GEOG 30
Geographic Perspectives on Sustainability and Human-Environment Systems

Learning Activity: Drawing Systems Diagrams

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Biogas generators convert biological matter into natural gas that can be used for cooking, heating, or other purposes. Biogas generators were discussed in the Marten reading “What is Human Ecology?” (See the the subsection “Cooking fuel and deforestation in India.”) In addition, here’s an image showing the basics of how a biogas generator works:

Simple sketch of household biogas plant
Figure 2.9 Diagram of a Biogas Plant: Waste is collected, disgested in a holding tank where gas is tapped for use and the byproduct is a bio-slurry.
Credit: Work found at Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

This image shows the basic mechanics of a biogas generator, which is useful for the engineering design of a generator. But the image only shows the generator itself, without considering the human and environmental systems in which the generator exists. As the reading explained, the generator requires a lot more than just human, animal, and plant wastes in order to operate. It also requires the humans that will design, fund, and use it, plus the farms, residences, and other sources of the wastes involved. Meanwhile, the generator produces a lot more than just gas. It also produces trees via reduced deforestation, fertilizer for farms, and even changes in how many children a family might have. But the generator, also, doesn’t do all this by itself. These impacts also depend on other human and environmental factors. If we don’t keep track of all these factors, then we can make mistakes in our analysis of what’s going on, and end up causing things that we don’t want to happen. Can you imagine this happening with biogas generators? How so?

Given how many different components there can be in a system, and how many different interactions there can be between them, we’ll often find the same system diagrammed in different ways. Module 2 Learning Activity is designed to have you get some more practice analyzing systems and producing system diagrams. In this learning activity, we're going to take a closer look at the example of biogas generators in India. But first, here's a quick video that shows that biogas isn't just for India, but is also used in the United States.

The video (31 seconds) is of a 2011 Super Bowl commercial for General Electric, which was identified by a Spring 2011 GEOG 030 student. Current GEOG 030 students: please send course faculty any content ideas that you have! We're very happy to consider them!

Learning Activity Directions

Part I: Watch a Video

Watch this 5 minute video about biogas in India.

Part II: Draw a System Diagram

  1. Draw a system diagram that shows all linkages between the social and the ecosystem as discussed in the movie. Use the Drawing feature in Google Docs. (Need help setting up your Google Account?)
  2. Add arrows in the figure and write down the effect that each arrow represents, so you can trace the chain of effects through the village social system and ecosystem.
  3. When your diagram is complete, within the 'Insert Drawing' window pull down the 'Edit' menu and save your diagram to your computer as a JPEG image. ('Edit' >> 'Download As' >> 'JPEG'). Make sure that your image filename contains your User Id so that it is unique from other posts and is not overwritten! (e.g., ' biogas_xyz123.jpg ').

Part III: Create your Discussion Response

Write Your Response

We recommend that you draft your response in a Word document (to prevent losing work if the page refreshes, etc.).

In the response field, first title your response followed by the Module Category (M02). You will lose points for not including the notation "M02" in your response.

In one paragraph of 200-250 words, answer the following questions:

  • What are the core ideas behind your diagram? In your explanation, try to incorporate one or two course concepts/terms covered in Module 2.
  • Compare your diagram to Figure 1.5 in the Marten reading “What is Human Ecology?”
  • In what ways are they the same?
  • In what ways are they different?
  • Why are there similarities and differences?
  • What can be learned by the comparison between the two diagrams that we might not have otherwise learned?

Post your Response

To post your Learning Activity response, go to Module 2 Learning Activity: Drawing Systems Diagrams Forum in Canvas.

  • Select Reply from the instructor's original post.
  • Copy/paste your initial/original response to the Learning Activity into the text box from a saved Word document (to prevent losing work if the page refreshes, etc.).
  • Select Post Reply. Your response is now visible to your classmates and your instructor. Check in to the discussion forum often throughout the week to post and respond to comments and questions.

Part IV: Read many and comment on (at least two) other students' responses

Read other students' responses

After you complete Part III, read through entries to get some understanding for who else is in the class. You may choose to wait until later in the week to do Part IV, to give your classmates time to finish Part III themselves. Pick two other students to write comments on their entries. Pick students whose entries do not already have a comment on them. If all of the entries already have comments, then pick students whose entries only have one comment on them. Also pick students whose entries are interesting to you for any reason.

Post a Comment

Post a comment on the two student Learning Activity posts you have chosen. Then respond to their entry in some way. Be sure to compare and contrast your system diagram with theirs. You might explain why their entries caught your interest, or say something else that comes to your mind. What you say does not need to be sophisticated in any way. The only requirement is for you to be polite and respectful.

The comment should be 4-6 sentences long. Below are instructions on how to post a comment.

To post a comment on TWO of your classmates Learning Activities, go to the Module 2 Learning Activity: Drawing Systems Diagrams Forum in Canvas and follow these steps with TWO Learning Activity posts:

  • Select Reply from a student’s Learning Activity post.
  • Copy/paste your response into the text box from a saved Word document (to prevent losing work if the page refreshes, etc.).
  • Select Post Reply. Your response is now visible to your classmates and your instructor. Check in to the discussion forum often throughout the week to post and respond to comments and questions.

Grading Criteria

You will be graded on the quality of your participation. See the Unit 1 grading rubric for specifics on how this assignment will be graded (also accessible through “Resources” >> "Grading Rubric").