Week 8: Systems Thinking and Critical Thinking

I am to contrast systems thinking and critical thinking however, I’m finding that they are connected and essential to each other.  I searched the internet for a few hours and watched many videos on system thinking.

Making Systems Thinking Sexy

This talk by Eli Stefanski provided me some insight into the systems thinking process, embedded norms, collaborative innovation, and how to experiment all the time.  Her comments reminded me of the paper we read on Chaos Theory and Complexity.

Eli talks about global giving.  Global giving is a platform for crowd funding to solve wicked challenges in the world today.  She shared how modifications to the platform, making it more user centric, made it a compelling solution.

In listening to her talk about the messiness of innovation, I found myself connecting with this sloppy, innovative process.  I see my PhD journey as a sloppy innovation, the creation of something new.  I’m noticing patterns in my work, behaviors, study habits, and how those relate to the larger process of learning.

TEDxDirigo – Eli Stefanski – Making Systems Thinking Sexy

Critical Thinking: What I’m learning about my own learning: emancipatory learning is often a difficult and painful process. 

I have struggled with thinking past the “obviousness” of systems thinking.  Look at the big picture, break it down into its parts and think about how the parts relate to the whole.  This is meant to help us better understand what it will take to change or modify systems.  I don’t mean that Systems thinking is obvious to everyone, but rather that it is “how” I think.  I’m very analytical and have to understand the big picture before I can get into the details.  I don’t have time for the wrong details and so that drives my thinking.  I think of every little cog turning the larger machine and I see this visually as I’m discussing concepts.  I will typically draw pictures on the white board in my office in order to share ideas with others.  This is also the approach that I take to critically think about actions, policies, project plans with interdependencies, how to manage my staff, and leading change in organizations.

Using Banathy’s environmental systems thinking approach, I analyzed the online instructor as a microsystem.  In doing so, I felt that I was stating the obvious.  I was certain that this approach was to simplistic and would not add value.  However, I was incorrect in my thinking.  When I shared this paper with a colleague at the office, I learned that it was a worthy piece and produced some interesting facts.  It may be necessary to state the obvious every now and then because what is obvious to some is not obvious to all.

I learned a little more about my learning journey and it reminds me of the video below.


Week 4: Readings and Movie Analysis: Systems Thinking

In this week’s installment, I am asked if I understand the inherent challenges of a student.  I don’t mean to dismiss the question, but of course I understand those challenges. I have been in college since 1987 and have worked in education my entire adult career.

Let’s think for just a moment about this.  I have been in and out of higher education systems around the US as a student for 26 years.  I have been a part of the educational systems as an educator for 15 years, have served in an administrative role five years, in addition to the seven years that I have worked for private industry serving institutions of higher education in an ongoing effort to modernize their existing systems and innovate.

Yes, I “get it”.

This week during our class time, working in small groups, we analyzed several readings, applying systems thinking to them.  We used a mind mapping tool called popplet to collaboratively create a relationship map.

Author Relationship MindMap

While reading this book, I find myself struggling to remain engaged with the text.  The text is offensive to me and I would not choose to read it if I were given the choice.  Luckily, I work with chaos and complexity in higher education and understand what it takes to change a system from both the inside out and the outside in.

According to Wikipedia: “The novel’s central theme involves the examination of the human desire to detect patterns or meaning and the risks of finding patterns in meaningless data. Other themes include methods of interpretation of history, cultural familiarity with brand names, and tensions between art and commercialization.”

Chaos and complexity are abundant in the analysis of Pattern Recognition by Gibson using a systems thinking approach.  Kayce, the lead character displays characteristics of the strange attractor as described by Reigeluth.  While her character is still evolving as we continue to read the book, she has a powerful role in working with the Blue Ant design firm led by Dorotea and Stonestreet.

The films have an infinite number of parts and they are introduced in a non-linear fashion.  These films are obtaining the feedback of Kayce and others via the F:F:F.  The mirror world has underlying patterns that are recognizable but they appear different and random. Kayce seems to be impacting the system from the outside in, but I’ll reserve judgment until I complete the book.

In considering the role of Donnie Darko and using the Banathy systems environment model for analysis, we see how Donnie impacts his system from the inside out.  At the start of the story, he stays within the boundary of the system and only has impact on those within that system.

I’ll use Banathy’s model to explain his area of influence on the system at the beginning of the movie as:

Donnie Darko - Start of the Movie

Donnie Darko – Start of the Movie

By the end of the film he has gained enough power and feedback that he begins to impact beyond the boundary of the system. This coevolution based upon the increasing deviations leads to a transformation of the system itself.  To give a concrete example, Donnie initially worked within the system to try to explain inaccurate concepts to the GYM teacher, however that led to feedback that encouraged Donnie to take his “fight” to a different level.  He took his fight to Jim Cunningham’s house and burned it down.

photo 2

The readings regarding chaos theory and complexity were eye opening.  Chaos is not random, but rather the elements that are required for change to occur.  At the conclusion of these readings, I found myself content with chaos and realizing how my role as an agent of change in institutions of higher education is needed in society today.  Without enablers of transformation, systems would not evolve to meet the needs of the future.


Banathy, B. (1992). Chapter two: The systems-environment model. In A Systems View of Education Concepts and Principles for Effective Practice (pp. 25-58). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Eoyang, G. (1996). A brief introduction to complexity in organizations. Chaos Limited, Inc.,

Pattern recognition. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_Recognition_(novel)

Reigeluth, C. (2004). Chaos theory and the sciences of complexity: Foundations for transforming education. Informally published manuscript, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~syschang/decatur/documents/chaos_reigeluth_s2004.pdf