, yeah, just all that science stuff put together. So

[00:10:17] Caryn: that’s really cool. How long did that take you? Is it so many hours?

[00:10:22] James Freeman: It is, it is a number of hours to, to be able to get that. And then you, you take a written test and then you fly your number of hours that you need to become proficient and then you have to have a a flight check with fAA of person flying with you and so that they then off, you, you get your certificate from them at that point so that you’re going through a check ride basically.

[00:10:54] Caryn: Okay. Interesting. So, yeah. Look at you, just go anywhere you [00:11:00] want.

[00:11:01] James Freeman: Pretty much. No. Yeah. No.

[00:11:03] Caryn: That would be really cool. I always am like, I wish I had my pilot’s license so I could fly from here to my sister’s and it would take like an hour instead of like five.

[00:11:12] James Freeman: Right. Right. Well, I mean, where I grew up in Northeast Ohio, it’s, it’s almost a three hour drive, but it’s an hour and. 10, 15 minutes, depending on the wind to get there flying. So, yeah.

[00:11:27] Kara: That’s pretty cool.



[00:11:42] Caryn: Well, switching gears, on the topic of cybersecurity. It’s one of those topics that is important for everybody to understand. I also feel like, when it comes to cyber security, because I’ve, we’re [00:12:00] seeing it more on the news too, just like they’re targeting schools and student

[00:12:03] James Freeman: data, et cetera, right. It’s important not to, you know, as everybody says, and continues to say not click on any of any, any link in an email or anything that’s from somebody that, you know, even if, if it.

[00:12:18] Looks weird looks different not to, to click on those, those links, or even if it looks suspicious, just, you know, reach out to that person that may have sent it to you. It’s important to do that. But the main thing passwords, you know, the, the recommendation now is a 15 character password.

[00:12:36] I know, but people can’t remember the eight. I don’t know. Like I’m struggling with

[00:12:43] the nice thing is, well, that’s another conversation. But the, the, the, what’s nice is the, the department of education for the United States has establishing what governing. Government coordinating council that they announced this on Tuesday so that they [00:13:00] can coordinate services between the federal and state levels.

[00:13:03] And if that happens, they feel that that can better coordinate services between school districts and state and local. Governments and then from the federal level. So there’s a bigger push now towards cybersecurity. There’s been a push, but it’s, I think it’s a greater momentum that with the, mSI SAC or security agency providing services and toolkits for school districts. And, and just MSI, the MSI SAC is, it’s the I’ve got to look it up.

[00:13:40] Caryn: Yeah, go for it. Cause yeah, I’m curious. I’ve never heard that before.

[00:13:43] James Freeman: CISA is the Center for Internet Security, but it’s the Multi State Information Sharing and Analysis Center. And they have that for elections as well. A section of that for the elections so [00:14:00] that we have election security. And they focus on that themselves. But the MS ISAC provides and says it provides free tools to schools so that they can ramp up their security.

[00:14:18] Within school districts, there’s, there’s lots of tools that they have, and it’s free for school districts to join the MS ISAC for tech coordinators and, and gives them some, at least a starting point to, to secure their, their networks and their computers.

[00:14:37] Caryn: I’m curious, and there may be an answer or not an answer to this for like, small districts or little districts that maybe have like, a teacher who’s considered like their tech person but also like teaches P. E. or science or whatever how does, I mean like, I don’t know, I just honestly can’t even imagine trying to [00:15:00] weed your way through that world. Right. And that’s really not like your job, your lane.

[00:15:09] James Freeman: Right, right. And it’s very difficult. I mean, things have gotten so complex in terms of running a network within a school district.

[00:15:17] And if you’re having servers on site things need constantly updated. So having a part time person is very difficult to keep all of that running and do their, their main job. So there’s, based on the, the, the announcement that happened on Tuesday from the White House the a number of companies are providing some free tools for school districts under certain sizes.

[00:15:41] And if you’re under 2500 students there are other opportunities for school districts to have free things that they can use to combat cyber security issues. Okay. Yeah. And then the other thing is within our state, we’ve got our, our. Information technology centers or ITCs, they’re a great resource [00:16:00] that people can reach out to, they can’t necessarily fix everything for you or provide a necessary service, but they can help get people moving in the right direction for what’s needed to secure the networks and, and devices and districts.

[00:16:16] Caryn: On the topic of cybersecurity, where does AI fall in all of this hot topic in education.

[00:16:27] James Freeman: So, so companies are starting to use some AI in their cybersecurity. Tools. I think we’re going to see a whole new wave of, of detection or, for tools, for you know, like spam, those things will be created in a different manner with AI versus what rules have been put in place currently or been used for the last several years with those devices.

[00:16:57] It’s all part of that, that digital citizenship [00:17:00] piece. Yeah, that needs to be taught. You know, kids are all too eager to just be clicking on things. But then again, I’m not sure how many kids really use email versus chatting with, you know, using other tools because we’ve, you know, if you think about it, email kind of helps.

[00:17:21] Yeah. Antique like, for these kids, in form of communications. Sad but true. Mm hmm. Yeah.

[00:17:32] Caryn: Yeah. Cause… Doesn’t seem that old.

[00:17:36] James Freeman: No. It doesn’t. But…

[00:17:40] Caryn: But, I guess, yeah. It is a little bit of a dinosaur. So, okay. With the technology with cyber security and AI, et cetera this may be switching tracks. I don’t know if it’s a little bit or a lot, but OETC [00:18:00] 2024 is focusing well, first of all, what’s the.

[00:18:04] Name, or the, is it a name or a theme?

[00:18:09] James Freeman: The theme. The theme.

[00:18:11] Caryn: The theme of 2024 is.

[00:18:15] James Freeman: Syzygy. Syzygy. Yes. Aligning the innovations of technology, learning and technology.

[00:18:22] Caryn: Yes. Because syzygy, syzygy.

[00:18:25] James Freeman: It’s the alignment of three or more celestial bodies, which could result in a, an eclipse, which will be April 8th of 2024 after the conference, which is in February. So that’s kind of how we’re playing those things off each other. Yeah.

[00:18:48] Caryn: Very cool. See, I didn’t make that connection. I just knew it was like a celestial word.

[00:18:54] James Freeman: Yeah, that’s why it’s that alignment.

[00:18:57] Caryn: Okay. So what are we [00:19:00] looking forward to for OATC 2024?

[00:19:03] James Freeman: So we are working with our working task force and others internally. To get session proposals associated with the theme. And so on our website oetc. ohio. gov, we have our four tracks listed. Session proposals are open until the 15th of September, but we’re going to have our track of instruction.

[00:19:25] So anybody related to instruction, coaches teachers. Curriculum directors, anybody related to that, the keywords for those sessions are listed there. I it as well as another track for district technology leaders. And then district leadership we’re we have a track focusing on them. So treasurers, superintendents, anybody in a leadership role in districts and then library and media specialists and those roles within the district.

[00:19:56] So, it covers pretty much everybody [00:20:00] associated with, instruction within a district.

[00:20:03] Kara: And what are the dates?

[00:20:05] James Freeman: The dates are February 13th, 14th, and 15th of 2024.

[00:20:11] Caryn: Okay. And do they have to come to all three days?

[00:20:17] James Freeman: They can come to one day, two days, three days, or any combination of the above.

[00:20:23] The drone experience is going to continue especially with racing drones. We hope to have them back this year. The students create drones that they can then fly and race against each other. That, that goes on on Wednesday. Then last year we were able to have one of the Eastland Fairfield Career Center.

[00:20:45] Drone programs, their instructor was there and actually answered questions about creating a drone program. They also did a session in combination with the Ohio high school athletic association last year to talk about drone rules. [00:21:00] For flying and sporting events, because, you know, it’s not allowed.

[00:21:03] So, but people try to do things illegally as well. Unfortunately, you know, it happens. So they he was there to help with that. And, and he’s an a certified flight instructor. So he, he has that skill set and was able to you know, add a lot of value to the conference for the drones.

[00:21:25] And f flying inside the, the drone screen that we have, the drone net area the high school kids from north Canton City schools and their video program will be back again this year.

[00:21:38] Caryn: And they’re the ones with the big bus, right?

[00:21:40] James Freeman: They’re the ones with the media bus.

[00:21:42] Kara: That was awesome. The media bus.

[00:21:43] James Freeman: Yeah. It’s awesome. It’s a great program and a great experience for them to learn shoot, video, edit, put all, put everything together.

[00:21:51] Caryn: Yeah. And if you haven’t seen that, that is the coolest, it is impressive.

[00:21:56] James Freeman: It is very impressive. It is very impressive. [00:22:00] So the ed techs will have their playgrounds again.

[00:22:03] And we’ll have that content. We will have our sandboxes. We’re looking for sandbox experiences. We’ll have four sessions or some smaller sessions. We’re still trying to get that planned out, but we will have the sandbox sessions we’ll have our keynotes every one, every day. And we’re still putting things together, but we’re, we’re, we’re farther ahead than we were last year when we had only a couple of months to get this planned, organized and put together, so we’re looking forward to it.

[00:22:35] Caryn: Yeah, it’ll be a good time and it’s in Columbus at

[00:22:40] James Freeman: the, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Yep. Yeah.

[00:22:44] So also at the conference Wednesday will be the computer science summit. And computer science teachers association will be hosting their, their teachers on Wednesday. They’re welcome to come all three days for the [00:23:00] conference, but their summit’s going to be held on Wednesday.

[00:23:04] And then Thursday, which is the 15th is elementary school teacher day. So elementary teachers are going to be the focus for our ed techs and, and the content surrounding the conference.

[00:23:18] Caryn: Yeah, which will be cool. Yes. And it’ll be the day after Valentine’s day. So everybody will have had their parties.

[00:23:25] James Freeman: Yes. Come to the conference on the 15th.

[00:23:28] Caryn: Yep. They can feel good

[00:23:30] James Freeman: about a sub. Maybe. Absolutely. Absolutely. We’re keeping the exhibit hall playground area open for the, the elementary day longer in the day. Usually closes at noon, the exhibit hall will close at noon, but the playground area will stay open so that that can be used for the elementary school teachers on Thursday.

[00:23:52] Oh, cool.

[00:23:54] Caryn: Cool. All right. Well, here we go. We [00:24:00] learned not to click on links for cybersecurity purposes.

[00:24:04] James Freeman: Absolutely. Don’t ever. And even if you think you know the person and you correspond with them, if it looks suspicious. It probably is.

[00:24:13] Caryn: It probably is. Yes. And if you’re free in February. Please join us at OETC 2024, and you can register for the conference, or if you would like to present.

[00:24:29] When is registration open?

[00:24:31] James Freeman: Registration, we, we are hoping it opens September 1st ish or so. We’ll get that open, so that’ll be right after school is full swing for the first nine weeks. And then Again, the session proposals close September 15th at 1159. 59 p. m.

[00:24:53] Caryn: Precisely. Precisely. So, if you’re doing cool stuff in your classroom and you want to share it with [00:25:00] teachers across the state.

[00:25:01] James Freeman: And it’s just not teachers across the state. There are people that come from all over because there was there was a college from Texas that sent professors last year to the conference. So and that’s the first time we’ve had the conference since 2020 in person. And so there are people that come from all over.

[00:25:19] Caryn: All right. Well, thank you, James. So much.