Course Syllabus
-- a university of arizona course on methods and approaches for studying the future

Roger L. Caldwell
Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science
University of Arizona. SWES 499 (formerly SWES 450 and SWES 550)
Structured for Spring 2002.

You can go directly to the Course Objectives or Course Modules.

Course Overview

Course Description

Techniques and approaches to understand broad issues about the future (with a focus on environmental topics as examples). Uses computer conferencing and Internet with significant student discussion and opportunities for team approaches and reporting. There are no prerequisites other than upper division or graduate standing.

Location and Times

The course meets one hour/week in small group settings of students. The specific times will be developed by coordinating with student schedules. The bulk of the course work will be via the web, using the course web pages, Internet overall, and a discussion forum named Caucus. The times you interact are up to you.

Instructor's Information

Instructor is Dr. Roger L. Caldwell, Professor of Soil, Water and Environmental Science. I am also Professor of Communications and Director of the Educational Communications and Technology office in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. I am available anytime via electronic mail -- (the preferred method for rapid response). Specific office hours are arranged by appointment, (520)-621-2010, Forbes 306. My personal web page is at

Course Objectives

The objective of this course is to develop abilities to understand the issues and to critically interpret the diverse viewpoints regarding possible futures for the United States and world, by:

The full course title is Anticipating the Future: Focus on Environment. Accordingly, several themes, case histories, and discussions will come from the environmental  area. We will use the time period of about 20-25 years (year 2025) as our futures reference point; it is far enough into the future that much is uncertain but it is not so far that we cannot relate to it (within our lifetimes)


There are no required texts. One text is suggested: Barker, Joel. 1993. Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future. Harper, NY. 240 p. You can review books used in past years at the course history page. There are a number of book reviews on line and references are made to major readings in the futures field as well as a range of on-line references.

Special Materials Required

There are no special requirements. It is expected you will have a computer for accessing internet or can arrange to use one in the several campus access labs. The only program you need is a browser (version 4.0 or higher of Internet Explorer or Netscape).

General Content and Approach

Course Approach and Focus

In addition to classroom and out-of-class individual and team activities, the course makes extensive use of Internet and group discussion by computer conferencing. Interaction among the students and between the students and the instructor is expected and encouraged. In addition to the textbooks, selected course readings will be provided as background issues (some on Internet and some in paper copy).

The class depends on a lot of interaction among the class members and with the instructor. I will serve more as a guide/mentor than a lecturer. You will have to do a lot on your own, and I will give you assignments, deadlines, and feedback so you don't get lost. However, you should plan on doing things on your own that allow you to discover new views, facts, or approaches and you need to be "self motivated" since you will be much more on your own in doing assignments and following your own interests than in typical courses.

The classroom portion will stress developing a basic understanding of futures studies approaches and how to make choices among various techniques, understand the nuances of different approaches, and build on the discussion developed through Internet materials. At various times during the semester, there will be a short video on profiles of a significant futurist or a futures topic. 

We will start with five important paradigm shifts already underway (in my view) as examples:

The Internet portion will use the range of information available via the world wide web and a computer conferencing system. It will also include tours, seminars, expeditions, and other "guides" to finding relevant information for the course. The computer conferencing uses a new web based system called "caucus"; we will learn this and other web based features of the class during laboratory sessions the second week of class. Some conferencing will be anonymous, some role playing, and most will have your name associated with comments.

Grading and Exams

This course is an independent study and will be graded different from most courses. The objective is to get you to learn and explore, but I also need some means of assessing your progress. There will be no formal exams but there are study questions on the class web (you can study these questions and learn that way rather than by exam). You will have to prepare several documents (a term paper that addresses the future of your chosen career, images of the future, and literature reports. You will be expected to contribute to team efforts and to Caucus discussions. I will get a weekly progress report from you (email) and if you lag behind I will give you some gentle reminders and offer suggestions for getting back on track. The grade is P or S (or failing) in an independent course, and I will grade based on the overall effort and contribution you make to the course.


What I Expect From You

Since the course is focused on learning through student initiative, it is important for the student to become involved in the non-classroom assignments and even do activities on your own that are not specific class assignments. The course framework provides a range of opportunities for exploring and testing differing perspectives.

There is a large amount of discussion required for this course. It is expected each student will be on Internet/conferencing for about 2 hours per week. It is imperative that you not get behind on computer conferencing discussions. It will be difficult to carry on discussions in class alone, since the Internet and conferencing discussions will be integrated with class discussion. It is important for you to ask questions and participate in classroom and in Internet activities. There is a great deal of relevant information on Internet that is relevant to this class. A representative collection of relevant information is organized through the course home page ( Take advantage of this opportunity to explore new things!

Use this syllabus as a road map so you don't get lost or behind. Copies are available on the class home page. The essential rules from the student perspective is to realize the course is different by

What You Should Expect From Me

I will follow the outline posted on the Course Modules page unless unexpected events cause minor scheduling changes. I will be available for electronic communication with responses in less than 24 hours, and I can meet you in my office at any time we can arrange (by phone or email). There will be opportunities for feedback from me via written and electronic form.

This syllabus covers the basic aspects of the course. The focus will be on understanding and extending your knowledge and experience with particular reference to futures studies material. To do this, I will:

Course Policies and Logistics


I will use an electronic evaluation form that provides anonymous responses.

Additional Work for 599 Level Course

Students taking it at the 500 level are required some additional work assignment. This will be a second report, in the same format as the 'future of your career" paper mentioned above, but on any topic you want to choose (check with me in advance for approval of the topic).


There is no formal attendance taken, but the course is heavily dependent on discussion, both in class and by Internet.

The University of Arizona Code of Academic Integrity (

The University of Arizona Student Code of Conduct (

Special Activities

Assignments will be made weekly (on Friday for following week) by class list serve and by posting on "assignments" portion of class home page. In addition to a few big things (like the final team exercise or and exam) there will be MANY small things and continuous involvement throughout the semester in discussions and quick assignments. Do not let these small things accumulate without doing them on a timely basis.

Progress reports will be made (via email) to instructor weekly (on Monday for previous week). These reports are short (a line to a paragraph or so) indicating what you are doing relevant to the class, what problems or questions you have, and what you plan to do for the next week. The report should include reference to specific items in the weekly assignment as well as activities on your own. I will respond to your progress reports with suggestions or acknowledgment.

Individual and Group Images for 2025

These are brief entries (about 1/2-1 pages or 1-2 computer screens) on Internet and will consist of a vision of a day in your life in the year 2025. Your "image" of the future in part causes you to act the way you do today. This sharing of views will be fun and initially help form the basis of group discussion on various visions of the future that will be developed by group effort.

Literature Critiques and URL Posting

The critiques are written submissions by each student on a specific futures related article (two are required as individuals and one jointly with another student. ). The entire class will have group discussion of the reports (via Internet). This report will be no longer than one page (typed equivalent) and entered into caucus for comment (this is about 1-2 screens). Sources can be journal articles, book , or other sources. News magazines and newspapers should not be used. Use URL's where possible so readers can see original material (if it exists on Internet). For the joint critique you find your own team member and be sure to note both names when posting on caucus.

Peer Reviews

Students will prepare a brief paper (format will be provided) of roughly a page on an assessment of future situation. This is a critical review approach and not a general description of the situation. This will be posted in Caucus, and two other students will review and comment (in Caucus). Other students may review and comment as well.

Guest Speakers

There will be a electronic guest speakers (via Caucus). The class will be able to ask questions/comment with speaker. This discussion will be for focused for a two week period.

Information Resources

Specific to Your Functioning in this Course

Information relating to futures is quite varied. There are a few sources that are purely futures oriented, but most are within other disciplines. Finding these sources, evaluating the information, and integrating it into a cohesive result is part of what we will learn. To do this, you will need to learn a variety of ways of collecting information. Our primary information sources will be:

Important Internet Addresses

Class home page --
Class listserv -- (I will send you notes on this but don't respond to list)
Caucus Conferencing

About the Instructor

Instructor's Perspective on Future

You can read more about me by selecting "instructor" on the class home page. Briefly, here is my view about the future. The future cannot be predicted, but there are a number of early warning signals for major changes that can be used to "anticipate" the future. If we make two assumptions: 1) the future will not be a simple extrapolation of past experience, and 2) major paradigm shifts (or discontinuities in trends) are (well) underway but generally unrecognized. Some of these shifts are due to electronic (communications) technology, biological system understanding, world economic and political order, and recognition of the human impact on the long term environment. Each of these (and others) have further impacts on multiple areas. By understanding this "big picture" you are more alert to the more specific changes that may (or may not) occur. I believe we are in a major transformation period (not a simple transition). Change in the next 25 years will be greater than in the last 25. Some of this can be anticipated and some cannot; recognizing this fact is important. Just as important is understanding we are in a major "transition" period that does not allow use to simply extrapolate past trends to forecast the future.

By approaching the future with an attitude that one can develop an ability to perceive (some but not all) possible changes, and be ready in advance to react to them, is what this course is all about. You can learn to be alert and develop your own radar system to continually scan the world. This should allow you to better anticipate likely changes (but, not predict specific events!). My basic approach is to understand a concept(s) of the future through images or visions, look at paradigm shifts or new eras that cause major discontinuities in current trends, review the resulting driving forces of change and their individual trends, and develop a small number of scenarios to test out the reality and imagination of the conclusions. This information is then mixed with your own experiences and your accumulated "wisdom or insight" to allow you better navigation of the future.

I have listed all my views about the future in one place -- My viewpoints (including hints and suggestions on how you might develop your own techniques for studying the future..

Return to "Anticipating the Future" course home page
Prepared by Roger L. Caldwell