2. Tech as human endeavour & Systems Thinking

The problems we have created in the world today will not be solved by the level of thinking that created them

Albert Einstein 



Technology as Human Endeavour










Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking makes it possible to analyse and understand complex phenomena.

Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organisations, such as schools or classrooms, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organisation "healthy" or "unhealthy".

Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events. Systems thinking is not however one thing but a set of habits or practices[ within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. This approach to systems thinking focuses on cyclical or repeating rather than linear cause and effect.

A system is an organised group of related objects or components that form a whole. Systems thinking is a holistic approach to the identification and solving of problems where the focal points are treated as components of a system, and their interactions and interrelationships are analysed individually to see how they influence the functioning of the entire system.

In Design and Technologies the success of designed solutions includes the generation of ideas and decisions made throughout design processes. It requires students to understand systems and work with complexity, uncertainty and risk. Students recognise the connectedness of and interactions between people, places and events in local and wider world contexts and consider the impact their designs and actions have in a connected world.

Participating in and shaping the future of information and digital systems is an integral part of learning in Digital Technologies. Understanding the complexity of systems and the interdependence of components is necessary to create timely solutions to technical, economic and social problems. Implementation of digital solutions often has consequences for the people who use and engage with the system, and may introduce unintended costs or benefits that impact the present or future society.

Systems

The structure, properties, behaviour and interactivity of people and components (inputs, processes and outputs) within and between natural, managed, constructed and digital environments.

Systems Thinking

A holistic approach to the identification and solving of problems where parts and components of a system, their interactions and interrelationships are analysed individually to see how they influence the functioning of the whole system. This approach enables students to understand systems and work with complexity, uncertainty and risk.

Defining Systems

The several ways to think of and define a system include:

  • A system is composed of parts;
  • All the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly), else there are really two or more distinct systems;
  • A system is encapsulated, has a boundary to make it distinct from other systems;
  • A system can be nested inside another system;
  • A system can overlap with another system both sharing parts;
  • A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment; and
  • A system consists of processes that change inputs into outputs.
















 

Bicycle Brake Example

An example of systems thinking would be understanding a problem with a bicycle not braking fast enough. Rather than trying to improve the brake by looking in great detail at the material composition of the brake pads (a reductionist approach), the boundary of the braking system may be extended to include the interactions between the:

  • brake pads; 
  • brake leavers;
  • cables;
  • cyclist reaction time;
  • tires;
  • road conditions;
  • weather conditions;
  • time of day; etc.

By considering the various systems involved, innovative solutions to the problem may emerge that may not have been thought of when considering just the aspect that is seemingly the most relevant.



Unintended Consequences

Sometimes design solutions have unintended outcomes, these can be positive such as an unforeseen use for a product, but can also be a negative outcome such as an environmental impact.

Bird Feeder Dilemma










The importance of systems thinking by looking at decisions made without considering systems

Systems thinking can also be described as the process of understanding how a group of interacting, interrelated, interdependent components influence each other within the whole. Rather than viewing each problem as an independent entity, it must be considered in the context of its relationship to other parts of the system. Systems thinking teaches students how to solve problems, communicate, use data, and design policies for greater success.

By making or modifying a model and plugging in data, students can almost immediately see the influence of their choices. This type of interactive learning is the key to engaging their interests.

When playing computer games, students make decisions for the characters based on noticeable patterns. For example, in Nintendo’s Mario Kart, players drive on a race track and try to avoid falling. Every time they leave the path, they slow down or crash into the wall. Also, many things may change the behavior of the players or the characters throughout the race. For example, by driving into a multicolored box, they might encounter a Super Mushroom that acts as a speed boost. Players can even change the behavior of their opponents by putting obstacles such as banana peels in their way to slow them down. A video game that is well-designed is like a system with interacting and interrelated parts that influence one another.


The following is not included in the course quizzes

Modelling Examples


Flu Outbreak in your School Simulation




Platform Wars: Simulating the Battle for Video Game Supremacy
https://forio.com/simulate/mit/video-game



Tools to build models



Grade 1 students use Systems Thinking to explore bullying negative reinforcement cycles








Considering schools as systems and using school systems to teach systems thinking




Stone Soup

The Waterhole




Stock Room Linear Trend Simulation




Rats of Nimh
http://watersfoundation.org/webed/mod4/downloads/story-excerpt.pdf



Making Friends Causal Loop Activity




Be Nice to Spiders Causal Loop Activity




Air Pollution





Simulations

Simulations are computer models of systems in which inputs can be changed to see different outputs.

The In-and-Out Game

Students explore what happens to the number of people on a subway car over time as they enter and exit at constant rates. Students complete a series of challenges, see resulting trends, and transfer understanding to other similar systems.

In and Out Game Simulation


The Tree Game

Students explore what happens to the number of trees in a forest over time as a forester plants and a lumberjack harvests a certain number of trees each year. While playing the game, the class tracks the number of trees over time. Students can see trends and discuss what's happening to the forest and why, connecting it to real-world needs and desires for lumber and paper products. They can then run and discuss a second scenario that shows how that trend can be reversed.

The Tree Game Simulation

Infection Game

Students explore what happens to the number of people "infected" over time. Infections can include the spread of an illness, the spread of a good idea, or the spread of kindness. Students can share other ideas during the conversation. Instruction can focus on health concerns, classroom culture, and/or mathematical patterns produced.

Infection Game Simulation

Making Friends

Students explore what happens to the number of friends over time, given different scenarios for gaining new friends. Students can also explore what might happen if they lose friends. Instruction can focus on social aspects of making friends, the mathematical patterns produced given different scenarios, or on both of these areas.

Making Friends Simulation

Thinking About Drinking: What are the effects of drinking alcohol?

See what happens over time to one’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (or BAC) following the consumption of alcohol. This “system” involves three stages or flows: alcohol first enters the stomach, then is absorbed into the body, and finally is expelled. Each stage involves different amounts of time that are influenced by a number of personal characteristics.

Thinking About Drinking Simulation

Behind Closed Gates: Potential dynamics when one group or individual is given complete control over another

This lesson with accompanying simulation is loosely based on an experiment that was conducted at Stanford University in 1971. Phillip Zimbardo wanted to see how typical people would act if they were asked to take on roles of prisoners and prison guards for a two-week period. The experiment was stopped after only six days because of escalating, abusive behavior of the guards and concerns about the well-being of the prisoners. In the simulation, students take on the role of a social scientist, trying to understand how a similar situation (with guards having complete control over prisoners) can create specific human responses, such as fear, repression, and resistance. They can then compare this situation to a host of other similar situations, fictional or real.

Behind Closed Gates Simulation


More MakeyMakey examples


Assessment

Details of assessment can be found on the Learning@Griffith website under Assessment.
Of particular note is that some assessment occurs during tutorials in Weeks 2, 4 and 6.


Tutorial

Discussion: In what ways has technology changed society?

Discussion: What benefits can students gain from Systems Thinking?

Discussion: How do stock, flow and feedback contribute to Systems Thinking?

Discussion: How do simulations help develop Systems Thinking?

Completion Activity 1 (assessed):

Complete at least 4 of the following simulation activities, through to explaining the Causal Loops, Flow Maps and Connection Circles. 

Activity - complete In-and-Out simulation
Students explore what happens to the number of people on a subway car over time as they enter and exit at constant rates.


Discussion - Discuss the resulting trends, and how this system may be similar to other systems

Activity - complete the Tree simulation

Students explore what happens to the number of trees in a forest over time as a forester plants and a lumberjack harvests a certain number of trees each year. While playing the game, the class tracks the number of trees over time. Students can see trends

Discussion -  Discuss what's happening to the forest and why, connecting it to real-world needs and desires for lumber and paper products. Students can then run and discuss the second scenario that shows how the trend can be reversed.


Activity - complete the Infection simulation

Students explore what happens to the number of people "infected" over time. Infections can include the spread of an illness, the spread of a good idea, or the spread of kindness. 

Discussion - Discuss other things that could spread (e.g. health concerns, classroom culture, mathematical patterns)


Activity - complete the Making Friends simulation

Students explore what happens to the number of friends over time, given different scenarios for gaining new friends. Students can also explore what might happen if they lose friends. Instruction can focus on social aspects of making friends, the mathematical patterns produced given different scenarios, or on both of these areas.



Activity - complete the Thinking About Drinking simulation.

What are the effects of drinking alcohol? See what happens over time to one’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (or BAC) following the consumption of alcohol. This “system” involves three stages or flows: alcohol first enters the stomach, then is absorbed into the body, and finally is expelled. Each stage involves different amounts of time that are influenced by a number of personal characteristics.


Activity - Behind Closed Gates: Potential dynamics when one group or individual is given complete control over another

This simulation is loosely based on an experiment that was conducted at Stanford University in 1971. Phillip Zimbardo wanted to see how typical people would act if they were asked to take on roles of prisoners and prison guards for a two-week period. The experiment was stopped after only six days because of escalating, abusive behavior of the guards and concerns about the well-being of the prisoners. In the simulation, students take on the role of a social scientist, trying to understand how a similar situation (with guards having complete control over prisoners) can create specific human responses, such as fear, repression, and resistance. They can then compare this situation to a host of other similar situations, fictional or real.


Completion Activity 2 (assessed):

Create your own Causal Loops, Flow Maps and Connection Circles for a simulation of your choice, be prepared to share this with your tutorial group. You should have at least five causal loops.

Start your design on paper, drawing a Flow Map or using a Connection Circle to generate your causal loops, you can then try and simulate this on the computer if you have time using https://insightmaker.com/


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