Thinking about the future

This video from a recent event at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, about the future of technology in Scotland, helps to illustrate the power of stories to evoke not only ideas, but also feelings, about the future. Scottish musician and storyteller Karine Polwart was one of the keynote speakers, and here she offers three stories from the future (2030):

(if you can’t see the video embedded above, the direct link is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdRfMH0wvLA )

Suggested readings:

Doctorow, C. (2012). A vocabulary for speaking about the future. Locus Magazine, January 2012. Web version: http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2012/01/cory-doctorow-a-vocabulary-for-speaking-about-the-future/ . In this short editorial for a science fiction magazine, Doctorow argues that when science fiction “predicts” the future, it is actually “inspiring” it. He goes on to discuss the implications of agency. His is an optimistic vision: “’Prediction’ implies a future that we hurtle towards on rails, prisoners of destiny. Having a route-map for the railroad is nice, but wouldn’t it be better if we could steer?” Importantly, he stresses the value of making engrossing language for talking about both desirable and undesirable futures – and argues that this is the job of the science fiction writer. Might it also be a job for educators?

Facer, K and Sandford, R (2010). The next 25 years?: future scenarios and future directions for education and technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26, 74-92. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00337.x/abstract  . Open access (pre-print) version availableFacer and Sandford draw from their Beyond Current Horizons project to describe how educational futures work can be socially and ethically engaged, and why it matters that it be so. They describe the project’s use of various ‘foresight’ techniques and methods including scenario planning, and show some implications of their findings for the future of education.

Pew reports on the Future of the Internet, Pew Research Center. http://www.pewinternet.org/topics/future-of-the-internet/. Pew reports are released on a variety of topics each year, asking “experts and Internet stakeholders” to respond to sets of statements (“tension pairs”) about possible digital futures. These reports are interesting not only for the range of opinions they generate, but in helping us think through the effect that asking certain kinds of questions, in certain ways, of certain people, might have on the ‘futures’ that are produced as a result.

Discussion questions

  1. Which of the three scenarios in Facer and Sandford’s paper do you personally find most appealing? Why?
  2. Who is in a position to inspire, inoculate, reflect, and expose in relation to the future of learning? Do you see enough of this happening at local, institutional and wider levels in your own contexts? Where and how does it, or could it, happen?
  3. Facer and Sandford identify four “principles” that underpinned the Beyond Current Horizons programme. Playing ‘devil’s advocate’, how might you critique these principles? What assumptions do they make?
  4. Choose a quote from one of the PEW ‘Future of the Internet’ reports, and start a discussion about it with someone!