Welcome to Make Cycle #4: All Systems Go!

gearsCC BY 2.0, via Pete Birkinshaw

We would like to begin by thanking Paula Escuadra, Evan Rushton, and Lori Stone from GlassLab, Inc. for a fun week of making focused on leveling up game design with an introduction to the idea of systems. The imaginative approaches to games shared through a variety of media validates the creativity that exists in the CLMOOC community. (See Kevin Hodgson’s blog post, Surfacing Connected Learning Principles and the ThingLink that he created for examples.)

This week we will expand our thinking about systems and will attempt to tackle some of the ambiguity associated with complex systems. First, let’s begin with a simple definition. According to the dictionary, a system is “a group of interacting, interrelated, interdependent elements forming a complex whole.” There are many types of systems: human, behavioral, natural, technological, mechanical, mathematical, political, social, financial, transit, etc.

A simple analogy might help clarify what systems are—and are not. A pile of bicycle tires is not a system. If you remove one tire from the pile, you still have a pile of tires and nothing more. However, if you put that tire on a bicycle, the tire becomes part of the system and all of the parts of the bicycle, including the tire, work together to make the system function. If the tire gets a flat, the system cannot function until the flat is repaired.

PicMonkey Collage4left, bicycle tires, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Richard Masoner
right, 1909, the French cyclist Léon Georget, public domain.

As we think about systems, it also might be helpful to keep the following questions in mind:

  • What is the function of the system?
  • What are the parts of the system?
  • What input does it receive?
  • What output does it provide?
  • Is it part of a larger system?
  • Is there a subsystem?

Last week we experienced games as systems, but have you ever considered that abstract concepts such as love can also be considered systems? The video A Systems Story (Systems Thinking) uses the Blind Men and the Elephant story to explain systems thinking. The narrator gives the example of how inflow and outflow can affect love systems to strengthen or weaken relationships.

[youtube https://youtu.be/rDxOyJxgJeA]

A Systems Story – A short introduction to key systems thinking concepts, via BEE Environmental Communication

In our busy everyday lives—even in our interactions with those we love— we tend to compartmentalize. Just a small input can change an entire system, but because we don’t see the whole, we don’t realize the positive or negative impact of one seemingly inconsequential shift.

Make with Me

For this make cycle, we invite you to document, analyze and reflect on the variety of systems that influence your life personally and/or professionally. Use your creativity to document an existing system, access your ingenuity to improve an existing system or use your imagination to develop a unique new system and design a novel way to explain it.

  • How can you document a system that serves a function in your life?
  • Can you add inflow to an already existing system in order to make it function more effectively?
  • Can you re(media)te a system in order to improve it?
  • What about a hack? Can you hack a system or “the system” to make it work for you in interesting new ways?
  • Can you create a new system to take the place of one that is no longer useful or has become obsolete?
  • Can you design an entirely new system for something that has yet to be imagined?

Systems can be explained using a variety of medium. Take a photograph, draw a diagram, create an infographic, draft a story, write a song, do an interpretive dance, create a recipe, make a “how to,” develop a prototype, continue to play with games….The possibilities are endless!

We dipped our toe into systems with Make Cycle 3: games. Let’s jump in the pool, dive deep, and explore systems in all their ambiguous and complex glory so you can make sense of what systems mean to you.

Check Out These Resources

Check out the CLMOOC Make Bank where you might find inspiration in past projects. Below you will find some additional ideas to help you get started:

Additional Resources on Systems

Places to Share

Live Events

  • Join our Make With Me live broadcast with chat on Tuesday, July 14th at 7p EDT/4p PDT/11p UTC live streamed with a synchronous chat here at CLMOOC. This session will also be recorded so you can watch the archive later.
  • We will be hosting a Twitter Chat for Make Cycle #4 on Thursday, July 16th at 7p EDT/4p PDT/11p UTC with the #clmooc hashtag

Need More Information?

Finally …

We at the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) are looking forward to wrangling some systems right alongside of you. Thanks for playing with us!

Kim Douillard, Janet Ilko, Janis Jones, and Abby Robles
San Diego Area Writing Project


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  1. All Kinds of Systems: #clmooc Make 4 | Unorthodox but Effective

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