Strategic, Futures & Systems Thinking
I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.Socrates
In addition to teaching students the content of the Technologies curriculum, you will also guide the development of a range of Thinking Skills. These are are mental processes we use to do things like: solve problems, make decisions, ask questions, construct plans, evaluate ideas, organise information and create objects. Thinking Skills are often differentiated into Lower-order thinking skills such as remembering, understanding and applying; and Higher-order thinking such as critical thinking, analysis, evaluation, creativity and problem solving.
Through their study of the learning areas, students will develop a wide range of thinking skills. In the Technologies learning area we focus on three main thinking skills: Systems, Computational and Design Thinking, supported by Strategic (including skills such as entrepreneurship, project management, and creativity) and Futures Thinking.
This week we will be exploring Strategic, Futures and Systems Thinking.
In PBL, it is the process, the attempt, rather than the solution that is important.
There are many examples of student project solutions that have resulted in students starting their own companies, making scientific and technological breakthroughs, or starting social movements.
Student competitions such as the Young ICT Explorers, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup and Google’s Science Fair provide good examples of the potential of student projects to make a difference in the world, but again, it is the attempt as much as the solution that makes a difference in the student.
To build student capability to develop xProblems and xSolutions, there are a wide range of techniques to develop their ability to be creative, and to come up with original ideas (if only to themselves), that have value.
- Linking (word association);
- Black Boxing (inputs and outputs to a problem);
- Parallels (looking at similar past solutions);
- Variation (by focusing on a single aspect and changing just it); and
- Additive Examples (through combinations of solutions).
These can be supported by visualisation tools, from organising post it notes or hexagons, to charting tools such as mind and concept maps, SWOT analysis, Brainstorming and Brainwriting, Thinking Hats, or TRIZ.
Creativity is a process, techniques and tools can assist, but generally students will need to go through 5 stages:
- preparation that focuses their mind on the problem and explores the problem's dimensions;
- incubation, where the problem is internalised into the unconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening;
- intimation, where the student gets a "feeling" of a solution on its way;
- illumination or insight - where the creative idea bursts forth from its preconscious processing into conscious awareness; and
- verification - where the idea is consciously considered, verified, elaborated, and then articulated.
Teacher planning should not expect students to have creative insight instantaneously.
While we can do many things to encourage creativity, we can also inhibit it through encouraging a fear of failure, because failure lies at the very heart of the creative process. Students must be resilient enough to let go of ideas, accept criticism, and start again when necessary. They should be prepared to fail, a lot, and understand that this is not a negative, but part of the creative process.
Students should learn to be constantly trying to spot failure, fail early and be ready to recover from failure at various stages of the project.
Perfectionism can result in stagnation, where students do not progress because they keep looking for the perfect outcome of each stage of a project. This is particularly important in real world iPBL where there is never a perfect solution, and any solution that students develop, no matter how good, will always have areas for improvement.
Developing solutions without a guaranteed process of achieving full success is challenging for students who have been most successful in traditional schooling, where they are used to identifying and responding with the one correct solution required by their teachers. These students will require support in engaging with open ended project based learning.
Entrepreneurship is traditionally seen as innovators, starting up new businesses, assuming risks and rewards instead of becoming an employee, and failing often, but sometime achieving spectacular business success.
Different type of entrepreneurship can include:
- Business entrepreneurs who work to develop successful start-up businesses;
- Creative entrepreneurs work to produce creative works;
- Social entrepreneurs work to achieve community or social benefit;
- Knowledge entrepreneurs work to produce new knowledge; and
- Institutional entrepreneurs work within established businesses, often in independent think tanks or special project groups.
Entrepreneurship is fundamentally about creating a preferred future.
Effectuation is another name for entrepreneurial thinking - the processes of opportunity identification and new venture creation, and has 5 key principles:
Bird in the Hand Principle
Not starting with a goal or problem, but with what students have - who they are, what they know, what they can do, what they can learn to do, who they know, and what resources they have. This is their entrepreneurial capital.
Affordable Loss Principle
Is not focusing on what they will gain or achieve, but what they are prepared to lose, and how they can minimise this. How much time they are prepared to commit, the social costs in team formation, or the risks to their reputation of failure.
Crazy Quilt Principle
Involves cooperating with those you can trust, not keeping xSolution ideas secret, or trying to do everything themselves, xProblems and xSolutions may change as entrepreneurial capital expands by including the entrepreneurial capital of others, but ideas are plentiful, it is entrepreneurial capital where value lies, for this turns ideas into solutions, and this increases with partners.
Surprises can be good and open up new opportunities, but only if students are always looking for them - and willing to change plans to respond to them.
The Pilot in the Plane Principle
The future cannot always be predicted - but students can influence some of the factors that determine the future, rather than just responding to a future that is influenced by others.
Entrepreneurs do not find a problem, and search for means to solve it. Using effectuation principles, they start with the entrepreneurial capital they have and from this point, look at possible problems to solve or exploit. Remembering that problems are not always negatives - they can be opportunities.
Entrepreneurial students measure themselves not by what they have achieved in the past, but by visions of what they may achieve in the future. They develop capital in knowledge and skills - with new technologies, programming languages, concepts, thinking skills, the strengths and weaknesses of potential team members, teachers, and external contacts that may be able to help them in solving problems.
Entrepreneurial students also gain in understanding, from their expanding world view, of the problems that exist to solve, and the opportunities these present. Each new year, provides opportunities for students to look at their capital and explore what problems may be solved with it, and this is the fundamental point of iPBL, it permits student to find their own problems to solve, based on their entrepreneurial capital, while ePBL simply requires students to find the means of solving problems set by teachers.
Teaching iPBL involves helping students increase their capital - through new knowledge, learning about a new concept, building the resources that students can draw upon, and expanding their entrepreneurial capital.
Building student entrepreneurial capital can be done through various pedagogical techniques, but it is in iPBL where students can apply it, and develop and use their entrepreneurial thinking most effectively.
Students can progress on a continuum from ePBL to iPBL.
A range of approaches are available:
- single xProblem chosen by the teacher, for all students or teams to solve;
- assign or permit choice from a range of xProblems;
- students could generate an xProblem for all students or teams to complete;
- students could generate a range of xProblems and then choose which xProblem team to join; or
- teams or individuals could generate their own xProblems.
Opportunities should exist for students to develop project management, collaboration, moonshot thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship.
Choices can be guided through provided resources, stories, movies, presentations, lectures, excursions, class activities, or mini projects, guiding student towards problems that may integrate with other learning areas, utilise ICT resources available, or address requirements of the Digital Technologies curriculum.
iPBL should permit students to draw upon an increasing breadth and depth of ICT and other entrepreneurial capital upon which they can draw upon to select and solve xProblems.
Students should learn to identify the entrepreneurial opportunities they have available to solve problems.
Students should learn how to plan and managing the resources available to complete projects, creating and adhering to timeline, and managing human resources through project teams, and equipment such as hardware, software and internet access.
Team selection and human resource management is an important and delicate part of the PBL process.
Integration of Digital Technologies projects with other Learning Areas can greatly increase the time available for projects.
Students may gain access to resources by convincing teachers, parents, school leadership, P&C, local businesses, etc. to support their projects, producing budgets, funding proposals, and investor presentations.
Futures Thinking involves students deliberately considering the future as they would prefer it to be.
Students should develop an understanding that there can be a range of possible futures.
Students should understand that xProblems may prevent their preferred future coming about but that xSolutions may help to bring about their preferred future.
Students should develop the ability to differentiate between predictions as informed guesses about what might happen, and probability as the specific chance of a prediction happening or not.
Students should be able to differentiate between science fiction and reality (science faction), and the process by which ideas envisaged as science fiction may become reality through problem solving.
Environmental scans (researching) of the xProblem students have chosen to address, involves making a list of data and information sources and finding out what is known about the problem from newspapers, books, internet, friends, other students, teachers, their family, local community, or experts in the problem.
Students should develop an understand the power of data in making decisions, identifying what data is available about their problem, and what data is not available (the gaps), and how they can collect their own data on the problem to address these gaps.
Data sources for student Environment Scans should be as varied as possible to develop as complete an understanding of their xProblem as possible, and increasingly involve access to digital data collections, and an appreciation of the advantages to society and organisations in appropriately sharing data, but also when it is inappropriate to make data openly available, and the privacy risks involved in the sharing of personal data.
To be useful data needs to be turned into information so that it can be managed and analysed.
Trends in data collected about xProblems can be represented can be made evident through the use of tools to organise data such as the use of images, wordles, tables, graphs, infographics and other data visualisations.
Students should develop an understanding of how the power of digital technologies increases our ability to collect, manage and analyse data.
Students should progress from representing the same data in different ways on paper in F-2 through to using simple spreadsheets and data tables in 3-6, then to designing and developing information systems in 7-8, and in 9-10, developing online, shared information systems to link live dynamic data sources that are automated and constantly updated.
In F-4 trend data may be collected from friends, family, etc. while for 6-10, exploring xProblems that increase in scale, scope, and timeframe, students should access historical records, online data banks, survey real world communities, and make contact with experts in the xProblem being explored.
Trends are generally seen in data collected over time, such as Climate data, Microchip capabilities, population, etc. but can also exist in other areas such as Fashion and Design. But trends can also occur around the sharing of ideas, memes, news and video e.g. on Twitter, Google, and Youtube.
Once enough data has been collected, it can be extrapolated into the future by continuing the trend line on graphs past the current date. Trend Extrapolation can be linear, seasonal, and cyclical.
Forecasting is a process of predicting the future based on trend analysis, using historical data to determine a direction of future trends.
Preferred futures are the preferences students hold for the future and can be used to inform the creation and evaluation of solutions. Forecasting can be a multi-staged process.
Futures Wheels can be used to structure the forecasting process, starting in the middle with the trend or event associated with their problem, students surround this with possible outcomes that are the result of this trend continuing, and then on the basis of these outcomes, what else may happen if the trend further continues, building out the consequences of trends in concentric circles.
With the futures wheel developed, it should be possible to look around the circumference and indicate which of these future outcomes students would most like to see occur, which they would least like to see occur, and the ones they think might be most likely to occur.
Students should consider the possible consequences and sustainability of the solutions that they develop for their xProblems.
Forecasting is most useful in developing solutions to solvable challenges - ones that we understand well, and know how to solve, but which require an understanding of the trends involved.
Forecasts should strive to be:
• Plausible: Logical, consistent and believable;
• Relevant: Highlighting key challenges and dynamics of the future;
• Divergent: Different from each other in strategically significant ways; and
• Challenging: Questioning fundamental beliefs and assumptions.
Forecasts lead to many different possible futures which students can select from and develop into scenarios, or stories, of what might occur.
Scenarios should develop narratives that follow the trends developed in the students’ futures wheel.
It is usual to develop best case, the worst case, and most likely case (which is usually somewhere between the best and worst cases) to best understand what may occur.
Students should see scenario development as part of a process where they able to bring about their preferred future.
Scenarios are particularly useful in solving Difficult Challenges, those that are well understood but for which solutions are elusive because of the time, determination, or complexity of steps needed to achieve them.
Scenarios provide a framework to develop students understanding of sustainability. Supporting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to support their needs.
Sustainability can be economic, environmental or social, and each will be an important consideration as students develop xSolutions to their xProblems.
Emerging Issues Analysis (EIA) is where innovations such as an xTechnology are extrapolated through scenarios to explore how such new technologies may change the future. This can also be applied to social trends and other innovations - social networking, medical advances or trends such as gamification.
Students should be encouraged to expand their perspectives, and those of their team members, to bring together as wide a view of the future as they can, and explore how these different elements interact.
Students should always try to back up their predictions with trends developed from the data they have collected. Where sufficient data exists, students should explore the uses digital technologies such as what-if and goal seeking tools in MS Excel, to analyse various possible futures based on this data.
Forecasting and scenarios are very useful in exploring what may happen but less so in determining how to make these future possibilities occur.
This is especially true for wicked problems, ones that we don’t understand, and where starting from where we are has not led to solutions.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” - Albert Einstein
Backcasting is a process of deconstructing the narratives developed for scenarios, and developing the steps required to bring such scenarios about.
Backcasting is a method in which the preferred future is envisioned and then the steps defined to attain it, rather than taking steps that are a continuation of present methods extrapolated into the future.
Backcasting uses the digital technologies process of decomposition in which large complex problems are broken down to the point at which they become understood and manageable.
When students are unable to identify a process to go from the present to a preferred future scenario, by breaking the process down into simpler, and simpler steps, until ways of moving between each step is achievable, a solution to otherwise intractable problems may be found.
Tables, graphs, infographics, and live data ‘dashboards’ can help students represent and better understanding how changes to some data affect others, and how collections of data can show relationships between data.
Futures thinking, seeing the world as it may be, rather than it is, and being empowered to change it, is an important skill for students to develop so that they are able to conceptualise xProblems and xSolution.
Students need to understand that:
• there is more than one possible future, and that they can help make the one they want come about;
• that probability gives us the chance of something happening, but predications are informed guesses from a range of possible outcomes;
• that Trends in data about problems can help us see what has occurred, and by extrapolating this data into the future can help us see what may happen; and
• that Forecasts let us take trends, and consider what the world will be like if the best, worst, and most likely outcomes of such trends take place.
Students should be able to develop a futures wheel of possible trend outcomes and use this to make informed predictions about the future and how such predictions can assist in solving xProblems.
Students should appreciate that there are different approaches to describing the future, and which one is used, can depend on the difficulty of the xProblem involved.
• Solvable challenges, those that we know how to solve - often use Forecasting to highlight different approaches to solving the problem.
• Difficult problems, that we know how to solve, but have not, generally because of their difficulty, often use Scenarios to better understand the problem and why it has not been solved; and
• Wicked problems, those that we do not know how to solve can make use of Backcasting to break down the steps need to solve the problem until they are manageable.
Collectively, these approaches provide students with a set of tools in which to better understand what may occur as the result of the problem they are undertaking to solve, providing them with a better understanding of how the problem has been tackled in the past, and the steps that may be needed to develop an eventual solution to complex problems
While futures thinking looks at where the world is going in the long term, Systems Thinking looks at the world as it is now, and where it will go in the short term.
Systems Thinking is the opposite of decomposition, instead of isolating smaller and smaller parts of a system being studied, we expand our view, to incorporate larger and larger interactions.
In doing so students build up a model of the problem under study, and the various systems involved in the problem.
Models of the world will always be inaccurate, as we do not have full understanding of the world and people we base our models on.
Systems thinking however, is an explicit process of trying to broaden the model we have of a particular problem, and in doing so, it permits students to approach problems in new ways.
Teaching students’ systems thinking provides an opportunity to develop a range of data and information concept, including visualisation and simulation modelling, it also helps students to engage with complexity, uncertainty and risk when considering their problems.
Systems can involve structures, properties, behaviour and interactivity of people and components (their inputs, processes and outputs) and it can be within and between natural, managed, constructed and digital environments.
Children will often think of the properties of a system as belonging to the individual parts of it, rather than arising from the interaction of these parts. But by considering the different uses we can put a system to, students can then consider the properties of different subsystems, but also consider how a system can fit into larger systems.
By thinking of the world as a series of interconnected systems, students can start to see how changing one system will impact on others, and that the problems they are addressing may be the result of failures in subsystems quite removed from the obvious system related to the problem.
Change Over Time
Systems change by their very nature, and understanding this change over time is a fundamental aspect of systems thinking.
Students will have many personal experiences of thing changing over time and they can collect this data and represent it using graphs, infographics, and in databases.
• aspects that change over time;
• how these changed over time;
• the period the change occurred; and
• if the change is constant, increasing, decreasing or fluctuating.
Once graphed many of these aspects will become obvious, and students can consider what may have caused any changes in direction or slope, they can also consider what may happen in the future – extrapolating the change and developing trends.
If several things to do with their problem are changing, they can explore the relationships between different graphs - the interdependencies or causal relationships.
Students should develop an understanding that systems are dynamic, changing, and changing other systems and subsystem continuously. This makes understanding any particular system, related to the problem they are trying to solve, more difficult, but digital technologies can assist in this, one of the most powerful uses for digital technologies is in simulating aspects of the world - we do this in finance, weather prediction, science, computer games, and many educational applications. Students can use digital technologies to create their own models of the real world, and the systems they are trying to understand in order to solve their problem.
Stock and Flow models
Stocks are the foundation of any system - they are what you can see, feel, count or measure - but they do not have to be physical.
In system models, stocks can be things such as water in reservoirs or a bathtub, money, air quality, animal populations, human populations, but can also include immaterial things such as confidence, fear, patience or hope - as long as they can be measured and change.
Change can result in stocks increasing, decreasing, or oscillating up and down.
Change in stock over time is through the action of a flow within a system, for example in a bathtub, we have an inflow through a faucet, and an outflow through a drain. If the flow in is greater than the flow out, the stock will increase, if less, then the stock of water in the tub will decrease.
Stock and flow can be used to understand many systems, including those in stories and other learning areas. Flow models are used to represent and better understand what is occurring over time.
Stock and flow models can be used to identify the loops formed when changes in stock change the flow in and out of that same stock, and do so in two forms:
• Balancing: in which a feedback loop acts to try and keep a stock within a certain range; and
• Reinforcing: where the stock can increase or decrease exponentially.
Simple Feedback loops can be seen in many real world problems.
World population, avalanches, Epidemics, rumours, fads, interest rates, confidence, soil fertility, predator-prey systems, exercise, supply and demand, fire management, cruise control.
Feedback loops can be connected together and interact.
There are two types of feedback loops: balancing and reinforcing.
More complex loops can have several steps in the cycle.
A loop can be identified as reinforcing or balancing by counting the number of negative connections, if it is an odd number - it will be a balancing loop, otherwise a reinforcing loop.
Stock flow diagrams can become quite complex, and involve many loops.
Connection circle are an alternative way of identifying feedback loops.
Stock flow maps are the most involved, and provide detailed understanding of the changes involved.
Connection circles can be created much quicker, but may only provide a basic understanding.
Connection circles are formed by identifying and placing around the circumference, all of the elements involved in a system. Then arrowed lines are drawn showing how elements affect one another, with + and - labels for positive and negative effects. From this, loops can be identified, and feedback or causal loops generated.
Using these two techniques, stock flow maps, and connection circles, students should be able to quickly generate causal feedback loops to better understand the systems that they are exploring related their problems.
Feedback loops allow students to identify those aspects of the system they are exploring that can be improved or changed by the use of digital technologies and approach solutions to their xProblems in ways not previously considered.
Causal loops provide a useful visualisation of dynamic systems, and systems described by causal loops can be modelled as dynamic simulations.
Simulations allow students to model real world processes over time, and gain greater insight into problems than static models can provide - especially in the interactions between systems.
Simulation models can be used by students to make predictions of what will occur in their models before running them, and comparing predictions vs model results.
Simulation modelling can help students understand the complexity of the real world, and support the development of students’ system thinking - where they can see and understand the various interconnected systems involved in any real world problem, and seek out the ways in which they can develop solutions to such problem by understanding that their solutions will change one or more elements of the system.
Systems Thinking provides another way in which students can view the world, and address problems in new ways.
By students seeing problems as part of a system, or more likely several interrelated systems, they can then develop an understanding of how these systems work, the stocks and flows involved, the causal relationships between such elements, and then model and simulate the system to explore how changes in the variables in the system effect the problem they are exploring.
Students should recognise that no system model will be entirely accurate, as it cannot replicate the fill complexity of the real world, but it still can provide insight into the problem and how changes to the system could be brought about, as a solution to the problem.
Attend the tutorial to further explore the concepts presented this week and practice teaching them.
Provide Feedback on Lesson Plans
In tutorial small groups you will provide feedback on the lesson plans shared this week.
Submit a brief summary of the feedback you received and provided during the tutorial by the next tutorial. You can use dot points. It counts 0.5% towards your Log of Learning Activities.
Digital Technologies Activity
In tutorial this week we will be exploring the use of a range of Futures Thinking techniques to better understand a problem or develop opportunities.
Digital Technologies Activities
Design and Technologies Activity
In tutorial this week we will be exploring the use of a range of Systems Thinking techniques to better understand a problem or develop opportunities.
Design & Technologies Activities
Preparation for Week 5
Create two lessons plans, one for Design & Technologies and one for Digital Technologies. You will share these in tutorial next week and conduct simulated teaching of your lessons. Together, these count 1% to your Log of Learning Activities if submitted before the start of next weeks tutorial.
Digital Technologies Lesson Plan
In tutorial small groups you will share the Digital Technologies lesson plan you have developed for next week.
Submit your Digital Technologies lesson plan developed for the Week 5 tutorial by the start of next weeks tutorial. It counts 0.5% towards your Log of Learning Activities.
Design and Technologies Lesson Plan
In tutorial small groups you will share the Design and Technologies lesson plan you have developed for next week.
Submit your Design and Technologies lesson plan developed for the Week 5 tutorial by the start of next weeks tutorial. It counts 0.5% towards your Log of Learning Activities.