Events That Shape Our Future
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1996, 4(4), 2-3. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

We anticipate the future by searching for signals of potential change in the environment, defining these signals in event statements, estimating their likelihood of occurrence, and judgmentally forecasting their impact on our organizations. This process provides us with as much lead time as possible to take action to shape our future.

This approach can also be used to shape our individual futures. As with planning for our organizations, we need to be aware of high-impact, low-probability potential events, for these are the events that can, as we say in North Carolina, “hit you upside the head.”

One such event happened to me early in the spring semester--I had a heart attack. Although a heart attack is an event, it is also a continuous variable. Mine was mild; I have no discernible heart damage. But it was certainly a signal, and one that I am heeding by a radical change in diet (to nonfat vegetarian) and by a new resolution to rest, relax, and meditate periodically during the day.

The illness took me out of the work loop for several weeks. Fortunately, we have developed a backlog of manuscripts for On the Horizon, so there was no immediate deadline pressure in that regard. Too, I could maintain Horizon List and Horizon Home Page from my hospital bed (when they moved me into a room with a phone so that I could connect with my modem) and later from home. Manuscript review and correspondence with authors was delayed, but not seriously.

The major work problem was what to do about my course on the social context of educational leadership. In an earlier column I described how I intended to integrate technology tools to assist me in teaching this course (Morrison, 1995). In essence, we were to use a class listserv and the Issues Challenging Education section of Horizon Home Page to implement the course objectives, which were: to conduct an analysis of critical issues in education and the social context within which they are formed, to use information resources (including those on the Internet) for issue analyses, and to use effective written and oral expression in presentations and critiques of issue analyses. The listserv was used to communicate between class sessions; the Web site was used to maintain our record of progress through the semester. The goals were for students to develop competency in issue analysis, in using productivity software (e-mail, Internet search engines, word processing, and presentation), in using the Web as an information database, and in writing constructive critiques.

Fortunately, by the time I had my attack (several weeks into the semester), the students were accustomed to using the class listserv, had subscribed to other listservs, had identified the issues they were to work on (in three-person teams) for their projects, and had had one class on the use of search engines to gather data for their papers. During the time I was inaccessible, students met in the technology lab with my assistant, K. C. Brown (who maintains Horizon Home Page), and Tiffany Davis, a technology instructor, who assisted them in using Internet search engines while they began writing their papers. Via the listserv and e-mail, I was able to keep tabs on their progress. The class was not dependent upon my physical presence to continue functioning.

This experience illustrates an emerging trend of using technology productivity tools in teaching and what may be a concomitant change of instructional style, from sage on the stage to guide on the side. At this moment in history, relatively few teachers use this technology in their teaching, but the numbers are growing. We will know that this trend has reached the status of an event when educators change their current query, “You teach your course on the Web?” to “You don’t teach your course on the Web?” Is your school prepared to compete in such a world? The key to successful planning is to anticipate the occurrence of events by deriving their implications for your organization and then forming action plans to move forward.

In my column in the May/June 1996 issue, I elaborated a number forces driving the increased use of the Internet in teaching: the rapid growth of courses and programs being offered on line, mergers of cable and phone companies to provide interactive multimedia programming, the exponential growth in the use of the Internet and computers by corporations and by individuals, and so on (Morrison, 1996). My experience this semester reaffirms another force behind this trend that I had read about but had not observed first hand: the idea that one’s work will be posted for the world to read is a powerful incentive to seek and use critique in order to improve the communication of one’s ideas and arguments.

My own efforts to focus on improving my students’ writing skills in the past included a requirement that they each critique a colleague’s draft manuscript; my evaluation was then based in part on the extent to which the critique would be helpful in a rewrite. However, owing to my illness, I was not able to provide them with a timely critique this semester. I requested via the listserv that they prepare their abstracts for K. C. to post to the Web without my review. They did so, but only after agreeing that they would get critiques from their teammates before revising the abstracts for Web posting. The students were reluctant to take the WWW plunge without the benefit of a safety support system.

The pressure of publishing a paper with a unique Web address where anyone in the world can easily access one’s work with Internet search engines can do wonders not only for students’ attitudes toward the value of critique and of rewriting, but also for teachers’ attitudes. Teachers want their students to produce creditable products, for their professional skill is also on display. Bernard Glassman, in responding to my request to review this article, said: “Imagine a scenario in a community where students post their first draft on a Web page, where teachers post their critique, where students respond by posting their revised paper, and so on. Anyone in the community will be able to see the quality of student papers and the quality of teacher caring, critique, and guidance. What a marvelous way to obtain accountability in an increasingly competitive academic marketplace.”

I enjoy teaching students how to use productivity tools and how to explore information sources on the Internet. It opens up a new world for them to experience, a world directly relevant to understanding the coming changes in the way we conceive of and practice education. Don’t let this world hit you “upside the head."


Morrison, J. L. “Issues Challenging Education.” On the Horizon, June/July 1995, 3(5), 3–5.

Morrison, J. L. “Anticipating the Future.” On the Horizon, May/June 1996, 4(3), 3–5.

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