Fall 2017: UW100 Syllabus


What is a system? How can I learn to see systems? How can I use systems thinking to solve the ‘wicked problems’ facing our planet? Questions such as these drive the content in this course.

This is a lecture based class that values your opinions and engagement in class discussion. We hope that you will be able to apply what you learn in this course to other classes and your everyday lives.



In this course, you will learn to:

Name the basic characteristics of a system.
Recognize (“see”) systems and to name their elements, including feedback loops, stocks and flows, hierarchies, self-organization, and limiting factors. For a given system, identify the elements, interconnections, and function.
Demonstrate the use of these questions in your journal writing, activities, and projects: “How did we get here?” “What holds the present in place?” “Who benefits from things the way they currently are?” “What is missing?”
Explain the concept of Systems Thinking, including identification of at least 5 different systems in the world around them.
Contemplate the nature of questions. Consider examples of who gets to ask questions, how the questions asked determine what you can learn, how asking questions may act on the subject of the question, which questions are missing.
Elaborate the three unit topics of this course: system components, system mechanics, and system evolution and manipulation.



The outline for the course material will be as follows:

Module 1: Understanding Systems

Part 1- Systems are Everywhere

Submodule 1a: Lake Mendota as a System
Part 2- Systems Components and Terminology

Submodule 1b: Thresholds
Submodule 1c: Feedback Loops
Module 2: Systems Behavior and Systems Modeling

Part 1 – Example of Systems Modeling

Submodule 2a: Academia as a System
Submodule 2b: Intro to the Food System
Part 2 – In Depth Systems Analysis – Food Systems

Submodule 2c: Soils as a System
Submodule 2d: Role of Farms in the Food System
Module 3: Complexity Science and Systems Applications

Submodule 3a: Lean Production Systems
Submodule 3b: Systems Thinking in Economics



The grading system for this class is a little different than others that you will have. Instead of starting with zero points and working your way up, you will start with 100% of your points (1000 points) and try to keep them throughout the semester. If you lose less than 90 points you will receive an A for the course. You may lose points for various reasons including: poor attendance/participation, not completing the required amount of reading responses or turning them in late, and not putting forth proper effort on the projects, among other detractors. The grading scale is described below.

Grade Scale
Letter Grade Point Range Grade Point Value
A 1000-910 4.0
AB 909-890 3.5
B 889-810 3.0
BC 809-790 2.5
C 789-700 2.0
D 699-600 1.0
F 599-0 0

Assignment Points Per Assignment Total Points of Assignment Percentage of Total Grade
Daily Participation 15%
Submodule Quizzes 20%
Submodule Journals 20%
Infographic Assignment 15%
1st Draft of Systems Report 10%
2nd Draft of Systems Report 10%
3rd Draft of Systems Report 10%



Participation is graded through completion of a roughly one sentence in class assignment during each lecture period. If you do not attend lecture you will not be able to complete this assignment and will lose 5 points for that day.




There will be two assignments per module, a journal entry and a quiz, based off of the required reading and found on Canvas. These will be due on either Wednesday or Friday (the day after the module’s final lecture) at 11:59 pm. No late assignments will be accepted. There will be nine quizzes and nine journals. Each quiz is worth 22.22 points and each journal is worth 22.22 points. Therefore, all of the quizzes combined will be worth 200 points and all of the journals combined will be worth 200 points.

There will also be a course project with various sub-assignments. These sub-assignments are a 3 page paper outline, a 6-8 page first draft and a 6-8 page final draft. In total, the course assignment is worth 45% of the final grade, or 450 points. The infographic is worth 150 points, the outline is worth 100, the first draft is worth 100 and the final draft is worth 100. More information for the course project is available here: UW 100 Course Project.docPreview the document



Lake Mendota as a System

Citizen Science- Lake Mendota Adventure

You’re assignment for this week is to play a computer game.

Not only is the game relevant to you, as it is set right here in Madison, it is a hands-on learning experience of biological systems and their close relationship with human actions. The Lake Mendota system extends far beyond the body of water. Explore and take note of the interconnections defined in the game.

After you play through, which takes about 45 minutes, complete the quiz for this submodule.

Click on the link below and follow the directions in order to complete the adventure.

http://gameslearningsociety.org/project_citizen_science.php (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

“Citizen Science is an online flash-based computer adventure game in which the player is a young adult who becomes concerned about the health of a local lake threatened by eutrophication. Based at Lake Mendota in Madison, WI, the player’s goal is to restore the lake. By focusing on the ecological needs of Lake Mendota as well as the surrounding community, the game is able to bring together real-world issues and scientific practices” (gameslearningsociety.org).



Feedback Loops

Beyond Disciplines: Academia as a System
Food Systems