Systems Thinking, Systems Dynamics and Distance Education
The Public Education System has followed the same industrialized mindset for a long time. Everything around it is changing, progressing and becoming more efficient, yet public education has remarkably stayed the same. This is partly because experimenting with the system to try new methods is not something we can do without impacting our students. To alter the educational system without knowing what the results would be irresponsible and dangerous.
This is where System Dynamics (SD) can help. SD allows us to dynamically model a complex system and change variables to analyze what the outcomes may be without adversely affecting real systems. SD has been used in Engineering and Business to make those fields run more efficiently by analyzing variable data and feedback loops. These are both fields where experimentation is not a viable option. Experimenting in engineering can cost lives and doing so in business can cost money and jobs. Creating dynamic models of these systems has allowed the field to test variables to see possible outcomes, both negative and positive, of well intentioned ideas. Education is another field where this should be used. In order to begin creating this dynamic model of education, the data needs to be collected and input into a model to begin experimenting with variables.
My research during my EDTEC 550 Distance Education class showed that another important reason to create a dynamic model of education, but more importantly Distance Education (DE), is because so many new educational concepts are attempted and not given enough time to see results before they are cut and the field moves on to the “next best thing”. With an accurate dynamic model we may be able to predict what DE holds for us in the future and gain the ability to display that it will have a positive impact in the field of education, therefore recruiting more followers.
Following my research in 550, I had an idea that I would like to pursue that would allow for collection of data on DE. The premise would be to set up satellite schools as an alternative to inner city schools. More research still needs to be done in this area but the initial idea stems from my work with at-risk youth and news reports of children in the inner cities bringing weapons to school to protect themselves. These schools are overcrowded and dangerous and this has an obvious negative impact on education. My contention is that DE can help students in these situations.
These satellite schools would serve two purposes. The first would be to make education in these areas more efficient, displaying the value of DE. The second purpose would be to allow us to collect data on the interactions that take place similar to the parameters that Saba and Shearer set forth in their 1994 article, Verifying key theoretical concepts in a dynamic model of distance education. This project, if done on a large enough scale, would give us enough data to create the dynamic model of Distance Education that is needed.
This project would use the local YMCA’s, Boys’ and Girls’ clubs, churches, etc. to educate at-risk youth using a distance education model. Some of the advantages of using DE for this project include:
I believe that this endeavor combines much of what I have learned regarding Systems Thinking, Systems Dynamics and Distance Education. In order to gain credibility we must first display the usefulness to a large audience. It seems that many in education are hesitant to experiment with education in its current form for fear that any changes may have a negative impact on students. I think these same people would be willing to try something new if it meant helping students that are already negatively impacted by today’s educational system. We had explored pursuing a grant for this program during the semester, but the semester was over before we could make much progress. This specific area of Educational Technology excites me because I feel that using DE to help at-risk youth rise above their environment would have an immediate positive impact on both the youth participating and the field of Distance Education through using the data to build an accurate Systems Dynamics model