When Benjamin Turner was studying agribusiness as an undergraduate, he struggled with explanations and investigations of agricultural systems that assumed high levels of control. “The approach was very quantitative and reductionist,” says Turner. “The idea was that you could eliminate exogenous variables, get down to the things you can control, and then predict costs, revenue, and the value of the product in the market.”
But there aren’t many meaningful points of control in agricultural systems. “Agriculture is based on soils, plants, animals, and climate,” says Turner, “and you can’t control many variables across those elements.”
That’s why an Introduction to Systems Thinking course delivered by Michael Goodman of Innovation Associates Organizational Learning at the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management was so appealing to Turner. “Systems Thinking adds a qualitative aspect to the linkages between plants, animals, soils, and the environment,” says Turner. “Models help us identify the few points of control that actually do exist and have leverage through the system.”
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Each semester, David Wheat teaches macroeconomics to 25 undergraduate students. They’re in Virginia. He’s in Bergen, Norway, where he's also teaching system dynamics to 50 graduate students. Distance learning technology enables him to teach in two places at the same time.
Distance learning certainly isn’t new. For years, instructors around the world have been using webinars, videos, Skype, and other technologies to connect with their students. Wheat has been at it for more than a decade, but his approach is a little different. He delivers instruction via MacroLab, a system dynamics (SD) model of the US economy that he created using iThink from isee systems. “MacroLab serves as a virtual text book,” says Wheat. “Each part of the model can be used in conjunction with chapters from a traditional textbook. I don't expect the Virginia undergraduates to become modelers. I want them to use MacroLab as a transparent simulator to see how macroeconomic principles are expressed in relationships between variables that affect one another. For most students, it's also the first time they see how the various macro textbook chapters relate to one another.”
Each year, Education in Bergen (Norway) and Springbrettet, a career organization, invite student teams from area universities to participate in Case Competition--a contest to develop the best solution to a real problem faced by a local company. This year, teams were challenged to solve the logistical and management challenges of relocating Aibel AS, a leading energy service company with 5500 employees.
Teams are given two weeks to define problems, develop solutions, and present their ideas to the judges. This year’s Case Competition award of 20,000 Norwegian kroner (about $3,500) went to a team from the University of Bergen. SD graduate students Aklilu Tadesse and Melak Ayenew and organizational behavior students Hasan Baniamin and Mizanur Rahmand developed an iThink model that specified a problem, simulated a solution, and communicated their thinking.
“I would like to thank you and all my professors for introducing me to such an innovative tool,” Aklilu wrote to David Wheat (read A Virtual Economics System Teaches Students about the Real Economy). “This was entirely the students' initiative and beyond their course requirements," says Wheat. "I wasn’t even aware they were participating in the competition. Aklilu and Melak applied their SD skills and experience with iThink very effectively. Pål [Davidsen], Erling [Moxnes], and I are proud of their initiative and their success.” From Ethiopia, the two SD students are in the international master's degree program run by the System Dynamics Group in Bergen.
"Facilitating Systems Understanding:
Building Systems Thinking Capacity in Others"
Fridays beginning May 10, 2013
11:00 AM - Noon (EDT or Boston Time)
Learn to teach others about the value of Systems Thinking and how to apply it. This four-part web seminar series will provide STELLA and iThink users with practical tools to quickly communicate Systems Thinking concepts and build skills that facilitate systems understanding.
"Introduction to Dynamic Modeling with STELLA and iThink"
June 24-25, 2013
Colorado Springs, CO
Whether you are new to Systems Thinking or it's been a while since you've used the STELLA or iThink software, this two day workshop provides the most efficient way to come up to speed with the dynamic modeling approach. We'll draw upon years of real-world experience to help build your skills and facilitate modeling an issue of your own choosing.
To learn more or to register, email Anna Pippin at email@example.com or call (603) 448-4990.