Abstract for:Education for Sustainability (EfS) and Urban Systems: Toward Principles for Teaching Systems Thinking

This work explores a set of pedagogical principles for the creation of learning environments that teach college students to perceive and engage in change work within urban systems. Students need to have 1) a deep understanding of urban social, economic, and environmental systems, 2) the ability to recognize how these systems are driven (or hindered) by closed loops, information flows, and self-organization, and 3) personal skills in facilitating solution-building through collaborative processes. Common student limitations include linear thinking, lack of recognition of closed loops and interpersonal leverage points, and limited capacity to embrace both ambiguity and the beauty and brokenness of urban environments. Pedagogical tools to help students recognize and change those habits include helping them unlearn and unwind tendencies that suppress their ability to think in systems. Sustained focus on uncomfortable challenges expands ambiguity tolerance. Embodied exercises can also be a powerful means of expanding systems thinking. We suggest that courses be designed to embed students in action in organizational or community contexts, enabling them to both observe and sense-make on systems patterns as well as act. Second, courses should focus on “relational capacities” as critical competencies. Third, they should encourage students to develop personal practices supportive of equipoise.