Integrating Systems Thinking into Teaching Emerging Technologies

Whitney C. Fowler, Jeffrey M. Ting, Siqi Meng, Lu Li, Matthew V. Tirrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Collaborations and partnerships across disciplines are becoming increasingly recognized as valuable endeavors toward solving emerging global challenges in our rapidly changing world. Thus, it is crucial to create STEM educational strategies that infuse diverse and interconnected perspectives among scientists, policymakers, and the general public. Systems thinking represents one such pedagogical approach, in which a holistic framework empowers both teachers and students to recognize how fundamental concepts taught in the classroom can be used as resourceful tools to better address complex, multicomponent modern challenges. For chemical educators, topics on technology (the "T" in STEM education) represent a particularly meaningful avenue to introduce and study the effectiveness of systems thinking, but there have been few examples reported to date. Here, we show that a molecular engineering course introduced at the University of Chicago 5 years ago ("Introduction to Emerging Technologies") provides a model course to this end, where explicitly designing in elements of systems thinking to the course could further strengthen students' understanding of the already well suited, holistic course topics. Integrating systems thinking would illuminate how tissue engineering, nanomedicine, batteries, quantum information, and meat alternatives are developed from multiple, interrelated fields as well as from basic science to a practical reality. For each technology, we outline the direct connections between the current course topics and future opportunities to incorporate systems thinking strategies, challenging students to identify the interdependence of components in a successful technology. Finally, to offer further insight for instructors interested in utilizing systems thinking, we broaden our discussion to reflect on the challenges of redesigning any STEM course to utilize systems thinking, and we present corresponding teaching strategies to overcome them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2805-2813
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 10 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.


  • Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary
  • Learning Theories
  • Materials Science
  • Problem Solving/Decision Making
  • Systems Thinking
  • Upper-Division Undergraduate


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