Exploring the use of System Dynamics in Teaching Civic Education: An Experiment with High School Students in Colombia
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The need of empowering citizens to become active in civic and political issues is an important element towards development in Colombia. The reality of the country in terms of inequality, armed civil conflict and a negative perception by other countries makes the achievement of this a complex matter. Therein lays the opportunity and the challenge to impact the masses through formal education in civic education. When looking at the actual state of civics instruction, however we see a lack of planning and strategy in the formation of curricula. Despite a variety of different approaches, the condition of the subject does not correspond with the importance of its outcome. The challenge is then to find a methodology that best articulates the objectives of civics and integrates them with the rest of the social sciences. It is necessary to place the person as a responsible agent knowing the effects of his actions on different spheres. System Dynamics (SD) constitutes a methodology to approach problems and solutions as outcomes of systems. It is centered on the ideas of feedback, systems and dynamics and makes use of computer simulations. SD has been used for 20 years in the field of K-12 education. However, there is relatively little evidence about the effect of SD on changing students' attitudes despite its apparent potential for this. The present work seeks to explore this possibility of change in the field of civics for Colombia. 120 students from a Colombian high school took part in a collaborative experiment that had the purpose of evaluating the effect of using SD tools in civics and history in comparison to a non-SD teaching method. Pre and posttests were administered to the students in the school environment. The variables measured were comprehension and attitudinal change. We measured how much students improved from pre to posttest after receiving the teaching method. The experimental results are broadly consistent with the hypothesis that students receiving SD-based instruction would demonstrate more improvement. However, the level of statistical confidence is low. Aspects like a built-in bias of the sample, shortcomings in the measurement instrument, the challenge of a new method based on SD and the short time of exposure to SD explain our outcomes. Future research would be appropriate to test the effects of SD-teaching on civics including a longer treatment period, the use of computer simulation technology, and discussion between students to build their own models based on their consensus. The experiment also created an interest in SD-based civics instruction at the primary-grade level.