|Course History and Design Guidelines|
-- a university of arizona course on methods and approaches for studying the future
I have taught this course (current name) since 1989, using computer conferencing each year as an adjunct to class. About 1987 I taught a short version of what would become this course to those at the University of Arizona that were interested in the future of the Tucson area, primarily as a means of getting used to our conferencing system (CoSy) and how it might be used for instruction. I have found the interactions with a number of other "futurists" over the years to have a cumulative effect in my perspectives about the future. I have also been in several positions where I have had to be a practitioner and have some experience on the issues relating to "change". I have changed substantially the course each time it has been taught, partly due to new technologies and approaches, but partly due the increasingly rapid changes in the futures field. In 1974 I began a course titled "Environmental Quality and Agriculture", and slowly altered the focus from environment to be more and more futures focuses.
About 1980 the course was re-titled "Alternative Futures in Energy and Environment". In 1987 the course title was changed to anticipating the future, and environment became a topic for case histories. In recent years there has been less focus on environment and it has evolve into a general futures class without reference to a particular discipline (although the examples and my expertise is more in the science and technology, organizational management, and communications areas than in the social/political areas.
In 1989 I developed a hypertext program to go along with the class, but had to be used either on a local area network at one site on campus or could be run on an IBM DOS compatible computer. The software for that was developed by Neil Larson of the Max Think Company (Berkeley). The logic of that hypertext structure and the methods of linking were very much like what html (hypertext markup language) allows today. However, Neil had developed many error checking and ease of development tools which did not really get functional in the Internet world until the late 1990s (and in some cases have not yet caught up to Neil's old approach)
In 1993 I began using Internet (the web was just beginning to develop) and used it even more in 1994-6. In 1997 and again in 2002 the class was completely restructured to take advantage of changes in web capability (far more resources could be linked) and the university's new web based conferencing system (Caucus). With some search engines one can determine who links to your site or you can do quite accurate searches worldwide. During 1996 I found several new sites this way because someone found me and told me about their site or I could find more to link myself. Several groups have linked to this site.
In designing this material, I initially focused on two browsers: Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer (during a couple of early years I also designed for Lynx -the text browser). Three are minimal graphics to speed downloading, and pages are designed for various resolutions for how you set your own browser and screen resolutions. There are very few frames (only in tutorials) and no specially required plug-in modules are required.
In addition to design constraints and opportunities of the software, I structured the course such that I would serve as a teacher for part (few people generally have an initial understanding of futures techniques) and as a guide for most of the course (serving as your mentor and confidant but allowing you to do the learning and exploring).
For a number of years, ending in 2000, I prepared a "class notes" document (sold at the campus bookstore). This included selected brief I prepared, glossary of terms, and when the web became available, a sampling of the first page of a series of relevant web sites. For a few years had the class purchase the book and also posted it on the web. In 2001, the book contents were incorporated into the web and it was no longer prepared as a single document.
I had 1-2 speakers for the class via Internet and 1-2 in person from within in the university. Countries/states represented by the Internet speakers were: Arizona, Hawaii, Michigan, Oregon, Japan, and United Kingdom. Disciplines of guests included: Anthropology, Communications, Corporate Futurist, Economics, Management Information Systems, Political Science, Psychology, and Sales/Publishing. The format that seemed to work well, using computer conferencing (caucus software) was: 1) arrange with the speaker in advance and let the students know at the semester beginning how this would work, 2) have the speaker either post a question or some reading assignment for student reaction, 3) students would make their comments and raise questions, 4) guest speakers would comment on individual responses or collectively make general responses. This went on for a two week period, where the guest speaker would sign in 2-3 times a week and the students would sign in each couple of days. It seemed to work well for all participants. Note: computer conferencing is not a listserv, chat room, or bulletin board. It allows asynchronous discussion and organized the content with the guest speaker in one topical area - so it is not mixed in with the regular class stuff. The guest speakers could review the other topics of the class if they wanted, to learn more of the class and what they had been exposed to.
I have used a number of books over the years, usually Joel Barker's paradigms book and one other. I stopped doing this in 2001 (still recommending they purchase Barker's book), but substituting web page content AND encouraging searching for a specific concepts and ideas on the web. This transition was eased by my short "book reviews" (already on the web) and an expansion of my listing of futures reading material. The books I used are available as a list.
The web pages were developed using Dreamweaver for content and format and Xenu for external link validation and site index preparation. Some early software (Hyplus) for DOS operation system was used to develop some of the "thinkers" pages where multiple links go among the entries; this is the only portion of the original portions of the course that remain (done in late 1980s). Everything else has been updated annually and a major restructuring was done in winder 2001-2002. The site is located at the University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences).
If you have any comments or suggestions, you can use the feedback button on the home page or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.