Foresight in Business and Society

We’re kicking off a new blog series today: Foresight Educators.  Teaching the future is unfamiliar to most teachers, but a few are leading the charge, and this series describes and celebrates their achievements.  If you have taught the future in your class, contact us. We’d love to feature you here. 

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Educator:  Sam Miller
Course: Foresight in Business and Society
Level: Undergraduate
Institution: Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame
Teaching the future since: 2007
Email:  miller.549@nd.edu 

In 2007, Carolyn Woo, dean of the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame told Professor Tom Frecka “You cannot lead if you don’t know what is coming at you, and where the opportunities for growth are.” The accounting professor accepted her call to action, visited the University of Houston’s Foresight program, and launched a course.  Foresight in Business and Society is now required for all 700 juniors each year in the Mendoza College.  

About the Course

The course objectives address the 21st century skills that business leaders are looking for –
Develop an awareness of important issues and trends affecting society, including issues related to sustainability.

  • Develop an understanding of the methodologies and tools used by organizations to identify trends, to consider the implications of change, to plan for alternative futures, and to suggest solutions leading to preferred futures.
  • Develop various thinking and visionary skills, including critical/analytical thinking, systems thinking and creative thinking to effectively address complex problems.
  • Explore specific responses and interventions to these issues and trends by government, business, NGOs, think-tanks, and other organizations.
  • Produce well-reasoned research studies that address major societal issues, consider trends and future implications for society and business, and suggest appropriate solutions, in light of moral and ethical concerns.

Students work in teams of four.  They select a domain for their research, gather and analyze data on that domain, determine the baseline (expected) future based on trends and drivers, create plausible alternative futures, and discuss potential business and ethical implications.  See the abbreviated syllabus here.

Some of the chosen domains have been – The Future of Indonesia, Microfinance in Tanzania, Financial Inclusion in Brazil, Retail in South Africa, Honey Bees(!), Work, U.S. Medical Treatment, and Mobile Commerce in the U.S..  Each of these projects is described here.

Each team is also paired with a mentor in business and industry who serves “as a resource for the student teams, providing a real-world perspective as they advise them on their projects. Mentors provide context as to how their project would be approached in a real-world business setting, guidance on focusing the topic, feedback on the status and direction of the team, and possibly recommendations on information resources for the team to review.” (www.foresight.nd.edu/student-projects/mentor-a-student-team)  Tom Buccellato is the CFO of Ventures, Commercial and Communications at GE and a Mendoza College graduate.  He has been mentoring foresight teams for five years.  While he teaches the undergraduates a great deal about business, he said that he has found that the excellent students at the College actually inform his thinking about the future as well.

How they began teaching the future

The Mendoza College of Business is one of the leading undergraduate business schools in the country, being ranked either #1 or #2 by Bloomberg Businessweek over the last six years.  The College sees the course as a distinction that contributes to its excellent reputation. “This signature course, required for all business majors, provides junior-level students with the framework to identify global trends, and to analyze how these trends will impact business decisions in an increasingly complex marketplace.” (www.foresight.nd.edu)

Using what Professor Frecka found in Houston and at other schools, Jay MacIntosh, a consumer products and tax consultant from Ernst and Young, launched a pilot course in Fall 2008.  He and Suzanne Coshow, a sociologist at Notre Dame, scaled the course up for all students in Fall 2009.

The course won an IBM Smarter Planet Faculty Innovation Award in 2011.  “We need to focus on developing more advanced skills so that students around the world are equipped to tackle real-world issues when they enter the workforce,” said Jim Corgel, general manager of IBM Academic and Developer Relations.

Sam Miller took a leadership role in the foresight program in 2010 after coming to Notre Dame in 2009 from a career in manufacturing and marketing.  He was also the Director of the University’s Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship and a member of the Board of Directors for Teach the Future.  He has also introduced the course as an elective in the College’s MBA and Executive MBA programs.

Tim Balco has taught four sections of the course each semester since 2013.  A former legal researcher and teacher, he says that this course is different from any other course these students take.  The difference, to put it briefly, is that the course is not about “the future” as such, but more about the skills needed to think about and influence the future successfully.  There are no “right” answers for these outstanding students to memorize and give back on tests.  Rather the course requires a habit of mind that appreciates uncertainty and tradeoffs, one that uses creativity and imagination as much as data gathering and analysis.  Tim says that some students take to it right away.  Others struggle for a while, but all come to appreciate that they have been introduced to skills they will use throughout their careers.  And see what students and business leaders have to say about Foresight in Business and Society in their own words.

The vision of Teach the Future is that every undergraduate learns how to anticipate and influence the future as a general education requirement.  Every business school and indeed every college and university should imitate what this leading business school has done.  If they do, their students will be better prepared with the skills to be successful in the 21st century.
 

Let kids guide you into the future

Adults should listen to us, because we will be living in the future longer than them.

This is one of the statements made by elementary school pupils in the Dutch city of Breda. And who could argue with it? Listening to kids can really help us all to look at the future in unexpected ways.

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Recently Teach the Future joined forces in the Netherlands with creative incubator PakhuisB and set-up an educational package for elementary school teachers. Within a timeframe of 6 weeks the teachers engaged their pupils actively in exploring their feelings and visions on the future. The goal was for pupils to experience the influence they have on the future and to become active in creating their preferred one. With various tools (such as card games, sketching & drawing and group workshops) the pupils were inspired and challenged to play with their perspectives on the future.

This class program elicited many interesting thoughts and feelings amongst youngsters. Such as: “When I think about the future I feel a little anxious because I don’t know what will happen and at the same time excited to try out new things in the future.” Or: “When I grow up I want to be an archaeologist. I can set goals in the present to strive for this dream and realise it in the future.”

Watch a ten-minute compilation (in Dutch) with many more quotes and reactions of kids about future related topics and get inspired! 

I feel that it would be better if people always have a spare job, in case they lose the one they have currently.

In addition, Teach the Future & PakhuisB, in cooperation with the TrendRede team, also organised a ‘KinderTrendRede’ in Breda. This is an event where a panel of selected pupils of various Breda based schools present the future visions of all schools combined to the citizens and deputies of the municipality of Breda. This future pupil council shows what kind of future they would want to live in. Advice included topics like deregulation to decreasing loneliness amongst elderly people, a changing job market to climate awareness.

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I think the municipality should award people who are active in preserving nature. Handing out prices will stimulate more people in our city to help out nature.

Read the full content of the pupils’ future visions over here. Watch the aftermovie of this event (in Dutch) below and the full video of the TrendRede (in Dutch) over here.

Want to organise similar lessons or event in your city or country? Please contact Erica Bol for more information: Erica [@] teachthefuture.org

// Text by Els Dragt

Peter Bishop on
Facebook Live March 28
with Rachel Calderon
and Dr. Nilda Perez

The founder of Teach the Future, Dr. Peter Bishop, will be interviewed live on Facebook at 8 pm (Eastern Time) on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Everyone is encouraged to join the conversation and submit questions and suggestions. 

Dr. Nilda Perez and her co-host Rachel Calderon will interview Peter for their Foresight Strategies Group. The topic will be "Teaching the Future: Is This Possible?" and we'll discuss how it is critical to empower young people by showing them how to anticipate a range of possibilities and to influence the course of events. 

Join us 8 pm (Eastern) on Wednesday, March 28 for a 30-minute program at https://www.facebook.com/drnildaperezfanpage. We look forward to your participation in the program. If you miss it, just come back to play the archived show later. 

 

 

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New Futures Program for Elementary Students in Breda, Netherlands

 Erica Bol leads elementary students in an exercise developed by Teach The Future. 

Erica Bol leads elementary students in an exercise developed by Teach The Future. 

In the Dutch city of Gemeente Breda, ambassadors of Teach the Future joined forces with creative incubator PakhuisB and set-up an educational package for elementary school teachers.

Within a timeframe of 6 weeks, teachers can engage their pupils actively in thinking about their feelings and visions of the future. This approach inspires pupils to take an active part in creating their preferred future. Check out video footage of a session over here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist…

In addition, Teach the Future & PakhuisB, inspired by and in cooperation with the Trendrede team, also organized a ‘KinderTrendRede’ in Breda. This is an event where a panel of selected pupils of various Breda based schools will present the future visions of all schools combined to the citizens of Breda. These pupils will show Breda what kind of future they want to live in.

Want to organize lessons or a similar event in your city or country?
Please contact Erica Bol for more information: Erica@teachthefuture.org

 Dutch children share their ideas from an exercise by Teach The Future.

Dutch children share their ideas from an exercise by Teach The Future.

Lesson of the Month: An Educator's Guide for Realistic and Creative Strategies for Thinking about the Future

Even if you just need to teach your associates a more positive way to think about the future and how we can influence it, this guide is easy to read and use. If you need a low-cost activity to pursue in a classroom, it's wonderful. 

Margo Greenwood:

By connecting with ideas about the future, we have an opportunity to purposely navigate between anxiety and apathy, to imagine and design new futures. So, how do we collectively reclaim discussions of the future? 

Download your copy here: https://library.teachthefuture.org/product/an-educators-guide-realistic-and-creative-tools-for-thinking-about-the-future/

Teach The Future energizes the Futurists in Brisbane

Teach the Future founder Peter Bishop travelled to Brisbane, Australia during the week of October 23 to hold the first Teach the Future meeting in the Australasian region. The three-hour meeting was held on Thu, Oct 26, the day before the APF Block the Future conference.

This meeting attracted twenty-five foresight professionals and others from Australia and New Zealand. Ten or so others said they wanted to be there, but couldn’t. After introductions, Peter made the point that Teach the Future was “standing on the shoulders of giants,” many of whom taught, published and practiced in the region. He then shared the history of Teach the Future going back to 2010 as well as its plans for this year, following a summer of piloting teacher workshops and student camps in Texas.

Peter hopes the APF participants and others will sort themselves into two groups. with one actively teaching "futures thinking" in Australasian schools, and the other group supporting them in many other ways. Teach the Future already has a presence in Texas and California, and a very active node in the Netherlands (thanks to APF member Erica Bol).  Peter hopes that the Australasian will become the next center of activity. 

Anyone who has questions or wishes to join the group can contact Peter at peter@teachthefuture.org until a local leadership team is established.

Report from the Houston Summer of Futures

From Peter Bishop: 

I’m standing in front of Quail Valley Middle School on a warm July morning watching dozens of cars turn into the school. Each vehicle is bringing a middle school student to the Houston Summer of Futures, a futures camp created by Teach the Future. The Houston Summer is the first major initiative in partnership with school districts around Houston and Dallas.

Teach the Future has been operating officially for two and half years, and informally for almost 10. StudentThe first version was based at the University of Houston and offered five teacher workshops and one summer camp around 2010. The current version began in 2013 when I retired from the University and more specifically when Teach the Future, Inc. was formed in January 2015. Since then, Teach the Future raised money through crowd funding to pay teachers to build a Library of materials for teaching the future.  

Another group of donors contributed money this year to develop The Futures Thinking Playbook for middle school students, which is now being finalized by Katie King and Julia Rose West. The book contains a coherent process, appropriate for middle school students, for choosing a topic to investigate, doing research on trends in that topic, and writing creative stories about the expected future and about a ‘What if?’ future that could happen instead. The book is the basis for the four-day summer camp. The teacher-facilitators for the camps provided invaluable feedback for the book which will be available for sale in the Fall.

The partnership with the three school districts began with a day-long teacher workshop on tools and techniques for teaching the future in their classes. A subset of those teachers took two additional days of training to learn to facilitate the four-day summer camp. In total, 185 teachers took the one-day course; 18 teachers took the facilitation training, and 12 of them facilitated two camps that served 160 middle school students. In fact, the facilitators and administrators involved in the camps are asking for more discussions about how they can adapt and use this material in their regular curriculum.

Evaluations conducted at the end of each segment showed that teachers and students were very glad to have taken the training and attended the summer camp. All the comments were good. Here are few selected ones: 

  • Futures thinking teaches learners to more readily accept differences of opinion…and perspectives, and be able to communicate and thoughtfully debate these divergent outcomes amongst themselves and their peers...
  • The most rewarding training I have honestly been to. I have received activities and items I can use in my class for years to come.
  • Teach the Future has given me great materials to use in my class throughout the year. The material can be used in any subject or grade level.
  • Love the design of the day! I would also "advertise" this as giving educators tools that they can use over and over with GT learners as they teach for depth and complexity.

Students echoed the teachers’ comments. The activities they liked best were researching their topic, asking “what if?” questions, writing creative stories, and imagining themselves as superheroes who solve major problems in the future.

  • Students also summarized what they learned in the form of several fundamental truths –
  • I need to follow my future or the future I want.  
  • Every choice you make changes the future.
  • All things have positive and negative effects.
  • I will always remember the story that I wrote with the drawings.
  • It is good to look at things using two perspectives because the future could play out many different ways.

So Teach the Future now has a portfolio of proven products and services that districts and teachers can use to introduce futures thinking to their classes and schools. And we will continue to develop workshops and materials to use with K-12 learners.

But of course, we did not do this by ourselves. So our thanks to the 2015 donors who helped us build the Library and to this year’s donors who contributed the money to write the book. Thanks also to the team who made the Houston Summer of Futures successful:  

  • Dr. Lue Bishop who developed and taught the one-day teacher workshop,
  • Katie King and Julia Rose West who wrote and designed a rigorous, yet friendly approach to the future which Katie turned into an outstanding training session for camp facilitators,
  • Sandy Damashek who contributed her expertise in children’s media, and Sarah Rebar who crafted outstanding illustrations.

And most of all, our deepest thanks to the district administrators and teachers at Fort Bend, Spring Branch and Coppell Independent School Districts who took the risk to partner with us to bring the future to their teachers and students: You are all pioneers of change, and you have our deepest respect and gratitude.

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The Summer of Futures

To help teenagers think more effectively about the future when making decisions, Teach The Future has launched the Summer of Futures for high-school students. This program has three phases:

  1. Starting now, administrators can schedule a 6-hour course for teachers of GT (Gifted and Talented) students. All participants learn how to integrate a lesson on ‘futures thinking’ into their classes, whatever the subject. 
     
  2. After completing the 6-hour course, teachers may sign up for a 2-day workshop which prepares them to conduct a 5-day student workshop. Teachers will be paid for their time, certified for “Futures Thinking” instruction, and eligible to work in the Summer of Futures program. 
     
  3. During the summer, high-school students will gather in our 5-day workshops to learn how to think about different ways the future could unfold as well as their possible roles. Students will be able to select topics and issues which they see as important to their future. 

Want to participate? Know someone who should? We have brochures and flyers and entry forms. Just contact Peter Bishop, peter@teachthefuture.org. 

Who Taught the Future in 2016?

Last month, we sent out a survey to everyone who downloaded materials from Teach the Future's library last year. We wanted to understand what worked for these earliest adopters and what we can do better in the future. The respondents were split about 50/50 between higher education and K-12, and about two-thirds of them were teachers or instructors.

What did we learn from them? Let's start with the good news:

About two-thirds of respondents said they were "extremely" or "very" satisfied with the material they downloaded. No one said they were unsatisfied.

Ninety percent of respondents said they were likely to use the material again or teach other lessons about the future.

Those data points are uplifting, but they only represent those respondents who had used the materials they downloaded. About half of respondents had downloaded but not yet used the material with their students. We also learned that nearly half of those who had used the materials said they modified them "moderately" or "significantly." 

Neither of those points were surprising nor did we feel that they reflected poorly on Teach the Future. I can confirm that when I was in the classroom, I downloaded many materials that I found interesting but never got around to using. I also very rarely used online materials "as-is"; my students and teaching style were my own, and my lessons and units needed to reflect them. 

Nonetheless, those responses reflect a need. Most educators we come across "get" why teaching the future could be valuable. They find the concept intriguing and recognize the disservice we're doing to young people by omitting the future from classrooms. Still, few teachers make the leap to actually teaching the future. That's partly due to time constraints, which we will never overcome, but it's also because teachers themselves were never trained to think this way nor to introduce these concepts to their students.

That's why we're focusing in 2017 on teacher professional development and support. That's always been part of our plan, and we individually supported several teachers last year. But we are buckling down on that effort this year with the hope that we can make educators more comfortable with the concepts and the material to the point that they don't need us or even our Library anymore. We envision a community of educators who can incorporate futures thinking into any subject and are committed to doing so.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. If you know of a school or group of educators who want to learn how to teach the future, or if you want to sponsor educators to participate in this professional development, get in touch.