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Systems Learning Within the Context of Subject Learning

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Simulation and Programming

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1129.1 - 23.1129.12



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Paper Authors


Carrie Steinlicht South Dakota State University

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Dr. Carrie Steinlicht is an Assistant Professor of Operations Management in the Department of Construction and Operations Management at South Dakota State University. She teaches Quality, Strategy, Cost Analysis, and Operations Mgt. subjects. She is currently researching process management systems in organizational contexts.

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Byron G. Garry South Dakota State University

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Byron Garry is an Associate Professor and Undergraduate Program Coordinator in the Department of Construction & Operations Management in the College of Engineering at South Dakota State University.

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Problem Based Learning Exercises for Developing Systems Thinking SkillsConnecting curriculum to practice is one of the more difficult things to do in education andtraining. In manufacturing practice we must consider many aspects to a problem; whereas ineducation we often explore one topic at a time. Interdependence of the topics, however, is oftenmore important than the topics themselves. Engineering practice requires a systems orientation(Aung, 2012).In a recent survey of industry needs, researchers conclude that systems thinking is one of themost important characteristics sought in university graduates hired by manufacturing firms(Fliedner & Mathieson, 2009). Systems thinkers are adept at understanding dynamicinterdependence (Richmond, 1993). Manufacturing processes are linked and intertwined andchanges in one part of a system have effects and consequences that cascade through the entiresystem. As one factor changes, there are interactions across the system the leads to dynamiccomplexity.In order to facilitate the development of systems thinking in students, educational practice mustinclude activities that allow students to explore system dynamics and develop skills in theassessment of dynamic complexity. Traditional teaching methods that emphasize exploringindividual topics seldom help in the development of critical thinking skills essential in systemsthinking. Individual instructors face traditional faculty resistance to major curricular changes thatincorporate systems thinking. But, the authors suggest that incorporating inductive teachingmethods within the context of single topic courses is effective for developing systems thinkingskills.This study examines the use of a series of problem-based learning exercises within the context ofa single topic course, specifically manufacturing cost analysis, which requires students toconsider multiple subjects in order to solve a problem. The course exercises are broken downinto nine steps, incorporating such steps as reverse engineering, computing materials costs, anddrawing up a manufacturing plan, including tooling and labor costs. While doing these learningexercises, the students are developing a systems view of the problem. By incorporating systemsthinking exercises in several courses, students will be better prepared to meet the needs of futureemployers.

Steinlicht, C., & Garry, B. G. (2013, June), Systems Learning Within the Context of Subject Learning Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22514

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