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.
The design solution Undiscipline is an online sharing platform for students, educators, and the public to share stories about futures that others have created and to imagine how today’s trends could evolve into future scenarios. The stories collectively provide a glimpse of what matters to students, their values, and how they see themselves in our changing world.
The Undiscipline Playbook is a navigation guide. Acting as the glue that binds a small group of four students together, it both instructs as well as provokes.
The Future World Cards includes prompt questions that spark candid conversations about different dimensions of society. The deck can be expanded and new decks that focus on specific topic areas can also emerge to supplement Undisicipline.
The Capture Canvases facilitate conversations and moments of self-reflection which are key to Undiscipline. There are four canvases that give students creative space to play, to express, and most importantly, to capture their thoughts and reflections as valuable reminders in their Undiscipline journey.
How Undiscipline could evolve
With continued support and funding, Undiscipline could become a collective, living platform that could provide insights and data on emerging trends, common themes, and visions for the future that can inspire and inform change. Ideas include adapting the tool to specific course content for engaging students in critical reflection, or as a long term “student portfolio” that becomes infused into the student experiential learning path and accompanies the student throughout their educational career.
Other possible avenues of continued support could include partnering with instructors to pilot a concrete case study, running pop-up events with career support and counselling services, and working with a team of artist, writers, developers, etc. to create a minimal viable product for an interactive digital platform to share, tag, and better visualize collective future stories.
Furthermore, we would like to expand the type of critical reflection that Undiscipline encourages beyond an educational framework. There is potential for anyone within transition periods of their lives to be empowered to become agents of change as they shape the future tomorrow.
Chantale Brunet , Enna Kim, Hannah Carriere, Macy Siu, Samantha Zoe Germain, Tara Tsang