Monday, April 25, 2005

Coaching System Dynamics Modelers: Rewarding and Evocative

Among the most rewarding things I do is teach a 500 level (advanced undergraduate and graduate) course in System Dynamic modeling. This technology uses computer simulation to capture relationships between, for example, population, resources, ecology and political-economy. Students become learn the technology/theory by creating a model of their own that represents complexities of a research question they have chosen. Three sets of questions being investigated by this semester’s students are:

What explains patterns of inflation in Turkey over the past quarter-century; will Turkey be able to attain the degree of economic resiliency and robustness necessary to qualify for admission to the European Economic Community?

How can relationship between the formation of gangs in Rio de Janeiro’s favela communities and homicide rates among the 15-24 age cohort of young men best be explained; how can this understanding best contribute to policies that can more effectively reduce homicide rates?

What are the crucial factors that explain the spread of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe? Does sexual behavior in Zimbabwe represent one of these crucial factors? What policies should have been implemented in the past to curb the epidemic and what should the government do now?

This evening, I spent more that two hours helping a project team to think through the structure of their model. At the end of the semester, I will often spend twenty hours or more in such coaching. There is no more rewarding educational enterprise – bright students and a faculty member working together, sharing a commitment to high standards in a common enterprise; stretching their intellectual and creative resources to the limit.

Years ago, building computer models was almost a full-time professional activity – and passion., Now I am mostly a technology manager and, hopefully, technology leader and facilitator. When I work with students on their models, I rediscover skills and talents that I exercise all too rarely. This is exciting and gratifying.

Occasionally, I wonder if what I am doing now is what I should be doing.


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