ASU Prep students catch a glimpse into the future at Next Lab

ASU Prep students enrolled in the Emerging Technology Internship program have exciting learning adventures on the horizon. 

The program, which spans 14 weeks, offers high school students a unique opportunity to explore various technology-based initiatives, programs and professions offered across Arizona State University (ASU) – which has been repeatedly recognized for leading in innovation.

Such programs include ASU Next Lab, Dreamscape Learn and Engineering Education Outreach offered by Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, to name a few.

On Friday, February 16, students joined ASU Next Lab in the Creativity Commons at ASU’s Tempe campus to begin a four-part workshop series as part of the program. 

“[Through the internship] ASU Prep Digital high school students are being exposed to college and career pathways in emerging tech industries, said Megan Hanley, executive director of School Design at ASU Prep. “These fields include artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced manufacturing and computer-aided design.”

Exploring signals of change

How does an emerging technology go from being a seldom-discussed idea to becoming a transformative trend? The director of ASU Next Lab Imaginarium, Dr. Bea Rodriguez-Fransen, is a certified foresight practitioner who has studied the tools and techniques required for future thinking. 

“The basic building block for future thinking is understanding signals of change,” shared Rodriguez-Fransen at the opening workshop on Friday. 

The one-hour workshop walked students through the signals of change framework and encouraged them to start thinking about emerging disruptive trends in new ways. 

“At a high level, signals of change are ways for people to research and imagine futures,” Rodriguez-Fransen continued. “To identify a signal of change, we start with exploring fringe ideas or concepts that are currently outliers in society — these ideas could gain traction and eventually become mainstream, or what we call trends.”

These fringe ideas are also known as weak signals, which may or may not grow in popularity over time. Rodriguez-Fransen gave the example of artificial intelligence (AI): “While AI is mainstream today, it actually started out as a weak signal in the 1950s.”

Being able to identify signals of change and track those over time allows for organizations to better anticipate the landscape of the future in terms of paradigm shifts in areas such as technology, business and policy. Staying ahead of emerging signals is a proactive approach that provides avenues to become active participants in defining how we shape future trends.   

Rodriguez-Fransen went on to explain that weak signals can go on to be identified and framed by researchers and academics, in the second stage: academic exploration.

From that point, the idea or concept can trend and become part of mainstream culture and society. 

What we want to do as futurists at Next Lab is look at this fringe thinking and be the first ones to academically frame an issue before it goes mainstream,” Rodriguez-Fransen explained. “Because we want to stay ahead of the curve. What and how our students are working at Next Lab are in itself signals of change.”

Participating students are tasked to come up with their own signals of change to share and discuss with the group at the follow-up session to be held on February 23.

Engaging participants with more upcoming presentations

Next Lab Studio Director and co-founder Toby Vaughn Kidd will also be presenting a workshop for the students on non-traditional technology career paths this month. Students will receive hands-on experience learning how to build their own video games using tools like Unity and Roblox.

The goal of the Emerging Technologies program is to expose students to new ideas in STEM, experiences with emergent technologies and opportunities to explore STEM careers on a college campus. 

“Along with industry leaders and experts such as ASU's Next Lab and Dreamscape, we are engaging our students in real-world changes in the tech world,” Hanley continued. 

Student participants also receive internship credit for their participation.