Fall 2017: UW100 Syllabus

Welcome to UW-Madison and welcome to Systems 100! In this class, we will answer questions such as: What is a system and how do they work? What do systems have to do with me and why do they matter? How can I be a systems thinker? By walking through this course together, we hope to ease you into your time at UW-Madison while exposing you to new patterns of thought that will impact your future classes, jobs, goals, and beyond!

Each week we will delve into new topics related to systems and give you a chance to hear from current professionals who use systems thinking in their work. You will discuss with your classmates, interact with your teachers, and reflect on personal experiences as the weeks progress. We hope you will think of this class as a small community within a large campus.

World Global Ecology International Meeting Unity Learning Concept



The outline of the course material will be as follows:

Module 1: Understanding Systems

Introduction to Systems and Terminology

Submodule 1a: Systems Today: History of Thought
Submodule 1b: System Basics
Submodule 1c: Connections in Systems
Module 2: Systems Behavior and Systems Modeling

Submodule 2a: System Management
Submodule 2b: Thresholds, Tipping Points
Submodule 2c: Resilience and Risk
Module 3: Applications of Systems Thinking: Directed Change

Submodule 3a: Institutions and Systems
Submodule 3b: Identity
Submodule 3c: Sustainable Systems
Submodule 3d: Welcome to the Anthropocene
Submodule 3e: Wicked Problems



Reading Responses
Each week you will be assigned readings from the textbook, supplementary readings, or alternative activity (podcast, video, etc.) depending on the lecture. Students are given a prompt related to the readings and are expected to write a reading response from 250-500 words. Reading responses are due at midnight the night before discussion. Posts will be set up through canvas and participants will be unable to see other student’s responses until they post their own response. Students are expected to read their classmates responses and come prepared to discuss their thoughts during discussion. There will be 12 reading responses offered throughout the semester, students are required to choose 10 responses to complete, and only 10 will be graded. Posts are graded on completion and late reading responses will not be accepted.

For the midterm, students are expected to work in a group of 2-3 people to complete a creative project, animating what students have learned in the course so far to their discussion section. The midterm project will be mentioned in the first week of class so students can highlight and pull from specific readings throughout the semester. The midterm will be presented in discussions during the halfway point of the semester. Presentations are expected to be 6-8 minutes, students are able to animate their presentation in any way they see fit, however, students should check in with their TA and run ideas past them. Students will drop one letter grade each day their midterm is late.

Possible projects include: infographic, video, powerpoint with activity, creating a game/game show, making a display board, performing a skit, song, poem or dance, designing a pamphlet or brochure, holding a debate/mock trial, or writing a children’s book!


The final will consist of a final written paper. Students will work with one other student to create a 5-7 page paper and animate their paper by creating a poster presentation that will be shared during the final exam section. In terms of the final presentation– half of the class will present for the first half of the exam time, groups will rotate around the class having a chance to explore their classmate’s topics and then halfway through students will switch places. Students will be graded on their paper, and a small percentage will go towards their attendance and poster during the presentation period.

There are three assignments students will be graded on that lead up to the final paper. Note: late assignments will not be accepted by the TA.



The book “Thinking in Systems” by Donella H Meadows will be required reading as it serves as a key primer to the terminology and mechanics of Systems Thinking. In addition, individual modules will include content from a variety of sources: scholarly articles, newspaper articles, podcasts, TED talks, other videos, and guest lecturers. Each submodule will contain a differing collection of resources to better complement the material being taught.

A physical copy of “Thinking in Systems” may be purchased here (Links to an external site). A free PDF may be found here (Links to an external site).




1. Attend all classes. If class is missed, it is the student’s responsibility to make up missed work from other students, the TA, or the professor.

2. Arrive to lecture and discussion on time. Please account for any weather challenges that may prevent you from being punctual.

3. Submit weekly reading responses and assignments on time. Discussion relies heavily on the submitted reading responses and late responses will not be accepted.

4. Put forth a genuine effort to best understand the material and spend enough time on assignments and group-work.

5. Seek help when appropriate. Your professor and TA’s have weekly office hours and can be contacted via email. University Health Services also provides many additional resources.