What futures work should I do in 2017? Podcasts, games, Twitter storms, and the specter of FOE

I have two big decisions to make, looking ahead to 2017.  Both are about the various future of education and technology media content projects I run, including the FTTE report and the Future Trends Forum.  I’m blogging here to brainstorm and seek your feedback.

In this post, a question of expansion and organization.

More futures!

Currently I make stuff about the future of education in three different venues: this blog; the Future Trends in Technology and Education (FTTE) monthly report; the weekly Future Trends Forum videoconference discussion, captured and published to YouTube and Storify.  Each fulfills a different function, and uses its media form for what it does best.

Future Trends Forum logo

I also do face-to-face futures work through speaking engagements, workshops, and consulting.  That involves some media production in the form of slides, handouts, wiki pages, and other artifacts.

This blog is for quick takes and archiving thoughts, while eliciting conversation through comments and responses on other fora (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+).  The FTTE report is essentially a pdf crammed with research and end notes.  Because it’s a pdf it can be, and is, easily shared around.  In contrast, the Future Trends Forum is a real-time conversation between myself, a guest, and dozens to hundreds of interested people.  I and others live-tweet each session, and I Storify the results, while also YouTubing recordings of each entire session.

So far, so very social.  I firmly believe in conducting this work openly and with as many people as I can rope in.  That way our thinking improves, and people can easily access the results.

And so far, so good, by every measure I can think of.  Participation numbers have been decent, with 1724 FTTE subscribers, 1236 Forum participants, and hundreds to thousands of readers on this blog.  Those numbers grew throughout 2016, and seem ready to keep rising in 2017.  Anecdotal feedback has been very positive.  The one survey we did yielded comments that were very supportive.

What next?

I could keep on going with the current setup (blog, FTTE, Forum).

I’ve also gotten requests for additional offerings, which I’d like to run past you.

Podcast pickle _Jon Lebkowski -detail

Yes, it’s the Podcast Pickle.

Podcasting.  This audio-based medium, named and launched in 2004, has taken off over the past year and a half.  The number of podcasts, the number of listeners, and the variety of audio content have boomed, which delights the storytelling maven in me.  I’ve participated gently in the podcasting revolution, having been a guest or reader on several programs (SFFAudio, Reading Envy, Digital Campus, Tales of Terror).

How about a future trends podcast?

There are many ways we could do this.  I could speak to selected trends and developments based on my research.  A guest could come in and we record our conversation.  I can turn Forum videos into audio files, losing only faces (we use vanishingly few graphics).

An FTTE podcast has several advantages, starting with multitasking.  Unlike reading or watching a video or participating in a full, live videoconference, we can listen to a podcast while driving, walking the dog, doing laundry, etc.  Additionally, a podcast is simpler to consume than watching a video, and has a greater personal presence for some people than text (FTTE) does.  In short, people can listen to a podcast when they couldn’t otherwise read text or watch video.

The biggest disadvantage is time.  I’d need to add podcast production to my busy schedule.

#FTTE sample on TweetdeckTweetchats.  The #FTTE hashtag does a good job of anchoring Forum discussions during their hour-long sessions.  Some people also use the tag to share relevant news and thoughts.

How about hosting a regular tweet chat for the future of education and technology?  We could try out different dates and times, seeking a slot that maximizes participation.

Advantages: easy participation in an increasingly familiar format.  I can Storify the results as well.

Disadvantages: Twitter’s future as a business is uncertain.  And organizing the tweet chats, while not excessively laborious, does take time.

A game. Recently I’ve been exploring the possibility of creating a game about the future of education.  I’ve looked into several higher education simulation games, as well as the variety of futures games (The Thing From the Future, for example).  There are many possible configurations to choose from: computer or tabletop or role-playing?  Gaming a short- or long-term future?  What forces to include and exclude?  What roles would players play?

Advantages: games are known quantities for learning and mental exploration, of course.  They can also be useful for connection people socially.  I have a good amount of experience playing them, and have made several (a conference alternate reality game, a class political simulation, a prediction market game).

Disadvantages: time, once more.  This could also soak up other resources, depending on the project’s scale and needs.

One ring to rule them all

Stepping back to look at these possibilities and the current projects, I’m struck by their size and diversity.  There is content all over social media: on this blog, on Storify, on Twitter, YouTube (nearly 50 Forum videos now), Slideshare, LinkedIn, Google+, PBWorks, Google Docs, and Facebook.  There’s stuff on various static websites, like FTTE.US and the NMC’s Horizon Report microsite.  Expanding into podcasting would add still more venues (whichever hosting site, plus the galaxy of podcatchers).  A game should have its own web site, too.

Should I organize this swarm in some way?

ring, by quinnanya

This blog already plays a light organizing role, as I blog about most of these productions, although I should do more.  People can find most of them by searching here, or looking at the tabs above for the biggest entities.  Is this enough?

Or should I whip up a unifying site, Bryan’s Future of Education Central?  That could link to everything, sure, and include a feed from this blog.  I’m not sure if it would actually be significantly different from this blog.

Is a unifying title or brand in order?  People increasingly know me as one of very few education futurists, but they usually only connect with one of these projects, if any.  Perhaps some kind of overarching rubric would help send people to the others:

  • FTTE (it works now)
  • Future of Education (FOE is a fun acronym)
  • Future of Technology and Education (FTE)
  • Futuring Education (FE)
  • Futuring Higher Education (FHE)
  • Future Trends (FT; people often use this phrase to describe my work)
Foe graffiti, by monolaps


What do you think, dear readers and/or watchers and/or potential listeners?

Coming up next: a post on sustainability.

(ring photo by Quinn Dobrowski; Foe foto by monolaps)

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23 Responses to What futures work should I do in 2017? Podcasts, games, Twitter storms, and the specter of FOE

  1. VanessaVaile says:

    FOE + feed to follow (feed foe fi fum). I’d write more but that would mess with the alliteration. I’ll be back — unless I wander too far down another path

    Encourage mirroring among followers. I already do that to some extent with Diigo (+ plans afoot for InoReader folder/bundle) and suspect others do as well. https://www.diigo.com/user/vcvaile/FTTE-collections

    • What a great use of Diigo, Vanessa.

      Mirroring: would reblogging count?

      Glad to hear you like FOE.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        I tag FTTE and FTTE-collection for Diggo. With tagging and tag feeds, I think you could work out meatball mirroring with re-blogging — a distributed FTTE network

        I have a weakness for wordplay — and alliteration. Call it an enduring occupational hazard but, unlike Black Lung, not fatal.

        FOE is not only catchy and memorable but also opens BAC up for more ed areas — K12, adult education, training, etc

      • FTTE and FOE…
        Where else do you see the tagging working?

  2. Joe Murphy says:

    In the interest of brainstorming, I notice that this isn’t a post for audience analysis. I suspect that these different formats will be successful at reaching different segments of people, and spending some time thinking about that (and how you feel about it) might help you make decisions.

    For example, I’d argue that podcasts are basically one-way communication – so great for providing resources, less so for developing community. (Check out, though, what Bonnie Stachowiak does with “show notes” on her blog and a Slack channel to try and increase engagement around her show, Teaching in Higher Ed.) Tweetchats, on the other hand, are great for engagement and exchange of information, but they’re fiercely temporal (to the extent that I find them frustrating). Providing resources vs. building community seems like a strategic decision for the business, as well as an opportunity for learning by doing.

    The game idea is really neat; I’d love to hear more. From my perspective, I’d find a tabletop game useful as something I can gather faculty around. Even then I think there’s an interesting question about a small game which could be played over a lunch hour (or a pack of small games designed to be played as a series over a month), or a 3 or 4 hour simulation game that might be more appropriate for a really big group maybe as part of a faculty or department retreat. But I’ve recently been in touch with some colleagues who are looking for ways to reach adjuncts, and a computer game they could play at home and debrief either in person or online might be valuable in that scenario.

    (I respect that this might be an uncomfortable kind of thinking to do in public, as an “audience analysis” converges with a “market analysis”. I don’t much like labeling myself as one of your “customers”, even though we both know that’s one past and hopefully future component of our relationship. But it does seem important to think about how these activities might relate to paying gigs, even indirectly.)

    • Audience is really diverse, and I need to get a better handle on it. Folks are globally distributed (always fun to think of when people accuse me of being too US-centric), institutionally diverse (government, business, education), and professionally varied (senior admin, IT, faculty, researcher, librarian, etc.).

      Thank you for the one-way versus community forms. Vital to thinking about this. The Forum seems the most two-way. Well, including Twitter.

      Gaming: what do you like about the tabletop form?

      • Joe Murphy says:

        From my perspective as a faculty developer at a fully residential college with a low level of adjunctification, a tabletop game seems more professionally useful. Most of my work is accomplished face-to-face, so a tabletop game where I could say “come have lunch and play a game” (or “join our group that’s going to play weekly” or even “come to this one-day game/retreat”) creates opportunities for gathering people. I don’t predict I’d have as much success at my institution asking people to play a computer game on their own and then come debrief.

        For my own personal learning, of course, I see why a solitaire (computer) game has benefits. And I think there are other faculty developers who would have neat ideas of ways they could use a computer game with their faculty.

      • Following up on your example, how much time would you allow for such a game?

      • Joe Murphy says:

        I find it’s hard for me to get faculty to give up more than about 90 minutes – so a game designed to run for 30-60 minutes would be in the right window. (Counting for some friction in people showing up late, getting refreshments, and a debrief.)

        I’ll throw out again the idea of a series of games of that size over a month or 6 weeks… I think I might be able to pull a gaming group together around “Higher Ed Legacy.”

        This comes with the caveat that it’s also my personal preference that games should run less than 60 minutes. If I still had the taste for 2-4 hour sessions of a single game, I might be more creative in figuring out how to get people to give me more time.

      • Sounds like very simple games would work best.

      • Joe Murphy says:

        For my programming (and play) style, yes, simpler is better. The flip side is the question of how you would sell me (and how I would sell my faculty) on the extra effort involved in a more complex game. It’s not an impossible sell… it’s just not immediately obvious to me.

      • Zack says:

        Regarding “installment” small games, play with the idea of making the first in the series free, followed by increasingly expensive sequels. Lol, works in industry, but might also give some useful market information. Someday.

  3. nukem777 says:

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  4. Pingback: Me making more media: how can it be sustained in 2017? | Bryan Alexander

  5. longpd says:

    Bryan: You are your brand. This blog is or can be, as you infer, the central organizing framework tying the different strands of your work together. I do think that is useful as any compendium of diverse ideas needs an index. Getting you know you is rewarding, of course, but you want to make it easier for people who don’t to accomplish that. A slight restructuring of the blog can accomplish a lot.

    I might extend to title of the blog to simply BryanAlexander_Futures.org, and bump the categories sidebar up to the top. These categories are an index. But they don’t break things down quite as nicely for someone looking for different kinds of work, not just topics. By ‘kinds of work’ I mean what projects are currently on your work queue, presentations you’ve given, reports/infographics, podcasts (yes, I think you SHOULD do these – multitasking is crucial to many in your audience), etc. You can always retain a simple categories listing, as well, but i think defining the artifacts of your work is helpful, both for you and your audience. You address than when you wrote about a unifying title or brand. You said,

    “Perhaps some kind of overarching rubric would help send people to the” projects you’re engaged in and you listed:
    – FTTE (it works now)
    – Future of Education (FOE is a fun acronym)
    – Future of Technology and Education (FTE)
    – Futuring Education (FE)
    – Futuring Higher Education (FHE)
    – Future Trends (FT; people often use this phrase to describe my work)

    These aren’t quite what I’m thinking about as categories of futures work, but some of the items are more reflective of that than others.

    Speaking of audiences, what I don’t see much is targeting work for different segments of your audience and group artifacts for them they might find most attractive. What faculty developers need/want I think is different from Provosts or Presidents. If the latter are part of your intended audience, then giving them something that engages them that’s helpful. A variant of the “7 Things”, for example, that are a one or two page summaries with consistent structure and references/links to further explore the topic relevant to this segment of your audience might be a useful product. But the underlying issue is who are your audiences? And, what do they need?

    You’ve referred to the time it takes to do various things – and that is the ultimate finite resource, your time. The question I’d ask you in return is what strategies are you thinking about that ‘scale Bryan’? It’s great to do one-on-one’s with different folks. But that’s probably the most time consuming activity you can engage in. Your’ve managed that well in the webinar series by insuring that the people you invite are going to likely bring their own audiences, at least in part, with them. That in turn brings them to you. What they encounter once they get there will influence the extent to which they come back for more. What do they need to see to increase your ‘stickiness” to them? (is that a word?).

    I’ll share some other thoughts in a future post. You’re doing well! You’re facing the transition from a startup to an on-going presence or service to the community. There need to be some things they expect to see and continually value, and other things that are new that increase their likelihood of returning to find out what Bryan thinks is ‘next’.

    Cheers mate!

    • Phil, what a generous and rich response!

      Let’s see.

      Blog restructuring: that’s a good plan. I’m not sure people will respond to the WordPress categories as a list. Perhaps a word cloud in the upper graphic?
      Kinds of work is great.

      Audience: yes, I haven’t segmented that out here. That’s an issue. Normally I approach a campus as a whole, as a strategic unit. But usually that ends up working with a segment – provost’s office, IT, library, board, etc. My perspective is strategic, so I would prefer to keep that top-level perspective. Hm. Maybe I should break out different offerings.

      “What do they need to see to increase your ‘stickiness” to them? ” I’m not sure.

      Thank you!

  6. hrheingold says:

    How about a limited time online event — we did a few with Rheingold Associates. You have scheduled live events and a one or two week forum with or without guest “speakers”

  7. Bryan…thank you for thinking out loud about building a life as an independent scholar.

    One additional product to your scholarship and communications work that I’d like to see is some way to make your network visible. I’m not sure how this would look – or how to build it – but I’m thinking of some sort of visual website that shows all your relationships and connections.

    There are 3rd party tools that do with with LInkedIn – see socilab.com – but I’m not sure that an off-the-shelf tool is what you need. I’m thinking more of something more handcrafted – something simple and visual that you build around your connections.

    You ask great questions – and I look forward to giving some more thought to the life of an independent scholar in 2017.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Joshua.

      And thank you for the intriguing idea. I can start with LinkedIn to spur discussion.
      “something more handcrafted” – is there an infographic creator I should approach, perhaps?

  8. Pingback: Gaming the future of education: a student project | Bryan Alexander

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