ORLANDO – As the Obama administration moves to cement the president’s initiatives during his final year in office, agencies like the Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology are also racing to complete key projects.
Joseph South, acting director of the office, flew here with several colleagues to host 10 sessions at the Future of Education Technology Conference to promote work around Future Ready schools, the updated National EdTech Plan and #GoOpen.
Speaking with EdScoop after one of the sessions on Thursday, South said that the office is scrambling to finish work that was started seven years ago – and leave a legacy for future administrations.
“While we’ve made tremendous progress on ConnectED, we’re not finished yet,” South said, referring to the White House initiative to get all students connected to high-speed broadband in five years. “There are 21 million more students who need to be connected to broadband in their classrooms, and we want to make sure that happens.”
South, who took over the leadership role from Richard Culatta, who recently left the department, added that he wants to make sure Future Ready can become a well-oiled machine long after Obama is out of office.
“Not only do we want to make sure it maintains momentum in districts, but we’ve got 17 states who stepped up who want to be Future Ready states,” he said. “We want to support them so they can become fully autonomous and basically become their own resource to their districts.”
South said he also wants to make sure that the office’s newest initiative, which encourages schools to replace textbooks with openly licensed educational materials, can get off the ground.
“We are going to be spending a significant amount of time helping to get that ecosystem moving,” he said.
But the top priority for the administration is making sure the digital divide narrows, rather than widens, as wealthier school districts are able to access more devices and higher rates of connectivity than under-resourced ones.
“We feel like technology is a tool for equity, and the potential is not fully realized,” South said. “We can do much more to close gaps to connect students with opportunities they wouldn’t have normally, unless they were in a different district.”