Or, more briefly put: Systems theory is an interdisciplinary field of science, which studies the nature of complex systems in nature, society and science, and studies complex parts of reality as systems.
It has been applied in many social fields, e.g. Family Systems Theory : … a theory … that suggests that individuals cannot be understood in isolation from one another, but rather as a part of their family, as the family is an emotional unit. Families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation from the system. A family is a system in which each member had a role to play and rules to respect. Members of the system are expected to respond to each other in a certain way according to their role, which is determined by relationship agreements. Within the boundaries of the system, patterns develop as certain family member's behaviour is caused by and causes other family member's behaviours in predictable ways. http://www.genopro.com/genogram/family-systems-theory/
How do you think these ideas are used in education? And particularly, in the study of educational innovation?
Clarke (2003, 2007) relates systems theory to educational change: “Systems are all living organisms and stable groups of living organisms, from single cell organisms to plants and animals. The individual human being is the system we are most interested in, along with families, classrooms, schools and communities, which are also systems. Systems are assemblages of parts that function as a whole. They can be characterized as goal seeking, or self organising; that is, they seem to function with an identifiable purpose. At the same time, they are open to information from their environments. In part because of this tension between internal and external control, their behaviour is not strictly predictable. It is patterned, however, and if we observe systems over a period of time we will notice that they exhibit behaviours that permit us to guess with a high probability of success what is going to happen next.” (Clarke 2003: 15). Does the above sound to you like a plausible description of a classroom?
Clarke’s six principles for understanding systems: (2003 ch1, 2007 ch10) Systems have no purpose We cannot control systems Systems cannot be changed unilaterally Systems function in cycles Systems function in response to internal and external information Systems function towards stability Systems respond to disturbances in ways that, if not precisely predictable, are still expectable Open systems require a budget of flexibility Systems cannot be understood independently of their contexts The world consists of systems within systems within systems Again, can we apply these principles to the idea of a class as a system?
What does systems theory imply for understanding how educational innovation works? ‘Math attack’ case study This activity, taken from Clarke 2003 (86-91) is intended to help us think about what makes an educational change such as a course innovation more likely to succeed or fail…
Innovation characteristics likely to enhance or reduce the possibility of adoption: Relative advantage: the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes… Compatibility: the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters… Complexity: the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use… Trialability: the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis…. Observability: the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others. (Rogers 2003: 15-16, discussed in Waters 2009: 426). Do any of these ideas explain the mixed result of the Maths innovation?
What is likely to happen? Rogers 2003: Change adopter categories Each group can be seen as categorised by a certain psychological disposition towards innovation: Innovators: Venturesome, exploratory; characteristically pro-innovation in their orientation Early adopters: Interested, willing to experiment; also pro-innovation but not necessarily innovators themselves Early Majority: Deliberative, cautious; have a tendency to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach to innovation adoption Late Majority: Sceptical; tend to adopt a critical attitude to the value of potential innovations Laggards: Traditional; have a preference for the status (ante) quo. (Rogers 2003: 282-285 as discussed in Waters 2009: 438). Can you think of colleagues and students of yours who fit into these categories?
Educational cultures in which teachers work Transmission based Interpretation based Knowledge is clearly defined and there is one right answer to almost any question What knowledge is --------- Knowledge is dynamic and is arrived at through discussion The purpose of education is to learn knowledge The purpose of education --------- The purpose of education is to learn how to learn Learners are members of a group and speak only when spoken to Learners --------- Learners are a collection of individuals who are expected to express themselves Teachers are the initiators of classroom activity and should know all the answers Teachers --------- Teachers are there to support learners’ participation in the learning process and can admit ignorance
What are the interrelating subsystems in which your innovation will have to operate? Diagram from Kennedy 1988 in Waters 2009: Cultural Political Administrative Educational Institutional Classroom Innovation