Assessing Student Learning of Systems Thinking Concepts in an Online Education Module; Teachers and Technology Integration

Bedir, Alara, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Smith, Michael, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia

Education technology innovations can be seen as a defining element of the 21st century as it not only allows for knowledge to be widely accessible, but also enriches the development of technology associated skills. In an information packed world, it is critical for students and professionals in all disciplines to understand the foundational concepts of “systems thinking” and how holistic thinking strategies can be applied to navigate through any problem. The capstone team technical project created a short online module to analyze the effectiveness of online education platforms on the understanding of objective and metric formulation concepts of systems thinking. The research paper examines the organizational structure within educational administration and the response of the educators. The two topics are loosely coupled. The technical project examines online learning technology for stand-alone virtual education without any relationships to traditional classrooms while my research paper focuses on the educator perspective in incorporating technology within a physically instructed classroom.

Given the surge in online education as a result of advances in light weight, affordable technologies massive open online course platforms like Thinkific are popular and accessible mediums for disseminating information to the general public. With objectives and metrics driving many aspects of everyday life, it is important to know the systems thinking process behind them that drives the decisions on what defines objective success. With this background, the capstone team formulated two objectives. The first was to harness the power of online learning platforms to teach students about fundamental systems thinking concepts. The second was to assess the impact of learning systems thinking concepts online on student knowledge for students in both the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Virginia. 24 first year undergraduate students, half from the College and half from the Engineering School were recruited to participate in the study.

The participants were asked to complete a five-question pre-test, the module, and then the five-question post-test. Each of the five questions required the participants to demonstrate their knowledge of the main learning objectives identified in the module. These questions were then scored according to a rubric to provide data for analysis. The hypothesis tested whether students learned from the module, and the statistically significant results conclude that the students did learn from the online module.

Technological innovations continue to diffuse into every aspect of everyday life, and classrooms are no exception. A classroom may appear modern with screens and apps for students and teachers, but it is important that those technologies are integrated completely with full confidence of the educator. The Science, Technology and Society research paper examines the role of educator resistance and administrative leadership communications that determine the success of education technology integration. The research is supported with journal articles detailing the benefits of technology, the psychological reasons for resistance, and examples of well-established relationship guidelines.

Education technologies are introduced to classrooms to enhance the student experience but the experience of the educator cannot be ignored. The educator’s attitude toward the technology not only influences the perception of the students but their response and opinion also have an effect on other teachers. Allowing for feedback to happen between the educators, the students and the administrative leadership encourages flexibility in adopting technologies and a collaborative effort in communicating suggestions and resources.

The findings of the technical project verify the success of technology in the classroom and provide support for the Science, Technology and Society research into the factors at play in education technology implementation. Educational gatekeepers should be open minded to the inevitable technology driver future and should empower both educators and their students by supporting technology platforms such as the education module presented in my technical project to further strengthen data driven decision making. With administrative support toward teacher’s concerns, an inevitable technology integration can be welcomed with a culture of flexibility and adaptive thinking.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Systems Thinking, Online Education, Technology and Social Relationships Model

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering
Technical Advisor: Michael Smith
STS Advisor: Catherine Baritaud
Technical Team Members: Rahi Desai, Neha Kulkarni, Kayla Wallet, Ryan Wells

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