Revitalizing Rural: Equipping rural communities with technology literacy for seizing productivity – Oklahoma State University

Wednesday, December 22, 2021
Media Contact: Kristi Wheeler | Manager, Marketing and Communications | 405-744-5831 | [email protected]
An interdisciplinary group of faculty, staff and students is working on a National Science Foundation (NSF) pilot research program to help determine if improving technology literacy can help people find new ways to make their rural communities thrive.
For many reasons, there is a decline of sustainability, quality of life, and economic opportunities for citizens of rural communities. However this shouldn’t be the case. With broadband Internet and associated technologies rapidly becoming available to rural areas, it’s never been more possible to thrive in these types of communities.
Communities in the U.S. and around the world are entering a new era of transformation in which residents and their surrounding environments are increasingly connected through rapidly-changing intelligent technologies. However, the availability and productive utilization of such technologies are two different things.
An ongoing problem in rural areas is that community members aren’t really sure what to do with broadband once they have it, or what other capabilities of and opportunities it may bring. In other words, if communities had greater technology literacy, they could translate new “connected” technologies to entrepreneurial and remote work opportunities that could revolutionize rural productivity and sustainability.  
“With a broadband connection, some basic knowledge, and a good idea, you can combine electronics, cloud resources, websites, sensors, or just about anything in a productivity opportunity,” said Dr. John O’Hara, assistant professor and principle investigator of the project.
This interdisciplinary team came up with Productivity Enhancing Technology Experience Kits or “Pete-Kits” to help solve this problem. These simple hands-on kits are basic combinations of electronics, sensors, cameras, and cloud connectivity resources (with partner Amazon AWS). They will be designed to help people become knowledgeable and functional in today’s technology, to spawn new ideas, new business ventures, and build productivity. This pilot research program is to see just how well these Pete-Kits work.
The project will initially focus on the community of Frederick, Oklahoma. Frederick High School students and the greater Frederick community will team up with OSU to design and test the Pete-Kits over the next year.  
This project recently began when the team traveled to Frederick to visit with members of their community along with Frederick’s local high school robotics team, led by partner Thomas Hensley. They encouraged the robotics team and entire community to think about what community problems they want to solve. Pete-Kits will be tailored to match community needs with the technology literacy required to meet those needs.
This is a year-long pilot program. If successful, the team plans to transition this much more widely across the state to other rural communities. The hope is that all rural communities will enthusiastically recognize that they can equip themselves to face and solve their unique challenges.
The team consists of:
Dr. John O’Hara, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, OSU
Dr. Julie Angle, associate professor of Teaching, Learning and Educational Sciences, OSU
Dr. Sabit Ekin, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, OSU
Matthew Rutherford, professor of Entrepreneurship
Brian Whitacre, professor of Agricultural Economics, OSU
Levi Captain, undergraduate student in ECE
Christina Biedny, doctoral student in Agricultural Economics
Mr. Thomas Hensley, leads the Frederick High School Bombers robotic team

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