A System Dynamics Approach to Increasing Ocean Literacy

Last modified: 
July 16, 2019 - 2:31pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2019
Date published: 06/2019
Authors: Caroline Brennan, Matthew Ashley, Owen Molloy
Journal title: Frontiers in Marine Science
Volume: 6

Ocean Literacy (OL) has multiple aspects or dimensions: from knowledge about how the oceans work and our impact on them, to attitudes toward topics such as sustainable fisheries, and our behaviour as consumers, tourists, policy makers, fishermen, etc. The myriad ways in which individuals, society and the oceans interact result in complex dynamic systems, composed of multiple interlinked chains of cause and effect. To influence our understanding of these systems, and thereby increase our OL, means to increase our knowledge of our own and others’ place and role in the web of interactions. Systems Thinking has a potentially important role to play in helping us to understand, explain and manage problems in the human-ocean relationship. Leaders in the OL field have recommended taking a systems approach in order to deal with the complexity of the human-ocean relationship. They contend that the inclusion of modelling and simulation will improve the effectiveness of educational initiatives. In this paper we describe a pilot study centred on a browser-based Simulation-Based Learning Environment (SBLE) designed for a general audience that uses System Dynamics simulation to introduce and reinforce systems-based OL learning. It uses a storytelling approach, by explaining the dynamics of coastal tourism through a System Dynamics model revealed in stages, supported by fact panels, pictures, simulation-based tasks, causal loop diagrams and quiz questions. Participants in the pilot study were mainly postgraduate students. A facilitator was available to participants at all times, as needed. The model is based on a freely available normalised coastal tourism model by Hartmut Bossel, converted to XMILE format. Through the identification and use of systems archetypes and general systems features such as feedback loops, we also tested for the acquisition of transferable skills and the ability to identify, apply or create sustainable solutions. Levels of OL were measured before and after interaction with the tool using pre- and post-survey questionnaires and interviews. Results showed moderate to very large positive effects on all the OL dimensions, which are also shown to be associated with predictors of behaviour change. These results provide motivation for further research.

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