For the InstructorThese student materials complement the Systems Thinking Instructor Materials. If you would like your students to have access to the student materials, we suggest you either point them at the Student Version which omits the framing pages with information designed for faculty (and this box). Or you can download these pages in several formats that you can include in your course website or local Learning Managment System. Learn more about using, modifying, and sharing InTeGrate teaching materials.
Systems thinking is often described as "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
In order to approach complex problems of the future, students today need to develop the ability to see beyond cause-and-effect relationships to the interconnected nature of real-world systems. More and more, employers are seeking systems thinkers, and with good reason. To address climate change resilience, water and food security, clean energy, health care, and other societal grand challenges, we need to be able to consider the interactions within and between natural, engineered, socioeconomic, and political systems.
This module is designed to get you started on an important long-term journey — to be able to understand and describe complex systems that you encounter in your studies and in the world around you. Learning to think about complex systems is a skill developed over months and years; this module will provide you with an introduction that you can build on in the future. You will find that systems thinking is a skill that you will carry forward from this course into other courses, research projects, and other aspects of your life.
This module includes an introduction to both systems diagramming and systems modeling. Systems diagramming is a useful method for conceptualizing, mapping, and understanding relationships between and among components of a system. Systems modeling allows exploration of the quantitative relationships in a system. To do this, we use the STELLA dynamical systems modeling software package, which is an icon-based platform that allows easy viewing and manipulation of model parameters. Additional reading on using STELLA can be found on the isee systems website, and tutorials are available on the community support site.
You have three options for accessing STELLA models (your instructor will tell you which to use):
- Download and install the free isee Player software available in Windows and Macintosh versions. Models can be run and output interpreted with Player.
- Purchase, download, and install STELLA software (more info) available in Windows and Macintosh versions. Models can be run and output interpreted with STELLA; models can also be modified, output saved, and shared with STELLA.
- Purchase, download, and install the STELLA Modeler for iPad software (also available from the Apple App Store). Models can be run and output interpreted with Modeler for iPad; models can also be modified, output saved, and shared with Modeler for iPad.
For Unit 4: Systems modeling feedback quick start (PowerPoint 639kB Jan4 17) has instructions on how to get started using Unit 4 models (Bathtub feedback model_Exp1 (Stella Model (v10 .stmx) 8kB Jan4 17) and Bathtub feedback model_Exp2 (Stella Model (v10 .stmx) 5kB Jun21 16)).
To get you started in your study of complex systems, here is a Systems Thinking Glossary (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Dec5 14); Systems Thinking Glossary (Acrobat (PDF) 93kB Jun21 16) that you will see used in many contexts. It includes common words and phrases that are used by scientists when discussing complex systems, as well as the terminology used in the STELLA software.