Information Age Education Blog
Improving Education through Forecasting the Future
"All education springs from some image of the future. If the image of the future held by a society is grossly inaccurate, its education system will betray its youth." (Alvin Toffler; American writer and futurist; 1928-2016.)
Early in 2007, I developed and wrote a new IAE-pedia page, What the Future is Bringing Us. It featured very brief summaries of articles published in 2007 that contained predictions of the future, and Toffler’s quote began the very first one (Moursund, 2007, link). I have continued this task each year since then, and I now have a good start on futures predictions for 2019, I enjoy re-reading the older forecasts and thinking about whether or not they have proved to be reasonably accurate.
Here is a sample quoted from the 2007 entry:
Guth, Robert A. (12/12/2007). How 3-D Printing Figures to Turn Web Worlds Real. The Wall Street Journal. [Now available at (Guth, 12/12/2007, link)].
Quoting from the article:
The 3-D technology combines computer software and specialized "printers," which are copier-size machines that sculpt objects using a tool akin to a set of high-tech glue guns. Following a 3-D design on a computer, the gun nozzles squirt layers of material that harden into a porcelain-like object.
For 20 years, 3-D printers have primarily been used in labs and research groups at auto makers, aerospace companies and other design-intensive businesses. But during the next 12 months, 3-D printing will move closer to the mainstream, thanks to some entrepreneurs and consumer-focused companies like FigurePrints that are building businesses around the machines.
The Guth article tells us that in 2007, 3-D printers had already existed for 20 years. Rereading Guth’s article peaked my curiosity and led me to the article, History of 3D Printing (Goldberg, 4/13/2018, link). I discovered that now, 12 years later, 3-D printers are available in many precollege schools and have come into common commercial use In essence, it took more than 30 years of 3-D printer development to bring the cost down and the usability up to a point where a secondary school could easily afford to purchase several. Quoting from the Goldberg article:
In 1981, Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute published his account of a functional rapid-prototyping system using photopolymers (more on those in a minute). A solid, printed model was built up in layers, each of which corresponded to a cross-sectional slice in the model. Sound familiar?
Three years later, in 1984, Charles Hull made 3D printing history by inventing stereolithography. Stereolithography lets designer create 3D models using digital data, which can then be used to create a tangible object.
Now We Have Makerspaces
But, you might ask, so what? Does having such a device available to today’s students significantly improve their school education? This question can be asked for any new equipment that people might want to bring into schools. For 3-D printers and other computer-driven tools, plus more traditional tools like ones that I, personally, learned to use at home and in an eighth grade Woodshop course, today’s answer is Makerspaces.
Quoting from the article, Designing a School Makerspace (Cooper, 9/30/2013, link):
Makerspaces, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) labs and fab labs are popping up in schools across the country. Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.
A makerspace is not solely a science lab, woodshop, computer lab or art room, but it may contain elements found in all of these familiar spaces. Therefore, it must be designed to accommodate a wide range of activities, tools and materials. Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces.
3-D printers are an excellent tool to make available to students in school classrooms, labs, and shops. My 6/16/2019 Google search of the term uses of 3-D printers in schools produced about 1,850,000 results.
Now, back to the question about 3-D printers and improving the education of today’s students. My quick answer consists of two parts:
- 3-D printers are an important part of the use of computers to change the field of Industrial Manufacturing. General knowledge about the capabilities and limitations of 3-D printers is needed to “keep up” with our changing world. For example, do you know that 3-D printers are now being used to manufacture tiny homes out of concrete? Do you know that the International Space Station has been provided with a 3-D printer that can be used to produce needed tools and spaceship parts (NASA, 11/26/2014, link)?
- 3-D printers empower their users. For example, think of the effects 2-D printers have had in the 2-D graphic arts industry. Now, extend this to 3-D. This opens up a whole new world of creative and graphics art.
Here is a challenging question. Suppose you had your current knowledge of schools and education, but were magically time-traveled back to 2007 and read Guth’s article. What could you have done starting at that time to hasten the development of Makerspaces in schools and outside of schools? Would this have been a good thing to do?
Special Message for Teachers
Quoting again from What the Future in Bringing Us (Moursund, 2007, link).
Consider establishing a "futures" time period each week, in which you engage your students in an exploration of possible futures they will live in and how the subject(s) you are teaching are helping to prepare them for these possible futures. One way to do this is to select a topic from this year's list, or other annual lists published on this website. Engage students in a discussion of what they know about the topic. Perhaps point them to some material to read. Engage them in a discussion of how the content you are teaching fits in with preparing them for life in a world in which the forecasts on this website may well come true.
Another approach is to encourage your students to bring in hard copy materials and Web links that contain forecasts of the future. Each week a different small team of students could assume responsibility for leading the weekly "futures" session.
Still another approach is to raise the following question with your students near the beginning of any new unit of study: "What changes are going on around the world that are having a major impact on this unit of study?" The idea is to emphasize change and the understanding that you are helping your students to get an education that prepares them for a changing world.
Teachers working with students may also be interested in having the students research and report on one or more "futures predictions" from 5 to 10 years ago, or perhaps when they were in first grade, or the year they were born, and so on. They can find out which predictions have become part of our world today and which ones failed to materialize, and why or why not in each case.
Famed baseball player Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Each of us is a futurist. Just think about yourself when you are starting a day, and you think about what you may want to do that day. You are thinking about and planning your day (part of your future).
The Web came into existence 30 years ago, and it has certainly changed education. But, that took quite a long time. Now, think about some more modern piece of technology that has not yet impacted schools. What are your forecasts concerning this technology, and the goals for its potential impact on our current work to improve our educational systems?
References and Resources
Cooper, J. (9/30/2013) Designing a school makerspace. edutopia. Retrieved 6/16/2019 from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/designing-a-school-makerspace-jennifer-cooper.
Goldberg, D. (4/13/2018). History of 3-D printing: It’s older than you are (that is, if you’re under 30). Redshift by Autodesk. Retrieved 6/16/2019 from https://www.autodesk.com/redshift/history-of-3-D-printing/.
Guth, R.A. (12/12/07). How 3-D printing figures to turn Web worlds real. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6/16/2019 from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB119742129566522283.
Moursund, D. (2019). What the future is bringing us (2019). IAE Pedia. Retrieved 6/16/2019 fromhttp://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Futures_is_Bringing_Us_(2019).
Moursund, D. (2007). What the future is bringing us (2007). IAE Pedia. Retrieved 6/16/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us_(2007).
NASA (11/26/2014). International space station’s 3-D printer. Retrieved 6/16/2019 from https://www.nasa.gov/content/international-space-station-s-3-d-printer.