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How Predicting the Future Can Develop Digital Citizenship Skills

Apr 21, 2017 2017-04-21

By Dr. Jason Ohler

This post is part of a series of blogs from passionate digital citizenship advocate, Dr. Jason Ohler. The series will explore the importance of digital citizenship and provide strategies for integrating digital citizenship into schools.

In my last blog, we explored activities to help students “frame the system” rather than game the system in order to think critically about the rules that should govern their digital lifestyles. Now I'd like to discuss an activity that helps students develop digital citizenship skills by imagining new technologies. The goal is for students to take charge of their futures by inventing it. Digital citizenship is often approached from a reactive perspective in response to unwanted behavior like cyberbullying or cyberstalking. In contrast, this activity approaches digital citizenship proactively, casting students in the roles of leaders and “imagineers.”

It is important to note that students need to imagine the future not just technologically, but also in terms of the kind of world they want to create, personally, socially, and environmentally. They are building a new world, not just inventing new gadgets. I encourage teachers to discuss with their students the kind of world they would like to see, so that whatever students imagine can support their vision.

Being Your Own Futurist

The Being Your Own Futurist activity helps students predict and design the future based on a historical understanding of the impacts of technology. When you do this activity, I encourage you to let your students' imaginations run wild.

  1. The linear approach

    The linear approach follows a line of technological innovation from the past into the future. It simply asks, if an older technology was used to perform certain tasks one way and today's technology now performs those tasks differently, what innovational approaches to performing those tasks awaits us in the future? Or, more proactively, what innovations do we envision performing them in the future?

    For example, let's look at the suitcase, which has undergone many versions. Young people may be surprised to hear that we once had to literally pick up our suitcases and carry them by the handle. No wonder we had bad backs. Then two wheels were added, making it possible to easily roll a heavy suitcase. Then came the real magic. I will never forget watching an elderly woman rolling a large suitcase that was roughly her size effortlessly down a long airport hallway. This was made possible by the four spinner wheels on the bottom of her suitcase. This seemed like an obvious innovation that should have been in place since the beginning.

    The linear approach deconstructs a technology's evolution in order of its incremental changes. This helps us see what next steps are likely to happen. In the example of suitcases, this might mean hovering suitcases, power-assisted wheels, suitcases controlled remotely through our smartphones, or whatever students can imagine.

  2. The disruptive approach

    In this approach we create a change that produces something so different that it radically alters business models and challenges businesses that have dominated markets-the way microcomputers disrupted mainframes, or mobile phones disrupted traditional phones. In the case of disruptive innovation, entire industries and companies can literally disappear.

    Continuing with the example of the suitcase, perhaps Uber starts picking up your luggage. Imagine if a special mail service started overnighting our luggage directly to our hotels so that we didn't have to deal with it at the airport. Or imagine being able to 3D print what you needed once you arrived at your destination. Let your students have fun imagining the possibilities of disruptive change.

  3. The intersecting circles approach

    Technology is rarely entirely new and usually emerges as the result of combining existing technologies. This approach asks, what is produced when we overlap two or more technologies?

    For instance, if we overlap a suitcase with a wagon, we get a suitcase on wheels. More recently, the GPS has overlapped with cars and motion recognition to form self-driving cars. Deconstructing the overlaps in our technologies allows us to understand our lives as they are and imagine what could be. More importantly, it allows us to begin to look at our digital landscape as consisting of building blocks that we can overlap to produce innovative goods and services.

Again the point of these exercises is this: we need students to imagine the future as something they create, rather than as something that happens to them. We want them to be heroes of their own future stories, rather than the victims of someone else's. That's what good digital citizens do.

I hope you will follow this blog series as we delve deeper into digital citizenship and the strategies you can use to help your students become digital citizens. In the next post, we will discuss more strategies for getting students talking and thinking about digital citizenship.

Dr. Jason Ohler is a professor emeritus and distinguished president's professor in educational technology and virtual learning at the University of Alaska. He is co-creator of ISTE's Digital Citizenship Professional Learning Network, serves on the Digital Citizenship Institute board, and teaches digital ethics and storytelling in Fielding Graduate University's media psychology PhD program. He has spent over 30 years helping K-12 teachers and students use technology effectively, creatively, and wisely. His latest book, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future, reflects on his many years in the world of educational media and innovation in order to chart a responsible and inspiring course for a future. Subscribe to his newsletter, Big Ideas (in English and Spanish), and learn more about his speaking, research, and writing at jasonohlerideas.com. Find Jason on Twitter @jasonohler.


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