Case studies in exam

For discussions of the Open University's T306 Systems course.

Case studies in exam

Postby jamesWtc on Thu Apr 08, 2010 8:14 pm

Hi,

I'm consistently having problems understanding T306 — in fact most OU courses — not because of theories but the case examples in the course. For T306, I have studied 2 case studies so far, which is directly related to TMAs. First Child Support Agency, and now NHS computer systems. Looking at the examination sample questions, there is a question similar to TMA 2, where we have to apply systems analysis to a case.

I find it quite a bit frustrating sometime, and it has been a steep learning, especially when I have no exposure to what is going on, how things actually work in UK (or EU in general), and what public policies are. CSA and NHS are totally unknown to me before T306, I have to search the internet to understand the problem in context. Well, that is still fine as I can do some research on the Internet on the matters.

Now what worries me is, in final exam, what shall I do if I have no ideas about what is being asked in case studies. A good systems analysis should have adequate domain knowledge on the background information before any analysis is carried out, without which our analysis could be flawed or inappropriate.

So, any students here from mainland europe having the same problem? So far, I no problems understanding the theories set out in course materials, but what if the what is being asked that is totally alien to me in the exam? Unlike sciences/maths/computing subjects where answer is pretty much universal, this is not likely the case for T306.

And also, how much research did you do before attempting to answer the TMAs, especially for case studies?

Thanks!

PS: This is not a complaints since I am studying with UK university... just a concern.
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby Teiana on Thu Apr 08, 2010 8:34 pm

simple. just work with what you can see. Case studies should contain all the information you need. Granted, there could be some assumptions made by the writer that someone abroad might miss due to cultural differences, but i believe the way around that is that if you yourself make any assumptions you just state those. In an exam you're not usually working to a word count but a time limit - so it's ok to make extra statements.. such as 'I have assumed the child support agency applies equally in wales as in england' or whatever assumption you have made. They aren't testing how well you understood the scenario but how well you can engage with unknowns. They only give you a case study to give you somewhere to hang up the systems stuff..
Just state what you can or can't tell - state the questions you would need to ask - be explicit about where you feel there are grey areas or ambiguities or whatever.. pretend it's a maths question and you're proving everything up from first principles..
Even though the CSA and NHS provide two different scenarios the basics are the same between them.
they're complex, they involve large numbers of people, they're controlled from a level above 'the man in the street', they deal with and incorporate varying groups of people with varying interests.. etc etc..
If, in an exam, you get a scenario and it looks totally alien just scan through it for where it has things in common with a scenario you have met already.. use those things to help remind you which processes might be useful to apply to the situation.

but don't worry - just explain your thinking as you go along. They're trying to find out about You as a systems practitioner. Not how a magic ideal world (non-existent) model would do it, but how well you can do it. So that includes working from your own limitations and recognising and dealing with those.
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby Andrea on Fri Apr 09, 2010 10:41 am

I actually have quite a bit of sympathy for James, having myself not been bought up in Europe. There are a lot of assumptions that British people take for granted when engaging with the case studies. For example, the concept of the "welfare state" which is central to both the CSA and the NHS. If you come from a country that has a radically different approach to supporting marginalised individuals, I think it is quite difficult to grasp how these organisations function, what the political/social support is behind them (or against them) and hence, an understanding of the various stakeholders and their worldviews (which is so fundamental to the systems approach taught in T306). It simply takes a lot longer for somebody not used to these systems to comprehend what exactly is going on -- and in an exam, every minute counts!!

To give an opposite example for the Brits to appreciate the situation, how about using a systems approach to propose a way forward to the following very simplified account of increasingly problematic landscape management by the Kraho Amerindians? Try it using a pressurised exam environment with the clock ticking in front of you........


Environmental decision making among the Krahô people
The Krahô indigenous reserve is located approximately 100 km northeast of Palmas. It covers an area of roughly 3200 km2, between the rivers Manuel Alves and Vermelho, and is home to approximately 2000 individuals in 16 villages of various sizes. The climate is distinctly seasonal, with about 75% of the annual rainfall of 1600–1800mm falling between early October and April, with a subsequent dry season. Vegetation is mainly cerrado sensu lato, a mosaic of vegetation types including evergreen and riparian forests, grassland and vereda (marshland dominated by grassland and palm trees). The reserve is virtually an island, surrounded by large farms where most of the natural vegetation has been removed and replaced with exotic pasture grasses for cattle raising.

Krahô cultivation is carried out in swidden plots (roça), which may be several hours or a day’s walk from the village, within gallery forests. The Krahô cut a clearing in the gallery forest over two to three months and the vegetation is allowed to dry for at least a month before burning in late August or September. This results in an intense fire, thoroughly clearing the area for planting.

In the early dry season (April/May), low intensity fires are lit around the roças, so as to create a buffer from high intensity late-season fires. Another type of cerrado (carrasco), rich in fruiting trees and game animals is also protected by early dry season burns. Fires in early to mid dry season are used near inaccessible areas of vegetation to promote re-sprouting of grasses to attract game. Areas that have a particularly high density of fruiting trees are burned in the early dry season to promote flowering and production of fruit. Mangaba trees whose surroundings have been burned in the early dry season are laden with fruit, and trees of the same species whose surroundings have not been burned have very little fruit on them.

The early dry season is seen as a good time to burn the cerrado for hunting purposes, because the combustible debris is still moist, and fires are easily controllable. A large area surrounded with natural barriers (hills and streams) is selected, and different points are lit simultaneously leaving only one escape route where the hunters wait and kill deer as they try to escape.

Honey is an important resource and is collected in September and October using fire to smoke bees out of the hives.

Increasing the visibility of the landscape is an important element of burning for the Krahô. They also perceive tall grass as ‘bad for walking’, particularly because of dangerous or annoying animals such as snakes, scorpions, ticks and wasps. Burning the tall grass helps to eliminate or expose these potential hazards. Thick grass also impedes the speed of walking and running, and the main communication routes are regularly burned.

Correct use of fire for managing a fire-adapted ecosystem such as cerrado has many environmental benefits. It stimulates certain plant species to sprout, flower, fruit, or set seed, increases the vigour and palatability of particular herbaceous species, enhances nutrient recycling, controls invasive species, maintains biodiversity, and consumes accumulated debris to prevent the spread of wildfires. Analysis of options available to small farmers in the savannas of central Brazil indicated that while there were alternatives to fire to meet their management objectives, the benefits of fire far outweighed the ‘costs’ in terms of time, manual labour or possibly money (Mistry, 1998). For the Krahô, there are no realistic alternatives to burning for preparing roças, hunting, or protection of resources. Their income from paid work would not be sufficient to allow them to hire tractors or buy fertilisers for their fields, nor to buy meat on a regular basis. The Krahô could potentially make firebreaks by eliminating vegetation around these resources, but the manual labour and time involved would be large compared to the ease of fire use. Fire (kô) is thus a key component of the Krahô interactions with their environment, as summarised in Table 2.

Table 2 The main reasons for burning as identified by the Krahô

Cultivation:Land clearing and preparation Nutrient enrichment from ash
Hunting Fires: to attract game ‘fire drive’
Harvesting natural resources: Fruits stimulated by fire; Honey extraction
Aesthetic reasons: Keep clean, increase visibility in vegetation and landscape
Protection Fires: for protection of roça; Fires for protection of certain fruiting trees; Fires to protect areas of cerrado from later, more
intense fires; Fires to protect ‘carrasco’, areas of cerrado vegetation which are perceived to contain many animals and fruiting trees
Livestock grazing: Fires to promote grass re-growth
Eliminate pests: Kill snakes and insects
Outsider fires: Fires caused by poachers entering reserve, or from farmers living on periphery

The Krahô are divided into two functional groupings: Wakmejê (summer, dry season, sun, east group) and Katamjê (winter, rainy season, moon, west group). Group membership is determined by the alliance between a child and one of his or her uncles or aunts, respectively. The two groups are identified separately by body paints, and form the basis of everyday activities as well as social rules.

Group members also hunt together. Conversely, marriage must be between persons belonging to opposite groups for the couple to ‘get on’. Decision making control is cycled between the male members of the groups depending on the season. Although male control is apparent, male action must be in accordance with the wishes of spouses.

During the dry season (May to September), the Wakmejê men have control over decision making, while during the rainy season (October to April) the Katamjê men are the decision makers, allowing each group to control certain activities. For example, during the rainy season, the Katamjê ‘command’ activities such as planting, while the Wakmejê are the ones who decide on certain aspects of the burning regime. The Katamjê are regarded as not having inherent fire
management knowledge. Every morning at sunrise, the men meet at the centre of the village (the ka) to discuss the day’s activities, and depending on the season, the relevant group decides on the course of action. Decisions about burning to clear land for planting, or for collecting honey, can be made by individuals.

Fire knowledge is transmitted through observation and practice. Younger members of the community and even children accompany older members in fire management activities. They learn from observation and participation in daily activities, where the rewards are usually immediate (food to eat, shelter, etc.). Where there is conflict among adults, disagreement is communicated through loud chanting that often goes on through the night. Conflicts are usually settled by ‘payment’ of material goods to the injured party or, in extreme cases, the expulsion of the offender from the village.
Up to 2004, key vegetation types such as gallery forests had remained relatively intact within the Krahô reserve while a significant reduction was apparent outside the reserve. Nevertheless, misconceptions about the effects of fire on natural ecosystems, drawn from observation of wildfires in fire-sensitive ecosystems such as tropical lowland forests, have led the Brazilian Government to try to deter fires in the cerrado. Environmental legislation allows the use of fire for managing nature reserves, but in reality few government officials permit even this. Brazilian law also accepts the necessity of fire for agricultural purposes but prescribed burns can only take place according to complex, costly and elaborate regulations. These are either unknown or ignored in decision making by many farmers.

With growing criticism from outsiders, notably farmers of European descent, the Krahô’s perceptions of the role of fire are slowly changing. The Krahô of the younger generation have contact with contemporary Brazilians, particularly the surrounding settled farmers, whose views are closer to those of the government. Many younger members of the Wakmejê group now claim they do not burn the cerrado because it is bad for the environment. This is having a significant impact in the group decision-making process led by the Wakmejê. Because discussions are public, many younger Krahô men openly criticise burning and as a result, many early season fire practices are not being implemented. Individuals may continue to use fires, but this is mostly in the late dry season for honey collection and roça preparation, leading to increasingly damaging late-season fires that only serve to reinforce criticism. This may be a source of future conflict – older members of the group already complain that youngsters are losing their traditional knowledge, including that pertaining to fire management.

As more people surround and invade Krahô land, the pressures on them to abandon their traditional management practices will increase. If the Krahô continue to decrease burning, or change their burning strategies, and more poachers come into the reserve using fire in the late dry season, this may have a damaging effect on vegetation patterns in the Krahô land and associated natural resources.
esse sequitur operari
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby Teiana on Fri Apr 09, 2010 11:14 am

i still think a statement to the effect that your cultural position means you don't fully grasp it, and a list of potential issues or questions raised By that lack of extra information, sorts the problem out... I think they are looking for awareness of your self and your own situation and abilities and worldview and perspective and even if that perspective means something appears alien, you should just work with that rather than pretending it isn't there. i think that's the benefit of a systems approach to things - being up front about what we can and can't see going on, rather than taking an approach that we're an 'expert' who can't reveal what they don't know...

I have Very Briefly read that article andrea just posted here. I shall try and summarise it quickly as an experiment to see what i took in on a first reading. I wasn't making any kind of notes, just skimming through.
There's a tribe somewhere - africa? - and they are split into two factions - wet rainy season moon and dry sun, fire, season people... and alternate 6 months the men from each faction take charge of decision making. They have a land management method which involves burning stuff, and only the men from the sun faction are considered able to make decisions about the burning. There are several reasons for the burning.

That's about all i took in. So i guess i'd need a few more read-throughs. But i'd feel able to talk about systems stuff around it, without worrying that i didn't 'get' the whole thing. I know i don't get the whole thing, and all my obligation is, is to state that, to whoever it may concern.
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby jamesWtc on Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:11 pm

Andrea wrote:To give an opposite example for the Brits to appreciate the situation, how about using a systems approach to propose a way forward to the following very simplified account of increasingly problematic landscape management by the Kraho Amerindians? Try it using a pressurised exam environment with the clock ticking in front of you........


Attempt to identify the roles of each players, geography and climate, culture, and the way they do things has already taken up a significant proportion of the time... not to mention how every they relate to each other, and why is that so :|

And this case study has a lot of more details than case studies in T306 TMAs — at least it explains what roles each individual plays, unlike in T306 where I have to look up Internet to find out more.
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby Teiana on Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:37 pm

i think you're trying to overcomplicate it...
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby jamesWtc on Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:56 pm

Teiana wrote:i think you're trying to overcomplicate it...

I am not overcomplicating... I am just trying to understand the course a bit better and I have to do a lot of background work.

To portray my situation, look at this cartoon:

Screen shot 2010-04-09 at 3.43.31 PM.png
Screen shot 2010-04-09 at 3.43.31 PM.png (74.04 KiB) Viewed 4071 times


I'm sure you can easily guess what is depicted in the picture. But do you really know what is going on in reality and why is that so, without googling it? Well, I do, somehow.
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby Teiana on Fri Apr 09, 2010 3:11 pm

you have to read the question though. In ours they wanted us to explain why the methods we could pick from, would or wouldn't be a good idea.. referring it to our own experience of using them. They didn't ask us to analyse the scenario, it's just an example. So you might say 'i would like to use method X in this <insert part of scenario method would apply to> situation because when i used it in <insert situation where you used it, even if it was only last week> i found it enlightened me about the perspectives of those involved <or whatever>

you're hanging the systems ideas on the situation they give you, like putting up christmas tree deccys. It doesn't matter what kind of tree it is. Just tell them which deccys, and why, and if some aren't right, explain that too.
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby Teiana on Fri Apr 09, 2010 3:33 pm

viewtopic.php?f=17&t=394

plus there's some other discussion in the revision section of the boards in here..
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: Case studies in exam

Postby corinal14 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 3:09 am

The man: "God, how long is a million years?"God: "To me, it's about a minute."The man: "God, how much is a million dollars?"God: "To me it's a penny."The man: "God, may I have a penny?"God: "Wait a minute."A: Doctor, will I be able to play the piano after the operation?B: Yes, of course.A: Great! I never could before!
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