Full speed ahead at Aalborg's UNESCO Centre for Problem-Based Learning

Full speed ahead at Aalborg's UNESCO Centre for Problem-Based Learning

Happiness is in the air these days at Aalborg's UNESCO Centre for Problem-Based Learning after a successful Indian PBL symposium with the centre as co-organiser for over 650 prominent attendees from all over the world. But this is not the time for resting on laurels. A large number of new projects are already underway.

By Nelly Sander, TECH Dean's secretariat  Photo: NOWONDER

On the weekend of 18-19 June 2021, Aalborg's UNESCO Centre for Problem-Based Learning (UCPBL) co-organised a large, online symposium in India with keynotes including from Aalborg University (AAU) and MIT.

UCPBL, a UNESCO centre for problem-based learning in engineering and sustainability at Aalborg University, deals with engineering and science education – both at the university and in collaboration with a wide range of institutions and organisations around the world.

Thus, the centre’s involvement in the weekend's conference where the more than 650 participants had the opportunity to learn about problem-based learning (PBL) from a wide range of international experts who use variations of PBL, including MIT, University College London, Iron Range Engineering, and Aalborg University. Conference registrants had to have participated in at least one of UCPBL's online courses.

With the Zoom images having barely faded from the screen, the centre's researchers are ready to embark on the other important tasks next in line at UCPBL.

An especially busy August

At UCPBL you can rightly call week 33 PBL week. At any rate, the week offers two online conferences. At IRSPBL2021, the centre's own conference, experts from the international network are invited to exchange experiences, knowledge and research results on PBL. 

In the same week, the research project PBL Future – in conjunction with the PAN PBL Association, an international organisation for active learning and PBL in a broader perspective – is organising the PBL2021 conference. Participants will present and discuss research results and developments in practice.

The programmes are finalised for both conferences with international PBL experts on the digital stage. Registration is open and already moving along at a steady pace.

There's more going on in August. In partnership with Grundfos, the centre is running a Hackathon and all students in the sixth to ninth semesters are invited. The event focuses on innovation and idea generation around water and cooling systems, and the students may choose from a number of challenges, such as developing a roofing system for vertical gardens and designing intelligent water supply solutions for African countries. The work will take place in interdisciplinary groups and is one of the first initiatives in the new research project InterPBL, funded by the Poul Due Jensen Foundation with nearly DKK six million.

− This will hopefully be the start of a fruitful partnership between UCPBL and Grundfos where we will concentrate on developing and optimising interdisciplinary cooperation. We’re really looking forward to working with Grundfos, an exciting and progressive company that is zeroing in on the important synergy between STEM and SSH, says Professor Anette Kolmos who heads the centre.

PhD activities at home and abroad

The activities don't stop there. UCPBL also has a brand new PhD programme in the pipeline.

− We’ve developed an online PhD programme with the goal of attracting PhD students from all over the world, offering them a PhD in a hybrid format with combined online and physical teaching. We are currently in the process of negotiating with our Indian partner about the possibility of starting up a group of Indian PhD students. We have high expectations for the potential synergistic effect of combining the digital with the physical, Anette Kolmos says.

PBL training for both teaching staff and students

UCPBL also runs various training courses for teaching staff in PBL. The next one is scheduled for early 2022 with participants from the National University of Colombia in Bogotá.

During the spring, the centre's academic staff organised a number of internal workshops where AAU students up-skilled in PBL.

− This is a new initiative where students reflect on their own PBL competences. This is part of supporting and facilitating the individual's learning process. We’re evaluating the spring workshops so that we continuously ensure optimal development of PBL instruction for the students, Anette Kolmos says.

Primary school, higher education and workplaces

STEM in primary school is the headline for several new research projects under the centre. The researchers will address motivation and gender, STEM in the Danish education system and upskilling STEM teachers-in-training, academically and pedagogically. UCPBL is a partner in the large, new NAFA centre sponsored by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and VILLUM FONDEN with DKK 200 million for the entire consortium that comprises all university colleges and four universities. Finally, UnFoLD, a project funded by Innovation Fund Denmark, is already on track and will be developing platforms for scalable learning in the workplace and higher education.

− There is an insane amount going on under the auspices of our centre right now. There is increasing emphasis on problem-based learning all over the world, and UCPBL is increasingly prominent as a source of inspiration and knowledge. We’re also really looking forward to playing an important role in the Institute of Advanced Study in PBL, to be established at AAU, concludes Anette Kolmos.

Learn more about the different projects and the centre's work on