Practical Systems Thinking


Credit Hours:


Learning Objective:

There are five key learning outcomes for this course:
1. Learning about group project team formation, operation, and evaluation
2. Learning and applying a collection of functionalist systems methods in a team environment
3. Learning and applying an interpretive systems method in a team environment
4. Learning and applying critical systems heuristics and soft systems methodology in a team environment
5. Developing written and oral communication products to present results


Engineers, social scientists, and managers frequently bring people and technology together to address complex problematic situations in an equitable way that benefits people and the environment. Multiple systems concepts and methods have been developed to address these situations, and typical courses in systems focus on a relatively small portion of the rich assortment of available approaches to addressing systems problems. This course introduces students to multiple systems concepts and methods via readings and class discussion. The students then apply these concepts and methods on team-based projects. The course will emphasize critical thinking about how the concepts and methods are applicable to the problematic situations of the projects and how well the project teams were able to perform the required activities.
Spring 2020 Syllabus

Topics Covered:

1.1. Course Introduction
1.2. Systems Thinking
2.1. General Group Methods
2.2. Group Projects in Online Learning
2.3. Project Team Formation
2.4. Project Team Peer Evaluation
3.1. Applied Systems Thinking
3.2. The Systems Language
3.3. System Modeling Concepts
4.1. Concept Generation
4.2. Concept Selection
1.1. The Viable System Model Applied to For-Profit and Not-For-Profit Organizations
1.2. The Viable System Model Applied to Education and Healthcare
6.1. Soft Systems Methodology
6.2. Critical Systems Heuristics


Graduate students and undergraduate students with Upper Division standing from all majors are welcome.

Applied / Theory:

80 / 20

Web Address:


Homework will be submitted via Brightspace


The first round of project work will provide practice applying the functionalist systems methods to pre-defined, instructor-supplied problem situation of a single provider of a single-system, technology-based product or service that meets the needs of a segment of society in a manner that is equitable for the principal stakeholders. Projects for the second round of project work are proposed by student teams and approved by the instructor. The second round of project work initially will apply an interpretive systems approach to the situation of a community partner/sponsor who is part of a single large, complex organizational system that meets multiple needs of society in a manner that is equitable for the principal stakeholders. Next, the team will apply Soft Systems Methodology and Critical Systems Heuristics to a problematic situation identified jointly by the team and the community partner/sponsor based on the results of applying the interpretive systems approach and guidelines from the instructor. The situation should include multiple participants who have different needs that must be accommodated to meet a societal need in a manner that is equitable for the principal stakeholders.


The course has no exams.


Official textbook information is now listed in the Schedule of Classes. NOTE: Textbook information is subject to be changed at any time at the discretion of the faculty member. If you have questions or concerns please contact the academic department.

Computer Requirements:

Written text software (e.g. Word) and Brightspace are the only necessary tools.

Other Requirements:

This course will also use WebEx

ProEd Minimum Requirements: