“Systems thinking encourages a safe space to offer different perspectives and insights”: Student perspectives and experiences with ST activities

24 January 2024, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Researchers and educators have been exploring systems thinking (ST) in chemistry education to better equip citizens for 21st century challenges; however, little is known about students’ perspectives and experiences. In this study, we investigated students’ perspectives of ST and their experiences with ST activities. We designed and implemented a ST intervention, performed individually and collaboratively, as well as follow up interviews. Twenty-four undergraduate and graduate students participated in this study and reported a variety of experiences and perspectives. For students’ experiences, we found that: (1) while collaborating, participants recognized and appreciated different perspectives, (2) participants included chemistry concepts and connections in their system maps despite having difficulties, (3) system maps emphasized problems/solutions and causes/effects and differed in terms of organization and intended purpose, and (4) limitations to system map construction included time, knowledge, and technology skills. Students also expressed positive perspectives of a ST approach based on their experience engaging with the ST intervention and believed a ST approach (1) is beneficial to learning, (2) captures interest and engagement, (3) allows perspectives to be shared and gained, and (4) provides personal, social, and professional relevance. Based on these findings, we suggest aspects to consider when planning and implementing ST activities and identify future research required to better understand the impacts of ST in chemistry education.


Systems thinking
Student perspectives
Student experiences
Graduate students
Undergraduate students
Chemistry Education Research
Qualitative study

Supplementary materials

Supporting information
The SI includes more details about the methods, data analysis, and themes as well as the code books (e.g., themes, description of themes, categories, and representative quotes) for this study. The ST intervention and interview are included for more context.


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