Systems practice in the classroom:
a literature perspective and demonstration
Keywords:Data science education, systems informed positive psychology, flourishing classroom, positive education.
For people who are illiterate, the opportunities for employment and improving their situation is a big challenge. In the world of the 21st century people who are data illiterate, will increasingly find themselves in the same situation, irrespective of their field of employment. Companies and society need people who are able to analyse data and use the resulting information to direct decisions. Another aspect of the 21st century that society struggles with, is the increasing prevalence of mental illness due to work pressures, failing marriages, torn family structures, isolation and so forth. The mental health of students is a major cause for concern since one in three students show signs of depression and anxiety. Within this context there is a need to develop a plan to address the instructional design for data science students. They need to learn relevant content in a manner that will equip them to succeed in the workplace and society at large within a context where their wellbeing will be nurtured. The study employs the Systems Informed Positive Psychology perspective to direct the process of improving the design of data science modules. Systems thinking determines how different components are interlinked, and how they can best be changed to attain the overall goal by listening to the voices of all the affected parties. Directed content analysis of comments received from 284 students participating in an introductory statistics module at a South African university indicate that students intuitively mentioned several aspects of the Flourishing Classrooms Systems Model, thereby indicating that students would like a thriving classroom. The students’ voice indicated that things like emotional bonding and supportiveness are important to them. Little classroom flexibility is experienced by the students, due to lecturers who are lacking in leadership in the classroom and are unwilling to negotiate on matters with the students. Students indicated the importance of proper classroom communication – clarity and listener skills are crucial for students to flourish in a class. Finally, several aspects of classroom wellbeing were mentioned: strength focus rather than zooming in on shortcomings, lecturers’ emotional management, students’ increased attention through active learning, improved coping through better planning and time management, and the forming of good study habits. This study shows that by employing systems thinking, the underlying complexities could be understood more clearly, enabling educationists to develop better solutions that may make a difference in the lives of many students.