Spring 2021 - REM 221 D100

Systems Thinking and the Environment (3)

Class Number: 7326

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:


  • Prerequisites:

    One of REM 100, or GEOG 100 or 111, or EVSC 100.



Introduces systems thinking in the context of environmental and sustainability challenges using system archetypes and system dynamics theory. Analytical and modeling techniques are applied to understand and project systems complexity. Students with credit for ENV 221 may not take this course for further credit. Quantitative.


This course introduces students to the concept of systems thinking and how it can be applied to many/most problems and systems they will come across in their careers. We will learn common systems thinking tools, and core concepts like archetypes and leverage. The course will use environmental and sustainability challenges as examples to illustrate system archetypes and dynamics. A final project will challenge students with the opportunity to identify and propose solutions to problems in any one of the sub-disciplines within REM.

This course will be offered asynchronously, with optional synchronous weekly tutorials.



After completing REM 221, students will be able to:

  • Define a system, types of systems, and be able to use of systems thinking terminology
  • Explain at 10 system archetypes
  • Use math to describe simple linear and non-linear dynamics of systems
  • Describe how limits can affect functioning of systems
  • Explain resilience, self organization, emergent properties within the context of system function
  • Explain the opportunities and dangers inherent in decision making using a systems lens including consideration of unintended consequences, trade-offs, tipping points and sensitivity
  • Explain the types of analytical tool/methods used to understand systems
  • Demonstrate the ability to use a simple model to project system function


  • Weekly participation 5%
  • Class assignments 20%
  • Tutorial assignments 25%
  • Mid-term exam 15%
  • Complex systems challenge 20%
  • Final exam 15%


Class assignments are designed to help students apply work towards understanding the final complex systems challenge and will be given to students to be completed outside class time. Tutorial assignments involve exploring systems thinking concepts using InsightMaker.com and other online tools.

Short in-class quizzes will be provided to test student comprehension, act as a reminder for past discussions and signal important concepts in the class. These quizzes will be un-graded: they are purely to help students internalize course material.

A group term project will be assigned on one aspect of systems thinking. This will consist of a case study and online assignment, and a presentation during the time set aside for the final exam.



Donella Meadows (2008) Thinking in Systems – a primer
ISBN: 978-1-84407-726-7

Additional papers will be provided in-class

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).