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Joseph South

David Kidd

Joseph South understands the practical challenges schools face when they try to move forward with digital learning.

He spent five years with online learning provider K12 Inc., where he saw the potential of technology to help teachers educate students. He also saw the pitfalls that districts fell into when they didn’t have infrastructure or professional development in place for digital learning initiatives. Those lessons served him well when he became first the deputy director of the Office of Educational Technology and then the director. 

“I was able to bring that experience to this role,” South said. “It’s helped me to create a vision for what technology can do, but also be really grounded in the realities that schools face and helping them work through really practical solutions to some of those challenges.”

Some of those practical solutions include supporting ConnectED, President Obama’s initiative to bring high-speed broadband to 99 percent of students by 2018. South joined the supporting team for that effort, which has seen more than 20 million students get connected over the last three years. 

Another practical solution came out of a partnership between the Education Department and the Alliance for Excellent Education. The joint venture launched the Future Ready Schools initiative, which is designed to build up local leaders who share a vision for personalized digital learning that will prepare students for life after high school. Since it started last year, more than 2,000 superintendents have pledged to create a plan for infrastructure, professional learning, digital citizenship, devices and learning content.

South and his team have continued to build the national #GoOpen campaign launched last fall that has 16 states and more than 60 school districts committed to openly licensed educational resources, which allow educators to share, remix and create digital content.

Before this campaign, many educators didn’t know that they could use openly licensed educational resources alongside proprietary content, South said. Now some of them are getting paid as much as the school football coach to create their own learning resources, collaborate with others and think deeply about student learning standards.

With a new U.S. president taking over in January, South’s time at the department will end. By the time he leaves, he hopes state leaders will be able to sustain their efforts with digital learning and openly
licensed education resources. “We have a lot of energy and momentum around the work that we’re doing, and I just want to make sure that we leave in a good place so that that momentum can continue,” said South. “We’re really looking to solidify the role of states in the work that we’re doing to make sure they feel empowered and prepared to lead the Future Ready work and the #GoOpen work.” —Tanya Roscorla