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Rick Szostak
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Jan 05, 2022
In Futures Thinking in Education
I am excited to find this Forum! Years ago an alumnus and a dean encouraged me to investigate designing a course about the future at my university (the University of Alberta in Canada). I was inspired by Bishop and Hines, Teaching About the Future, to write a book that could be used as a text or resource for the too-many colleges and universities in the world that lack any formal teaching about the future. I will be introducing such a course at my university during the 2022-3 academic year. That book, Making Sense of the Future (2022) has just been published by Routledge in both Open Access and print formats at https://www.routledge.com/Making-Sense-of-the-Future/Szostak/p/book/9781032033488 ) I hope that it will also be useful in high schools. My purpose was to facilitate the teaching of a stand-alone course by instructors that may be new to the field of Future Studies. I appreciate that there is a great deal of tacit knowledge in the field, but think that we need to make it easy for new instructors to shine if we aspire to "getting futures thinking into more classrooms." The book is thus jargon-free but draws on each of the six types of Future Studies identified by Alex Fergnani in Futures in 2019. It also draws on my own previous research in world history, economics, interdisciplinary studies, and knowledge organization. The book's five substantive chapters address in turn desirable futures (the goals that human societies should pursue), strategies for achieving desirable futures, trends that will likely extend into the future, wild cards (surprises), and approaches to policy advocacy. Each chapter has a similar structure. We begin by establishing some guidelines: how to identify goals, policies, trends, wild cards, and successful approaches to advocacy (In identifying societal goals, for example, we should be guided to satisfy each of the five ways in which humans make (ethical) decisions: consequentialism, deontology, virtue theory, tradition, and intuition) . We then attempt to survey important examples of each. We pursue systems analysis throughout and thus always discuss our examples with an eye to how they relate to other examples. Yet we finish each chapter with an integrative exercise: are our goals or policies compatible, and how do trends, wild cards and approaches to advocacy interact? There are a handful of flowcharts that grapple with these complex interactions. Each chapter also encourages students to engage in class exercises around one of the methods advocated in Future Studies such as the futures wheel or certain types of scenario planning. It is very much hoped that students will come to appreciate the value of gathering diverse people together (the course can attract students from different Majors and different cultural backgrounds) to discuss the future. They should come to see that both they and others have valuable contributions to make. Instructors, I should note, should see themselves primarily as facilitators, though there are important skills and information to convey. (Students, I might stress, are encouraged to identify goals, strategies, trends, and wild cards not discussed in the text.) In these times of political polarization, I think it important for students to appreciate that diverse people can have constructive conversations around both societal goals and strategies for transforming plausible futures into desirable futures. I hope that such a course will inspire students to work toward desirable futures, and give them some key skills and knowledge for doing so successfully. Since the book is Open Access, instructors can easily borrow from it a little or a lot. Students likewise can consult it to the degree they find it useful. I am of course happy to answer questions here or privately at rszostak@ualberta.ca
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