Measurement and development of systems thinking in the context of spatial human-environmental relations – empirical findings regarding the structure of system competence and its promotion by means of analogue and digital models

Dr. Svenja Brockmüller
First advisor: Prof. Dr. Alexander Siegmund
Second advisor: Prof. Dr. Stephan Schuler

The dissertation has been publishedhere.


Estimating the consequences of soil erosion and developing suitable adaptation and conservation strategies are argued to be a challenge for society, especially against the background of regional impacts of global climate change. Understanding geographical systems is essential in this context, because people can only get involved in the sustainable development of regions if they recognize and understand the complex relationships between humans and the environment.

Thus, from an educational viewpoint, the focus of research is finding best ways to enhance this competence to understand geographical systems. Therefore, the presented study compares differences between three groups of pupils working with different methodological approaches by means of analysis of variance (ANOVA). During the intervention, the students record, analyze and evaluate the complex influencing factors on soil erosion by means of

(1)   hands-on experiments,

(2)   abstract computer simulations, and

(3)   a combination of both approaches.

A test to measure systems thinking in the context of soil erosion is developed an evaluated regarding its validity and reliability. Complementary, the structure of the theoretical construct systems thinking is examined by factor analyses.



Mean differences of systems thinking (split by dimensions) regarding treatment group and time of measurement


In summary, the results provide a theoretical contribution concerning the structure of system competence in context of spatial human-environmental relations. Besides, they provide support for classroom teaching regarding the development of students’ systems thinking. In the context of soil erosion, the combination of analogue and digital models contributes statistically significantly to promote system competence and thus is recommended for teaching practice.


Project period: 2014 - 2019

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