Development and Evaluation of System Dynamics Education Modules for Complex Socioenvironmental Systems

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Virginia Tech


Complex socioenvironmental problems such as food, energy and water shortages, health impacts from environmental contamination and global climate change present significant challenges to the global community. Addressing these problems will require an interdisciplinary systems-thinking approach that coordinates problem-solving between practitioners of varied disciplines including engineers, physical scientists, economists and other social scientists. Civil and environmental engineers have distinct technical skills necessary to help address these challenges as part of coordinated multidisciplinary efforts towards the achievement of comprehensive and sustainable resolutions to these problems. Ensuring civil and environmental engineers are trained to think and work in this multidisciplinary exchange requires incorporation of systems-thinking into engineering academic curricula. Attempts have been made to incorporate these skill sets into civil and environmental engineering (CEE) coursework. These efforts, as well as evaluation of their effectiveness in training CEE students to think systemically, have lacked in coordination to integrate them as part of the overarching academic curricula. This research advances the current body of knowledge regarding incorporation of systems-thinking into CEE coursework by examining the impacts of system dynamics model based educational tools on systems-thinking learning outcomes of CEE students in a one-semester CEE elective course. The findings suggest that system dynamics modeling can be an effective tool in educating future systems thinkers in the CEE disciplines.



socioenvironmental systems, complex systems, system dynamics, engineering education