ISTE’s new chief learning officer plans to lead push toward higher ed

Joseph South recently served as director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.
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The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has managed to lock in another former director from the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, and this one, Joseph South, already has a long wish list for his new role as the organization’s chief learning officer.

For starters, South is charged with helping the edtech association expand its reach in higher education — a task that is “still in the early phases” but will aim to “renew the emphasis we had on higher education in the past,” he told EdScoop shortly after ISTE announced he was coming on board Wednesday. South’s new boss is CEO Richard Culatta, whose resume also includes a stint as OET director.

It may be early, but South has already noted two major areas of educational technology that could resonate at the college and university level, he said. The first is teacher preparation programs that allow instructors to “arrive in the classroom as leaders when it comes to using edtech.” The second is leveraging technology to connect the dots between teaching and learning, student success, coaching, advising and instruction, he said.

“We want to see a more comprehensive approach to that,” South said. “We’d like to impact teaching and learning at the university level and help increase the effective use of technology.”


Colleges and universities face challenges that don’t really exist at the K-12 level, but South wants ISTE to embrace those differences because, from his perspective, technology can often provide answers. For example, many students who go to college don’t graduate. A student’s failure to graduate is influenced by far more than the quality of instruction — there are social pressures, career aspirations and personal responsibilities that get in the way, too. For those challenges, South wants to think about ways to “create an integrated system where we’re firing on all cylinders.”

ISTE’s push into higher ed will be led by the organization’s newly formed Learning Team, which South now leads. The Learning Team will offer year-round professional learning opportunities for educators. “If you think about it, ISTE is fundamentally known for its conference,” South said, referring to the annual meeting that brings together about 20,000 educators, technology specialists and school officials. “We want to increase the amount of year-round value to our members.”

South’s year-long directorship at the OET — from which he stepped down in January, at the change of presidential administrations — will inform many of the ideas he champions as chief learning officer at ISTE.

One thing he learned at the Department of Education is the importance of coalition building, he said. Plenty of organizations are trying to understand the role of technology in education today, so they can and should find ways to work together.

Another thing he wants to push for is lateral relationship-building at ISTE.


“Educators learn best from each other,” he said. “A lot of the hard work is finding the right proof points, the examples where someone has figured it out, and then letting people know about it. [So] I think one thing I really want to do is not just help educators create a relationship with ISTE, but strengthen and create denser relationships with each other.”

Finally, he wants to use ISTE’s “big national voice … to amplify the voices of the people who are doing the work” — the educators who don’t get as much as attention and appreciation as they deserve.

After departing the federal government in January, South worked at IDEO, a San Francisco-based product design company, as a design resident on The Purpose Project, which aims to help students identify their passions and a sense of purpose then help them connect that to their learning experience.

He started in his new position at ISTE on Aug. 1.

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