OneNet Offers First-Ever Virtual Externship for Rural Teachers

The pandemic has changed the way many of us work and collaborate, but that didn’t stop OneNet from offering externships this summer. OneNet partners with the Oklahoma State Department of Education to offer externships to teachers during the summer break.

This program aims to provide teachers with experience related to the subjects they teach. OSDE matches teachers with organizations where both will benefit from the program. OSDE worked with OneNet to develop a job description and interviewed and selected the teachers for the program.

While meeting with teachers in-person this summer would have been a challenge, OneNet offered virtual externships for the first time. Teachers met with OneNet team members by Zoom.

JuliJulie Clarke Clark found the format convenient and an overall wonderful experience. Clark teaches STEM electives in grades 7-12 at Calera Public Schools. The OneNet externship was a great fit for her focus on STEM and interest in promoting STEM careers to students.

Clark met with team members from OneNet’s various areas, including networking, infrastructure, systems, security and administration. She also learned about OneNet services and the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network. Team members from each department shared details about their work and how they each support OneNet’s statewide network.

“Basically, I learned the innerworkings of the relationships and collaborative work of OneNet with education, as well as other entities such as hospitals, libraries, etc.” Clark said. “I learned that there is a lot involved with many people, places and departments in order to ensure things run smoothly.”

Clark has a special interest in STEM career paths. One of her goals was to learn the backgrounds of each OneNet team member, so she can better teach her students how to prepare for a STEM career.

“While the relationships and technological connections between networking, security and systems were fascinating, I have to say the people I met were very interesting and unique in their offerings and backgrounds,” she shared.

“Each had obvious in-depth knowledge in their respective areas, as well as a broad sense of the general operations from top to bottom. I really enjoyed learning from such a diverse and well-versed cohort of specialists. The externship helped me dive more fully into careers and pathways that I will be able to share with students.”

One of OneNet’s goals through an initiative called Next-Generation Classroom is to provide resources to teachers to help them incorporate new technologies into the classroom and transform how they teach STEM subjects. After hearing about OneNet’s upcoming projects, Clark quickly offered to assist with educational content for augmented reality (AR) learning experiences that are in production.

“While there are many resources available to teachers, I feel that I have gained a resource that is personal and accessible. I am very excited to share upcoming technology, as well as collaborate in connecting it to the classroom to provide a more enriching experience to students. As the anticipated AR technology evolves, I hope to be able to incorporate this fascinating educational tool into lesson plans that are thought-provoking and student-driven,” Clark said.

STEM GraphicClark is glad to see that OneNet is partnering with rural schools to promote STEM learning. She says teachers genuinely struggle with time management and could easily spend their evening hours creating lesson plans that match their students 2020 fervor for advanced technological experiences.  She says, for most teachers, this isn’t realistically possible. Access to educational content that is immersive through technology like augmented and virtual realities benefits both teachers and students.

“Teachers may not be aware of the current offerings, especially in rural schools that may have a large population of students without internet capability in the home. Providing ready-made, concise lesson plans with technology options built in and aligned with standards would be a resource that could connect teachers, students and technology in a real-world, meaningful way,” she said

Clark expressed appreciation for her opportunity to participate in the OneNet externship and points to the importance of these types of opportunities for rural teachers, especially in the virtual format.

“Teachers who live and work in rural areas may not be able to travel in order to go to some of the larger professional learning workshops or conventions,” she explained. “The externship provided an excellent learning environment, especially using apps, such as Zoom, where you can share screens, take notes, etc. Just the exposure to this type of meeting platform may encourage teachers to explore current technology for use in the classroom.”

This is the second year OneNet has partnered with OSDE to offer externships. OneNet’s leadership hopes to make this an annual program to forge closer relationships with rural schools and teachers. Whether in-person or virtual, OneNet has found the experience beneficial to both the participants and OneNet’s team members.

“We appreciate the opportunity to have one-on-one interaction with teachers who are advancing STEM education and promoting STEM careers to Oklahoma students,” OneNet Executive Director Vonley Royal said. “We learn as much from them as they learn from us. The externship program is a win for everyone.”

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