Sunday, July 24, 2011

Planning for the future

One of the things I love about my job is that I can design my own courses. I'm currently working on a course design for a new version of Composition II called "Inquiry into the Future." I can't begin to say how amused I am by this. I keep finding more and more examples of thinking about the future or of retro-futurism. The flying wing that I first saw in Yesterday's Tomorrows (a book based on a Smithsonian Exhibit) was in Captain America:

I've also found lots of great resources on the web, like these:
And lots more movies are coming out about the future. Hunger Games opens in March 2012. Contagion opens this year. The list goes on and on.

Here's the course description:

Inquiry into the Future

I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.
—Michael Masser and Linda Creed

How many times have today’s students been told that they are the future? It’s been a cliché for ages, at the very least since Whitney Houston made a hit of Masser and Creed’s song, “The Greatest Love of All,” in 1986. Students are necessarily future-oriented in the sense that their course work is geared to prepare them for their future. How does this emphasis on the future affect students in the present? How do they react to futurist rhetoric? And what kind of future are they building?

In this course, students will examine various visions of the future in order to discover how the values of the creators are illustrated through these images. What sorts of fears, needs, and hopes are revealed? I’ve chosen mostly dystopian views of the future because these highlight fears and the dangers of utopian dreams. Students will also consider the values that they project when they imagine their personal futures. How do concerns about the future impact actions in the present? Lastly, how do various disciplines talk about or prepare for the future?

While the primary focus of the class is on values, language is also a major concern. What language is used to describe the future? How is rhetoric about the future used to manipulate present choices?

Course Sequence
The Present (Hands-on Research) 
The course begins with recent depictions of the future in order to establish the idea that visions of the future reflect values, needs, and fears in the present. Texts include: Richards’ article on future cosmic calamities and architectural designs; the first five chapters of Hunger Games, which will be released as a film in spring 2012; the beginning of I Am Legend (2007), which students will compare to descriptions of Richard Matheson’s original 1954 novel; and (if times allows) V for Vendetta. Students will conduct surveys to discover a particular audience’s ideas and feelings about the future.

The Past (Historical Research) 
After thinking about the values, needs, and fears of the present, students will be asked to turn their attention to the past. Students will read H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel, The Time Machine. I will provide some information about the time period and direct students’ independent research into the era. They will search for similar trends as in the first unit: what does Wells’ vision of the future say about him or his era? This unit will be supplemented by visual images of the future from the past, known as retro-futurism.

The Future (Academic Research) 
What is the future of higher education? Will students in the future learn on computers instead of in traditional academic spaces? What is the future of the humanities? Will it be able to defend its relevance in a quick-paced, technological world? What is the future of creative writing? Will the Twitter-novel make epics obsolete? What is the future of medicine? Will the singularity be reached within our lifetimes? Etc. In this final unit, students will investigate how their profession or field talks about or plans for the future, using a combination of interviewing and traditional research. This unit will have fewer readings as students concentrate intently on research.

The Personal (Integration) 
The final step for the class is to bring the course back around to the student. What does each envision for his/her future? Students will be asked to create a blog entry that describes their image of the future and to respond to others’ blogs. At the last session, students will be given the “time capsules” that they composed on the first day of the course and will discuss how their futures matched their visions.

EDIT: How cool is this? Yesterday's Tomorrows is still in print! 


  1. WOW! What an awesome class! This sounds fantastic and I love your assignments!

  2. What a fun class! The integration assignment is really interesting.
    Have you read this:

  3. Thanks for the tip, Bellatricksy! I'll check that out.