A diagram showing the issues of teaching complex systems
See the original Loopy
Complex systems are difficult to teach. You need to show how multiple elements interact with each other to affect a final outcome, demonstrating the various effects each element has on the final outcome and on itself. It’s a serious cognitive load, and it’s one of the harder things for students to handle. One of the classic ways to handle this is with diagrams and other visual aids. But static visual aids can still struggle to show how systems interact over time, and are limited as classwork tools.

Loopy is a terrific new tool by independent game designer Nicky Case, who now specialises in interactive data visualisations — interactive tools that work to demonstrate how systems work. Case created Loopy as a tool to help other people create similar explanations, and it’s a really great tool for lectures, for online teaching and classroom work.

Getting Loopy

An image of a Loopy being createdLoopy is incredibly simple to use and works simply by drawing onto the screen using any input device you have. (Mouse, touchpad, touchscreen — You name it!) It uses HTML5 to run and can be run on mobile devices as easily as a PC. The whole system runs on two ideas: Nodes that represent bodies or ideas, and arrows that demonstrate the connections between those ideas. You literally just draw these onto the screen: Draw circles to make nodes, or draw straight lines between nodes to make arrows. The nodes can either become filled with color or shrink to white (to show a positive trend or negative trend) and the arrows can be set up to show a direct or inverse relationship. The whole system is quick enough that I’ve actually created simple Loopys in real time to illustrate a concept to a student during a query.

Once you’ve set up your loopy, you can do a lot with it.

A diagram showing the mechanics of an e.coli repressilator

See the original Loopy

Get Loopy in Your Lecture

It’s easy to make Loopys in advance and save them as a link that you can load up in a lecture. Because the design is so clean, it expands well to view on large screens. (You may want to keep your node names short so they’re more visible.) This lets you talk students through an interactive diagram to show how a simple system works, like this demonstration of an e.coli repressilator. (Made by Claire McWhite at University of Texas Austin.)

Get Loopy Online

Since the whole system is online, it’s really easy to use Loopy online for pre-work or other online learning. As noted before, Loopys can be saved as a link and then shared with students, and while the embed function doesn’t work with UTS Online (thanks to some technical issues; Case hopes to fix this in the future and there is a workaround), you can embed Loopys in many websites for students to see and use. And better yet, Loopy is public domain. So there are absolutely no copyright or rights issues with using Loopy in any online forum.

Tell Your Students to Also Get Loopy

A diagram showing the connections between automation, job loss and profit cycles
See the original Loopy

Since it’s public domain, the other neat feature of Loopy is the remix button. Any Loopy can be copied and altered at will (this won’t affect the original Loopy! It’s a copy!) which makes it a great exercise for students. Create an unbalanced system and then challenge the students to propose a fixed version, such as this demonstration Loopy about automation and job loss.

Getting Loopy Could be the Answer

No matter how you use it, Loopy is a terrific tool for teaching and learning. The system is fairly flexible but very simple to use. Sharing is a breeze, and it has a lot of applications in learning.futures activities. Remember: Visual aids like Loopy help you overpower complexity!

A diagram showing how visual aids can help students overcome complexity
See the original Loopy

  • this is a great tool – thanks for sharing Sean. I can see some good applications for engineering, IT and Science.

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