UCPBL research areas

UCPBL research areas

Education systems are encountered with compounding challenges associated with rapid technological developments, worldwide professional transformations, and prompt societal changes. In response to such challenges, a wide range of change initiatives have been developed and implemented in educational institutions. In particular, the recent decades have observed tremendous efforts worldwide in adopting Problem-Based and/or Project-Based Learning (PBL) as one of the major pedagogical advancement initiatives. The notion of educational change has been widely explored and discussed. Bringing together multiple theories of change, recent works of our group examined how a larger scope of educational change can be initiated, led and facilitated through the PBL implementation. In particular, the complexity theory provides us with a lens to conceptualize educational change as a dynamic, complex, and nested system which embraces multiple interactive sub-systems including teachers, students, curricula, learning environments surrounding the programme and institutes, and policies, among others. This conceptual standing-point allows for seeing learning as situated within ongoing changes and emerging through the interactions between learners and other competitors of the system. In a complexity-based curriculum, such as PBL, learning is dynamic, emergent, self-organized relational, and connected through the interactions among various parties. Pedagogically, PBL involves students and teachers as co-creators of new knowledge through collaborative work.


Following such conceptualization of educational change, our current work addresses diverse issues related to educational change via PBL implementation, as guided by the below questions:

  • What are the rationales for change initiatives (via PBL) in a global context? (Philosophical grounds, policy guide, and practical problems as arguments for the anticipated change)
  • In which ways educational change (via PBL) may be supported?  (Design of change initiatives towards PBL, e.g. curricula development for PBL, change support activities such as tailored PBL certificate programs)
  • Who are the key agents to change and how to support them to be ready for change?  (Leadership, teachers, students, and their readiness for change)
  • Seeing learning as the core of the change process, in which ways do the change agents (in particular, teachers) enact their professional agency and (re)negotiate their identities?
  • How do we know whether a change may happen or not? And how does change evolve? (Documentation of change process – teachers’ change of belief and practice, relations between intention, implementation and outcome of change, development of agency and leadership in the change process, temporal nature of change, etc.)
  • How can change be evaluated over time? What are the affordance/enablers and constraints triggering change?


Connecting practice and research, our engagement to support educational change through PBL promotion involves works on policy analysis, leadership support, curriculum restructure, pedagogical development aiming to support teachers’ professional learning and their work on developing and implementing PBL teaching designs. One of our focal areas for both practice and research is organizing pedagogical development (staff/faculty development) activities worldwide to support professional learning of teachers. Considered as the key agent to change within institutional settings, teachers’ professional learning plays a crucial role in their engagement to change practices. On this regard, the complexity theory allows for opportunities to theorize teachers’ professional learning as a dynamic system which is complex, simulative, context-sensitive, and temporal. Teacher professional learning is thus conceptualized as a dynamic, active, experiential, participatory, autonomous, and relational process. This process involves not only diverse aspects of cognitive development, such as efficacy, affect, motivation, and self-regulation, but also interaction with sociocultural contextual factors such as institutional policies and conditions. Central to the meaningful learning for teachers is their professional agency which includes their wills, powers, stances, and actions to change, as well as their ongoing negotiation of multiple identities. Therefore, professional learning activities should incorporate complexity thinking, open-mindedness, dynamism, adaptability to cope with emergency, self-organization and connection with others and surroundings. 

To address the above-mentioned questions, we as a group work on diverse research initiatives including PhD and Post-doc projects, and international collaboration, adopting a wide range of conceptual, theoretical and methodological approaches.

Our research contexts include a range of educational levels (K12, higher education, and continuing education), and diverse societal and cultural contexts globally. Focusing on engineering and STEM education, our work also acknowledges that sustainable educational change involves cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional collaborations.

Research projects and publications

Research Evaluation 2015-2019