• Katherine Pan

Review of IE2141: Systems Thinking and Dynamics

Year took: AY20/21 Semester 2

IE2141 introduces systems thinking, design, and dynamics. Systems thinking is the understanding that variables within a system are interconnected and how they influence one another. By using systems thinking tools and performing systems mapping, we can uncover unique insights to formulate solutions to affect the system positively or negatively. Said systems can be any problem that we wish to understand and make adjustments. Due to COVID, classes for IE2141 was held online through Zoom. The assessment criteria are as follow:

1. Graded Assignments – 25%

- Lab 1 – 5%

- Lab 2- 5%

- Lab 3 – 5%

- Group Assignment – 10%

2. Project – 35%

- Interim Report – 5%

- Final Report – 15%

- Video Presentation

Team – 10%

Individual – 5%

3. Quizzes – 40%

- Quiz 1 – 20%

- Quiz 2 – 20%

Don't we all love online classes (Source)


The lecture content includes project management, modeling and simulation, dynamic thinking tools, structural thinking tools, and the testing and validation of models.

Every week, there one 2-hours lecture slot allocated, and Prof Aaron was the sole lecturer. However, there were no live lectures and pre-recorded videos were uploaded onto Luminus in its place. Prof Aaron voiced the videos, but the poor audio quality left me guessing what he was saying. Additionally, the videos were too fast-paced. I barely had time to understand what was taught a minute ago before the video bombarded me with more information. I eventually settled on reading the video transcript and skipped the videos. Adding to the woes, the format of the lecture notes made it difficult to revise the content because it was poorly organized and lacked comprehensive explanations.

Oh I am not rubbing my eyes in the third photo, I am wiping my tears (Source)

A week before the quizzes, Prof Aaron held clarification sessions to summarize the chapters tested and to answer questions.

Tutorials and Lab

Tutorials and lab were held on alternating weeks with each session lasting 3 hours. In tutorials, new concepts such as causal loops, system archetypes, stakeholders, and perceptions were taught. As questions in the tutorial worksheets were often based on the new concepts, you could read up on the tutorial notes beforehand to attempt them. Again, the tutorial notes were less than ideal so do pay attention as to not miss out on important content.

During the lab sessions, we were taught to map and simulate systems using Stella Architect. The lab worksheet provided step-by-step instructions, which the TAs will repeat in class. As classes were held on Zoom, listening to the TAs felt no different from following a video tutorial. After each session, teams must submit a lab report with our Stella model within a week. The content of the report was our answers to the questions within the lab worksheet.

Group Assignment

In week 4, we had to do the poverty assignment and it was meant to prep us for the group project. The assignment required us to answer questions by performing systems mapping without guidance. Our allocated reference was a video discussing poverty in Singapore. It was fairly similar to writing a lab report but without step-by-step instructions.


Each team will select a specific problem of our choice to work on for the project. In recess week, we had to submit an interim report. In reading week, we had to submit a 20-page report, a working Stella Architect system model, and a 20-minutes presentation video.

My team chose to tackle air pollution in Beijing, and I suggest selecting a pervasive problem. It would make it easier to find research materials to determine the variables and their behavior over time graph, to build a causal loop and a stock and flow diagram, and to devise possible policies to mitigate the problem.

Writing our report was extremely challenging. Its content had to be derived from a complete working system model that we build from scratch based on our research and findings. I highly recommend building the stock and flow diagram as soon as possible because it can make or break your project. It will determine almost every aspect of the report when the team comes to realize the significance or insignificance of the variables. My team started fairly late in week 11, and it was a big mistake because we were strapped for time. We did not anticipate our model to fail to run as expected countless times and we had to continue researching to explain the discrepancies. It felt like a never-ending cycle because we would uncover new inconsistencies in every meeting. When we could not find the information we wanted, we had to look at the problem from an alternative perspective to justify our results.

My team was so done with writing the report (Source)

For the presentation video, we were assessed on the group and individual levels. On a group level, we were marked for content, the use of the Stella Architect interface, and the structure of the presentation. Individually, we were marked for our delivery and language (verbal and non-verbal). We had to present our report, and it was difficult to fit 20 pages of content within 20 minutes. Multiple revisions were made for my team to cut down our presentation from 27 minutes. My group decided to record our parts individually before editing them together to form one cohesive presentation.


The quizzes were held on Luminus with no proctoring, and it was a closed book test. Quiz 1 happened on week 6 while quiz 2 happened on week 10. I found both quizzes to be manageable and the questions were not tricky. However, I did struggle with time management because we only had 50 minutes for 50 questions. To score well, I suggest knowing the concepts through and through as the questions tested on their applications and our fundamental understanding.

Literally my thoughts because I had only a minute for each question (Source)


IE2141 started as a manageable module that got increasingly difficult. Although the content taught was easy to grasp, it was hard to apply what we have learned, with the project pushing the very limits of my understanding.

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