Many students experience anxiety and confusion about their future as they transition to different stages of post-secondary education. During these transitions, it can be easy for students to get caught up with what should be and worry about making the “right” decision instead of reflecting on their values, fears, worldviews and dreams to consider what could be.
There are a number of factors that limit students’ imaginations when it comes to thinking about the future: external pressures from parents and peers; fear of failure; not having control over the job market and workplace of the future; and lack of agency over the driving forces that are drastically changing our world.
As a result, students often resort to making academic and career decisions based on constraints and without a grander vision. This could lead to missed opportunities and difficulty finding meaningfulness in their educational and work experiences.
To address this problem, our project is focused on this question: How might we help students find ownership of the future so that they can create meaningfulness for themselves through the world around them?
To learn about student experiences navigating post-secondary education, our primary research involved meeting one-on-one with students in programs from high school to PhD levels, as well as career advisors.
During this research, we used a mix of qualitative tools, such as journey mapping, so that students could tell us their stories about choosing programs, influential supports, transitions, career selection and more. The lack of intentional opportunities for students to imagine different futures for themselves and the world emerged as a common pattern in these stories. In identifying this “aspirational gap”, we began to explore the potential for futures thinking to open up student mindsets.
This led us to adapt foresight frameworks and tools for personal use as a means to empower students. Strategic Foresight is an established discipline for understanding how issues unfolding today could affect society, communities, and individuals tomorrow. A key emphasis is that the future is not predictable, but pluralistic, and it is up to us to shape the preferred elements.
We tested several foresight tools such as scenario development, worldbuilding, future artifact creation, backcasting, and roleplaying with a diverse group of students. These tools were intentionally adapted to integrate forms of interactive play, allowing students to creatively explore multiple futures (unexpected, expected, positive, and negative worlds) in a safe, supportive, and fun way. Engaging in forms of play also allowed students to set aside their fears and be adventurous, so that they could explore different sides of themselves, engage their senses, be delighted and share with others.
Through this process, we learned that in order for interactive play to open mindsets towards the future, there needs to be:
- A diversity in participants
- Face- to- face interaction
- Opportunities for self-reflection
- Different forms of expression
- An element of risk-taking
- Reminders of past achievements.
We are currently determining the most effective way to package these elements into a new tool for students through research into game theory and game mechanisms. Our goal is to create a prototype with inclusion and accessibility in mind, so as to reach students across Ontario and beyond.
Specifically, we aim to design a prototype that fosters a change in student mindset through at least one of these aspects:
- Seeing new possibilities
- Feeling that they can make their own choices
- Recognizing they can have multiple dimensions of self
- Being comfortable with the unknown
- Developing a sense of the bigger picture, and
- Having a clearer sense of what’s important to them.
Chantale Brunet , Enna Kim, Hannah Carriere, Macy Siu, Samantha Zoe Germain, Tara Tsang