Joseph South, a McKay School alumnus who has pioneered online and blended learning solutions for students and educators, has been appointed as the new deputy director for the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. He is now responsible for working with entities such as the federal government and private industry to use technology to help educators solve problems.
South earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in journalism at Brigham Young University. During his undergraduate experience, he worked at the Daily Universe as a photo and online editor. South later earned a master’s degree and doctorate in instructional psychology and technology in the McKay School of Education.
Beginning his career at the Shodor Education Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, South developed his first online course, taught education professionals how to use technology more efficiently along with providing computational science resources for their students. He also designed and conducted a middle school internet science camp that included a live chat with scientists working on the Mars rovers. Following his early success, BYU employed South to develop blended learning courses and an adaptive language learning system; the latter is still in use at the Missionary Training Center.
At two different times in his career, South worked at K12 Inc., an online learning company for grades K through 12, where he managed a portfolio of 31 world language courses and led higher education and product development initiatives in Utah and Oklahoma. Additionally, the firm’s development teams worked on various projects, such as educational iPad apps and development of interactive kiosks and online curriculum with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Between his time working at K12 Inc., South led a product development team for Middlebury Interactive Languages, a startup in Provo, Utah, that designed immersive online language learning courses, among them an award-winning 3D immersive language roleplaying game.
South is convinced that learning should be fun and interactive. He feels satisfied when his work is able to provide an engaging learning experience for students:
"I feel successful if learners are fully engaged with the learning experience we have designed with and for them, if the instructors are able to use the majority of their time for one-on-one and small group tutoring because the technology is doing the heavy lifting of introducing key concepts and relationships in an interactive and personalized way, and most importantly, if there is strong evidence of efficient, effective, and enjoyable learning outcomes. There is no reason that learning should be boring."
The interview process for applying for South’s new position was similar to other employment opportunities, but extensive screening protocols are required by the U.S. Department of Education and the White House to verify the eligibility of the candidate. South was interviewed by individuals with substantial responsibilities in the field of education for the entire nation. “It was a privilege to meet and speak with them about some of the challenges we face collectively and the work they are doing to address those challenges,” South said. “I thought after the interviews that even if I wasn’t offered the position it was worth the time and effort I had spent preparing . . . just to have that one-on-one time.”
South moved to Virginia with his wife, Diana Turnbow, and two young sons who remind him why education is so important. Turnbow worked as the curator of photography at the BYU Museum of Art before making the move to the east coast.