Collegiate Summer "Reading" 2013

...and now for something completely different

Something different?

Rather than picking a book and coming back to discuss its implications for Collegiate (that’s what we usually do,) we’re going to engage in “summer doing” (I’ll explain.) We will still have a few readings, but your primary job this summer will be to engage in some detective work to investigate the future and look for signals that tell us what that future will look like (again, I’ll explain.)

Prologue: Where I Keep My Promise and Explain Things

This fall, we will open new academic buildings and begin preparations to celebrate our centennial in 2015. As we enter our second century, we want to be known as a school that keeps itself both firmly rooted in the best of our traditions but also directs our gaze towards the horizon. To that end, we have partnered with the Institute for the Future to foster conversations about the nature of the future and what this future means for our school.

Why are we doing this?

Skeptics among you will no doubt ask "why are we doing this?" And that's a good question indeed. So here is, in convenient bullet point form, my answer:

  • this continues explorations we've made over the past decade in such events as Keith's challenges and our summer reading (Creating Innovators and Where Good Ideas Come From)
  • this also continues some significant changes in how we do things at Collegiate in such areas as project-based learning, diversity, global education, economic education, and technology
  • as we move into new spaces in the Sharp Academic Commons and the refurbished Reed-Gumenick library, we have the opportunity to examine new ways of engaging students
  • this coming January, we are engaging in a comprehensive reform of our calendar and schedule. Looking at what the world our students will live in is essential if we are going to structure their education in a meaningful way

Finally, and so important that I'm removing the bullet points, the world around us is changing. With online education, Google Glasses, digital textbooks, it's been hard to avoid change over the past few years. But what lies on the horizon? That's why we are inviting the Institute for the Future: to help us investigate what lies ahead.

Your Summer: Step By Step

Step I: How To Think Like a Futurist

This summer is an effort to make you familiar with how the Institute for the Future looks at the future. There are two basic parts to this process: identifying signals and forecasting.

Cheat Sheet: "Signal" Defined

Here's how the Institute for the Future defines the term:

A signal is typically a small or local innovation or disruption that has the potential to grow in scale and geographic distribution. A signal can be a new product, a new practice, a new market strategy, a new policy, or new technology. It can be an event, a local trend, or an organization. It can also be a recently revealed problem or state of affairs. In short, it is something that catches our attention at one scale and in one locale and points to larger implications for other locales or even globally.


Think about signals that might give us clues as to what the future may look like. Spend some time thinking about signals in two distinct ways:

  1. in the context of society at large. How will the signal impact the world in which we live?
  2. in the context of your role(s) as an educator. How will the signal impact education?

For many of us, the second part will come more naturally. But before making that connection, please try to spend some time looking at this in a larger context. Sometimes, trends and developments that look like they have little impact on what we do turn out to be far more important than we might initially think.

Identifying Signals: An Example

We struggled with including an example of how someone might actually identify signals and examine their implications. We didn't want to provide signals and thereby bias people one way or another. But we did want to give some idea of what identifying signals looks like.

And so we came across James Burke. Years ago, Burke hosted a program called Connections. In the program, Burke looked for connections between seemingly innocuous things and earth-shattering developments. The show was built around the concept of finding historical signals.

He did what we'd like you to do, only in reverse. He looked backwards, but we'd like you to identify signals and look forward. I know reversing his method presents a unique set of challenges, but it should yield some interesting and important results.

Below is a representative example of the program. It runs around an hour, but given the incredibly light summer "reading", I'm not sure it's overly burdensome.

James Burke Connections III #1 - Feedback

Step II: Collect and Submit Signals (plus a reading I snuck in)

Here is where the "summer doing" part takes shape. Look around for signals of what the future may look like. Read the brief piece "Artifacts from the Future" from the Institute's web site for more information. These artifacts can be anything, really. Something you've seen online, a physical object, a photograph, a video, even things like drawings or conversations you've had (transcribed, recorded or even reenacted if you are so inclined).

Please submit at least one signal by August 1 but feel free to submit several.

How Do You Submit Signals?

There are multiple ways to submit a signal:

  • the most basic way is to send an email to Send along pictures, web links, videos, etc.
  • if the signal is a physical object that you'd like to bring to display in August, email me at to let me know what it is. We can arrange for you to get it to school before August 22
  • there are other signals, so don't be limited to what I've listed. Be creative and email me with anything you find!

Epilogue: Recommended Reading

The readings are optional but strongly recommended. More than anything, these are a quick guide on how to do the summer doing.

i) About the Institute for the Future
ii) Three short sections from The Foresight Toolkit:

iii) Specific forecasts:

  • Ten Year Forecast - the Institutes forecast for 2022
  • The Future of Work - a series of reports dealing with such topics as demographics, work skills, and (obviously) work itself
  • The Future of Learning - a series of reports dealing with such topics as kids technology, knowledge tools of the future, and the future of science

The Sequel: What's Next? What Are We Doing With This?

On August 22, the Institute for the Future will be with us to open the Sharp Academic Commons. Devin Fidler, the Institute's Director of Research for Technology Horizons will speak to us about some of the signals the Institute has identified as important. We will compare the signals we identify with what the Institute for the Future has pegged as important to provide guideposts as we move into new buildings and explore new ways of teaching and learning across campus.

Following that, we will use the November professional day as a way to showcase how Collegiate is experimenting with these signals and figuring out the best ways to navigate the future. Essentially, we will be starting to dip our toes into the waters of taking our signals and forecasting them into the future: the second part of the Institute's method for thinking like a futurist.

Stay tuned for details.