Instructor Materials: Overview of the Systems Thinking Module
Module Summative Assessment:
- identifying the parts of a system and explaining how the parts interact,
- developing skills to model complex systems using data and examples relevant to the course, and
- applying a systems approach to evaluate a societal challenge.
Imagine it is some months from now and you have applied for a job as an ocean science writer for a new popular science magazine called Our Changing Ocean. In the interview, the editor asks you:
"People say 'everything is connected,' but I rarely get specific examples. Will you convince me of the connectedness and complexity of the ocean?"
Write what you would say in response by picking any three seemingly unrelated concepts from this course and relating them in the the context of human interaction with the ocean. Be sure to use systems thinking language and specific examples.
As an introduction to the terminology of systems, this unit should be used early in a course. The unit focuses on a simple conceptual model to introduce the tools of systems thinking, uses a real-world example of a complex societal problem for practice, and offers easily adapted alternatives.
Early in a course, students will work collaboratively to create and revise an Earth systems diagram. Building on that experience, students will use photographs to represent a system from their daily lives.
This unit introduces systems modeling, which allows system components to be quantified and manipulated to demonstrate system response. Students use a simple systems model of a bathtub to explore the effect of flow rates on system equilibrium.
Feedbacks are a critical part of many systems. In this unit, students use a systems model to explore the effect of positive (reinforcing) and negative (balancing) feedbacks on system behavior. Model results are then used as a basis for interpreting Arctic sea ice data.
Relatively late in the course, students revise their systems diagrams from Unit 2, based on their expanded knowledge of that system and experience with systems thinking.
This simple in-class exercise is an alternative to standard review sessions and is a way to model the "big-picture thinking" students need to do when thinking about systems. In a round-robin of pairings, students review course content while making connections between components of the course.
Making the Module Work
To adapt all or part of the Systems Thinking module for your classroom, you will also want to read through
- Instructor Stories, which detail how the Systems Thinking module was adapted for use at three different institutions, as well as our guide to
- Adapting InTeGrate Modules and Courses for Your Classroom, which outlines how to effectively use InTeGrate modules and courses.