Playing the "Think Like a Futurist" Game

In her acclaimed SXSWedu 2016 keynote, Jane McGonigal critically examines a billboard from a 1930's World Fair that lured people with the promise of "seeing the future".

"This is not what a real futurist does," she warned. "A futurist does not see the future; they make the future."

Furthermore, she asks the attendees at SXSWEdu to imagine all the conceivable options the future may have in store ten years from now. She chooses ten years because it's close. We can easily envision ourselves ten years in the future: where we will be living, what our friends and family will be up to, where we will be in our careers etc.

Instead of seeing the future, Jane invites us to choose the future we want and get started working to make it happen. But how do we forecast future events. Let's walk through Jane's SXSWEdu keynote together, shall we?

Opening yourself up to signals

The creation of these imaginary futures begins with collecting evidence that Jane McGonigal calls signals. No. They are not these invisible radio waves that transmit future oracles to our passive brains. On the contrary, these signals are observations or clues that stand out to us as we go along in our day to day business. Signals are quirky trends we notice in the news or the blogs we read, they can be a term or a buzzword that keeps reappearing in our favourite Reddit feed or interesting new habits you observe in public spaces. Things that make us go hmm...

Pulling different signals together to create a forecast

Next, we need to look at these signals collectively and creatively to make a forecast. Jane implies that  forecast is less like a vision or an oracle and more like an action plan to be acknowledged, revised or discarded. She reminds us that "we're not making predictions. We're finding out what's possible."

Using her talk as a framework, I thought I would participate in her fun forecast making experiment:

To read my forecast:
My Futurist Forecast: Language Learning in 2026

In the process of creatively combining these signals, we may actually come up with a conceivable 10-year forecast that we would like to see happen. However, pulling these threads together and visualizing a forecast is not easy. Opening ourselves up to these signals and pulling them together to make forecast, we would like to see come true takes some hard work  (As it should, be It's our future we are talking about here isn't it?)

Playing the futurist thinking game with other players

As soon as I created my forecast, I started to criticize and ask questions. Is this the future I really want? How will it change the way we work and learn?  Immediately,  I needed to consult the sages--I informally presented my forecast to a group of colleagues. The teachers reactions varied, to say the least. We started criticizing the practicalities, the benefits and the disadvantages. One teacher, even passionately argued "Do we really want our students to always be wearing those oculus goggles? Won't it make them dizzy?" That's when I realized: It was all a game.

A game worth playing


The creative thinking and heightened investigation I managed to involve a few colleagues in, was a rich and playful discussion. Our reactions touched on topics such as the use (or overuse) of technology, the emotional and physical safety of our students and the benefits of professional development.  More importantly, we took the time to critically question our classrooms of the future.

I walked away from these discussions and found myself reflecting on my present practice in this strange context of an imaginary future I could choose. How could I prepare my students for this future? Which skills would they need to benefit from these not-yet-realized situations? I came to the conclusion that this reflecting and deeper thinking may be the whole point of Jane's game. A game that she is playing on a global scale with people right now.

A criticism would be that Jane makes this business of being a futurist sound a little easier than it is. I would add that in order to receive signals to be of value to our lives, we need to be conscientious observers.  We need to dig and find time in our busy lives to stay current, active and reflective.

Nevertheless, Jane's particular vantage point as a writer, researcher and keynote conqueror (Watch her TEDtalk here) makes it a little easier for her to pick up on signals that are fascinating and noteworthy enough to form the basis for an actionable plan (and a pretty entertaining keynote as well). However, in all the fun of  playing the futurist thinking game, I think there is a bigger message to what Jane is saying: "Get involved and take action of your future now".

In other words, in order to be a futurist thinker--we need to be a present doer.

Follow Jane McGonigal on Twitter

What is Education to me? Painting my Answer "Live" In a Multi-Modal Art Piece

For a seminar course, "Innovative Practices in the Classroom" at Brock University, I was asked to express what education was to me. The course covered such topics as, authentic assessment, technology implementation, and project based learning to name a few. Here I combine music and live digital painting, using Adobe creative Suite to provide my answer to this rich and complex question. Continue reading below to learn more about my messy creative process.

Education is a deeply personal process that can transform students' lives. For this assignment, I was asked to produce an artifact that expresses what education is to me. A symbol of a doorway and a key originally seemed fitting. However, after some additional thought, these two images alone may imply that education is more accessible than I perceive it to be. Eventually, I came to the image of a child peeking through a keyhole.
Some of you may make the connection that I see education as a key to a bright future--as valid as this interpretation might be--this old adage seems problematic in our current neo-liberal globalized context.  After sketching a rough version, I found the image had the potential to ask more questions than provide answers. Whatever the interpretation may be, the keyhole and the door implies something magical yet to come for the subject in the painting.
My original idea was to draw this picture over a podcast-style audio track of interviews, memoirs and my ideas around the topic of education. I had this idea when I created a podcast for another class last year (see below). I experimented by adding a dummy track after the footage of the digital painting was captured. My canned opinions over the image no longer worked because I realized that the painting could have multiple interpretations by itself. I also experimented by adding a voiceover of a simplified reading of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Again, it sounded forced and detracted from the process of this image taking shape in front of you. When I found the music, I felt it worked on it’s own and was a great fit for the mood and tempo of the image.
This quote was from a text that I read in my first year undergrad course, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I remember that I enjoyed the class immensely mainly because the professor was a passionate caricature of what you think a philosophy professor should be. I didn’t do well in that course, but I remembered the cave and the imagery of the slaves in chains staring at shadows on a wall. The image stuck with me. I like the image of light as education or knowledge. It works for me. Maybe because I am a visual learner.
Ironically, this was my first time doing this style of video. I learned and made mistakes as I went through the process. I think this emphasizes the idea that true education and learning can be messy.  Much like the video I created, it’s an iterative process that calls for plans to change and adapt as we reflect on our process. I wish I could say that this was an ingenious motivation for choosing this type of medium--it’s not. The theme of “making mistakes as you plod along” only struck me as apparent after the video was completed and I was discussing it with friends.

Literacy Podcast:
Plato’s Cave Allegory: