GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 249-7
Presentation Time: 9:50 AM


LALLY, Diane and FORBES, Cory, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, 3310 Holdrege St, Lincoln, NE 68583

A critical element of science and environmental literacy is systems thinking. Learning how to reason about interactions within and between systems, the far-reaching effects of a system disruptions, and the dynamic nature of systems are all critical outcomes for geoscience learning. However, students need support to develop systems thinking skills in undergraduate geoscience classrooms. While systems thinking-focused instruction has the potential to benefit student learning, gaps exist in our understanding of undergraduate students’ systems thinking about Earth systems, particularly their metacognitive evaluation of their own reasoning. To address this need, we have designed, implemented, refined, and studied an introductory-level, interdisciplinary course focused on coupled human-water, or sociohydrologic, systems. Data for this study comes from three consecutive iterations of the course and involves both student generated system models and written explanations for a sociohydrologic issue (n=143). To analyze this data, we applied an operationalization rubric to the written responses and counted themed features of the drawn models. An analysis of the written explanations reveals that students were most effectively able to operationalize their systems thinking surrounding problem identification (M=2.21 SD=0.75) as compared to unintended consequences (M=1.43, SD=1.10). Student-generated systems thinking models focused most strongly on system components (M=11.44, SD=4.09) as compared to related mechanisms (M=9.04, SD=7.91) or patterns (M=2.90, SD=2.34). Mechanisms is correlated with both the components, r(139)=.44, p<0.05, and patterns, r(139)=.19, p<0.05, included in their models. This indicates that as students included more mechanisms in their model, they also included more components and patterns. Overall, as students’ model scores (M=25.73, SD=13.58) increased, their written description score increased, as well (M=8.39, SD=3.17), t(142)=-15.40, p<0.05. Qualitative analysis of student evaluation of the limitations of their systems thinking models revealed themes including: scope/scale of the model, temporal limitations, and specific components/mechanisms/patterns. These findings have implications for supporting systems thinking in undergraduate geoscience classrooms.