Starting up my future of higher education seminar this week

Last night I held the first meeting of my Future of Higher Education seminar at Georgetown University.  The students were awesome.

Here I’d like to share some of the thinking behind the class design, as well as the syllabus.

The topical goal is to explore the future of higher ed, obviously, which means diving into two domains: the futures field and how the academic ecosystem functions.  Each class meeting engages both of those worlds, twining them together to help students forecast.   For futures work I have them try out different methods, including horizon scanning, trends analysis, scenario creation, and gaming. For higher ed they read scholarly books and articles about academia’s present functioning, recent history, and unfolding future.

I’ve taught this before, and have changed things somewhat. I wasn’t happy with how we handled technology and education and knew this was a major interest for LDT students, so I cut a number of those readings and instead give students space to design several sessions, from topics to materials to exercises. I’ll prepare and assist them, in keeping with the program’s emphasis on design thinking and student empowerment.

On the technology side I’ve found that students didn’t take natively to RSS or Twitter lists, so I’m going to mandate that this time. They have to choose one tech and practice it over the semester.  For RSS readers I’m pointing to Inoreader.  For Twitter lists, Twitter. We’ll also consider other tools, like Google Alerts, email newsletters, and podcasts.  (It’s good that students have access to the Chronicle of Higher Education through Georgetown’s library.)

crossing the Potomac

Crossing the Potomac river in front of our classroom’s building.

Students get to do a lot of work in this seminar, actually, besides learning one technology and doing a stack of readings. They have to share horizon scanning findings every class.  There are two mid-term assignments, a short trends analysis and a strategy memo. The former is designed to get them practicing a key futures technique. The latter prepares them for communicating with academic leaders.  At the course’s end they create a future academic institution, a project combining creative work with a reflection.

They also get to play my matrix game about a future university. I’m making some changes based on last year’s playtesting. I’m also preparing physical components, including a board and cards.

Last note on the readings: students will read two of my books, and four weeks of my writing feels awkward to me.  That’s the most I’ve ever asked of any group of people. I know Academia Next will give them a ton of content plus examples of two futures methods (trends and scenarios). I know Universities on Fire addresses a hugely important topic for the class.  No replacement texts will do the trick. Still, it feels egotistical.  I’ll see what the students make of so much Bryanness.

Now, on to the syllabus:

August 25, 2022 – Introductions

Designing the class: technologies, community, practices, pathways

Forecasting methods: introduction to futuring

Exercise: introduction Canvas thread

Stewart Brand, “Pace Layering: How Complex Systems Learn and Keep Learning”


September 1, 2022 – Futures and Systems

Gidley, The Future: A Very Short Introduction, chapters 1-4

How To Run a College, chapters 1-6

Exercise: assemble academic systems


September 8, 2022 – Scanning the Horizons

How To Run a College, chapters 7-9

Stanford 2025

Forecasting methods: horizon scanning, higher education

Exercise: set up digital scanning practice


September 15, 2022 – Trends

Exercise: horizon scanning

Academia Next, chapters 1-6

Forecasting methods: horizon scanning, STEEP

Forecasting methods: trend analysis

Exercise: turn this week’s horizon scanning into trends


September 22, 2022 – Scenarios

Exercise: horizon scanning

Academia Next, chapters 7-15

Forecasting methods: scenarios


September 23, 2022 – TRENDS ANALYSIS DUE


September 29, 2022 – Speculative Fiction as Futures Tool

Exercise: horizon scanning

Forecasting methods: fiction


October 6, 2022 – Delphi Method: Educational Technology

Exercise: horizon scanning

EDUCAUSE Horizon Report 2022

Forecasting methods: the Delphi Method


October 13, 2022 -Educational Technology 

Exercise: horizon scanning

Readings: selected by students


October 20, 2022 – Gaming the Future

Exercise: horizon scanning


  1. Alexander, “A Web Game for Predicting Some Futures: Exploring the Wisdom of Crowds”
  2. Game materials: The Future University Matrix game, general rules

Matrix game, 1

Role assignments:

Forecasting methods: simulation gaming


October 27, 2022 – Student Determined Topic

Exercise: horizon scanning

Matrix game, 2


October 28, 2022 – STRATEGY MEMO DUE


November 3, 2022 – Decolonizing the University

Exercise: horizon scanning

la paperson, A Third University Is Possible


November 10, 2022 – Higher Education and the Climate Crisis

Exercise: horizon scanning

Universities on Fire (digital file TK)


November 17, 2022 – Higher Education and the Climate Crisis

Exercise: horizon scanning

Universities on Fire (digital file TK)

(no class November 24, 2022 – Fall Recess)


December 1, 2022 – Student Futures



December 14, 2022 – FINAL PROJECT DUE

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5 Responses to Starting up my future of higher education seminar this week

  1. Vanessa Vaile says:

    About the Bryanness of the reading list: explain and ask what they they think, invite suggestions.

    What about a page to pdf tool for articles they can read through the university but would like to save for later or share outside the charmed circle of access? I favor Print Friendly but there are others.

    Twining futuring and the “academic ecosystem” obviously (imo) includes building bridges from the Ivory Silo to other domains. Once students get the hand of Bryanness and futuring, I bet they’ll come up with domains to connect (and strategies) that you might have missed.

  2. Glen McGhee says:

    Regarding technology: The story of Steve Jobs and bicycles. How does this impact higher ed, and the delivery of higher ed.

  3. Glen McGhee, FHEAP says:

    This article matches Kubler-Ross with Cusp Catastrophe modeling to wrap its arms around institutional change. Its take on (impending) college closures is eye-opening.

  4. Glen McGhee says:

    Saxey, Not Smart, Not Clever reminds me that academic ghost-writing is real:
    At least “Lin” agrees — clearly agrees — with Dave Tomar’s point about the “structural reasons for cheating.” Interesting.
    But relative to Dave Tomar, Saxey seems to understand a world without learning, a world reduced to credentialism and sorting much better. But then, I haven’t read his book.

  5. Glen McGhee says:

    re: Stewart Brand, there’s this piece from 1993 by Levinthal and James March that explores the slow-learning / fast-learning idea in strategic management perspective called “The Myopia of Learning”!
    I only wish that the URL wasn’t so LONG ….

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