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Systems Thinking Tools In a Graduate Biological Engineering Class - A Work In Progress

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Biological and Agricultural Engineering Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Biological and Agricultural Engineering

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John J. Classen North Carolina State University at Raleigh

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Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University. Professional interests focus on nutrient and value recovery from food animal production systems, sustainable and secure food systems, and inclusive graduate education.

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Alison V. Deviney Biological and Agricultural Department, North Carolina State University

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When technological challenges involve complex systems that include interactions with other components or agents, the system can exhibit unexpected and counterintuitive behavior. Systems thinking is useful in such cases but is rarely taught in engineering courses that do not explicitly include ‘systems’ or ‘systems dynamics’ in the syllabus. This work-in-progress describes an application of systems thinking concepts in a graduate course in Agricultural Waste Management at North Carolina State University. Two specific systems thinking tools were introduced to help students appreciate the technical, economic, and social challenges related to implementing new animal manure management technologies in a production environment that already includes an established regulatory framework.

The first tool was the mental model. The goal of the project was to explore the complex interactions of various stakeholders and agents of food animal production. Students were asked to create a mental model, in the form of a diagram, of the NC swine industry with a focus on manure management and environmental impacts and protections. Each of the six students in the class created their model from the perspective of a different stakeholder group. Students also reviewed and provided feedback on the draft model from a second stakeholder perspective. Each student wrote a description of the system and model from their assigned stakeholder perspective.

The second tool was the analysis canvas. The goal of the project was to identify those system components that contribute to sustainable swine manure management in NC and the changes in position, rules, regulations, and relationships among them needed to facilitate the changes. Two teams were formed so that all stakeholder perspectives from the first project were represented by students who had taken that perspective either as a primary or secondary role. Using the Product Archaeology Canvas, each team was tasked with describing what changes were needed to facilitate adoption of an advanced manure management system and the expected improvements in sustainability of the North Carolina swine industry. The teams also identified the critical issues for the stakeholders and the important compromises they would be asked to make for the system to work as described.

Classen, J. J., & Deviney, A. V. (2021, July), Systems Thinking Tools In a Graduate Biological Engineering Class - A Work In Progress Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37800

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