Sunday 14 November 2010

Teaching on Systems Thinking

It always seem so important to me that sustainability educators place an emphasis on systems thinking. I'm currently researching for some practical advice on how to actually go about doing this, so am going to plonk a load of URL's on here, mostly for my own benefit, to collate some good advice as I find it!

This article briefly discusses the importance of systems thinking to ecological thinking. Not much advice however on how to teach about it.
This power-point slide show by Dr. James J. Kay from University of Waterloo, CA, gives some very useful advice on teaching systems thinking, I include a few quote below:

'Students must be given explicit opportunities to apply systems tools and approaches to real-world situations. Experience has shown that students can only really appreciate systems thinking and the issues related to it after they have undertaken a system study. Accordingly it must be the first element of a systems education.'

'Educating about general systems behaviours involves teaching about such phenomena as:
  • non-linear behaviour,
  • attractors and flips between attractors,
  • feedbacks,
  • emergence,
  • self-organization,
  • chaos.
Generally these behaviours are not intuitive to students. They do not conform to the Newtonian linear causality mode of reasoning that is a cornerstone of our culture.'

'Chaos Theory: our ability to forecast and predict is always limited regardless of how sophisticated our computers are and how much information we have.'

'Whether dealing with soft or hard systems situations, instruction about systems approaches is best done in the form of case studies, both presented in class and undertaken as student projects. In this regard, we can not overstate the importance of students participating in project work. One cannot learn to drive a car or to ride a bicycle by attending lectures or watching others doing it. One must do it oneself under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. Learning about systems approaches is learning a craft and as such the apprenticeship model is the appropriate mode of instruction.

This is a 13 page article by Bob Cannell on the wrongness of systems theory as a HR tool.

Some very good insights here in relation to decisions made in the education system. Here is a list of reasons people make bad decisions in complex systems:
  • Acting on instinct
  • Failure to anticipate-delayed effects
  • Focus on one aspect of a complex system
  • Failure to understand non-linear effects
  • Less analytical & reflective thinking as a problem worsens
  • Accidental reinforcement of undesired behavior
  • Failure to recognize internal feedback mechanisms and change over time (Spector, 2010; Sterman, 1994)
This PDF titled 'Systems Thinking Basics' should be useful, it has several student activities at the end.

Some fantastic resources here for planning lessons on systems thinking from the Creative Learning Exchange.

Systems Wiki.

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