FUTURESTATES is a site explicitly designed to straddle the worlds of science fiction cinema and education. It consists of a series of independent short films that present visions about what life in America could be like in the decades and centuries to come. Each episode fuses an exploration of a current social issue with elements of speculative science fiction. Placed online in 2010, the site features three seasons, comprised of 28 short films, of which about half come with lesson plans. The site also includes interactive components relevant to films.
The major goals of the site are both entertainment and education. Each film contemplates a timely, complex social problem, and transforms the problem into a vision of how it might play out in a future America. The films should generate critical thinking and lively class discussion as they confront such challenges as environmental degradation, social inequality, political polarization, and globalization. Specifically, the site promotes media literacy, as well as the practice of social criticism and advocacy by employing film as a platform for the exploration of critical issues.
Target Student Population:
The video content and accompanying materials, lessons plans, and homework assignments could be used for introductory sociology and social problems courses at high school and college levels.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Users need basic computer skills in order to access films and navigate site.
Type of Material:
The centerpiece of the site are three seasons of short science fiction films. There are also pdf lesson plans to accompany some of the films, interactive message-board-like features, and an interactive game, which can be downloaded to mobile devices.
The films can be used for in-class discussion and assignments. Interactive modules such as Vision Machine, Wish for the Future, and Predict-O-Meter have potential as teaching ancillaries.
Firefox 17.0.1, Internet Explorer 9, Android 2.3.6 (accessed the site on the web and played videos) Adobe Flash Player.
Evaluation and Observation
Lesson plans offer many useful ideas for encouraging student applications of the ideas encountered in films. In particular, "extension activities” provide relevant sociological research to further explore issues and assist instructors in moving class discussion from fiction to non-fiction. The ability to make projections about society based on interpretations of the present is invaluable.
Lesson plans are crucial for this material to be useful from an educational standpoint, and at present, they are available for only about half the films.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The films have the potential to generate significant student concern about present-day society and social problems. They should facilitate lively classroom discussion about what American society could be like in decades to come. The use of science fiction to teach sociological concepts and issues may also stir interest among students who might not otherwise be engaged.
The educational value of the site is contingent on the assumption that science fiction is a useful way of teaching social issues. While likely true, some students may not be attuned to science fiction genre. More importantly, the effectiveness of the site as a teaching tool will vary with instructor preparation. Various social issues are vividly highlighted in the films, but instructors should be ready to counter possible charges that the “real” social issue is not as dramatic or deserving of attention as the one portrayed in the film. Instructors will therefore need to be prepared to make the case that the problem is indeed important and deserving of attention in the present. More material at the site to help instructors make that case is needed. Lesson plans offering more real-world data to highlight the extent of the problem in the present would also benefit instructors. For instance, in addressing educational segregation, "Crossover" implies that students should become familiar with Brown v. Board of Education. A summary of this case and also current data on educational segregation would importantly integrate the film with the present.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The films are engaging and thought provoking. They can also be easily played on mobile devices, making them all the more accessible to students.
The site encourages some interaction through its Wish for the Future, Vision Machine, and Predict-o-Meter pages. However, their educational value is yet to be fully exploited. Two of the pages are little more than discussion boards, and one is a downloadable, interactive game. While the game is interesting and has educational potential, it is not accompanied by a supplementary guide.