Complex Systems in Education: Questions, Methods and Implications for Practice

Scope and Goals

Complex system science has already matured to an interdisciplinary field and especially for social sciences arises as a new paradigm for research and theory development. Essential concepts, such as dynamical systems, sensitivity in initial conditions, chaos, stochasticity, interdependence, self-organization, phase transition, evolution, networks, multiscale properties and emergence, have been widely adopted in a number of scientific disciplines. Compared to other fields the intersection between complex systems science and educational research has been rather underdeveloped. However, the latest year the radical work that is “altering account of reality’ has appeared and an international contribution has opened up the filed to complexity.

Until today, educational research and theory development has heavily relied on traditional methodologies assuming a static and linear reality, thus a limited range of research questions and hypotheses have been investigated. Meanwhile, complexity has inspired philosophical thought and some scholars in education have developed radical descriptions and interpretations, however at a metaphorical level. These approaches to complexity were largely theoretical and exploratory, without having the level of conceptual and methodological specificity that is required to capture the dynamical processes hypothesized in the complex systems literature, nor does it speak to the specific gaps in our knowledge that result from the relative absence of dynamical perspectives in empirical educational research. Recent progress in complex systems science includes significant and path-breaking empirical work to study the dynamical underpinnings of the educational process, and substantial development of structured, accessible educational materials about complexity. These advance appeared mainly at the interfaces of related fields such as pedagogy, science education, cognitive and educational psychology.

On the other hand, the key concepts of complex systems have remained mostly excluded from the set of scientific concepts being taught in K-16 education.  STEM education is still predominantly based on reductionist thinking, by decomposing complex problems into pieces, analyzing each piece separately, and assuming that simple combination of results of those independent analyses would produce the whole picture.  While systems thinking and modeling skills are being advocated in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) framework, the actual educational practice has not embraced the complexity related concepts as things that can/should be taught at school.

The proposed satellite symposium aims to present some of these advances at the intersection of educational research and complex systems science, and thereby promote cross-fertilization of ideas among researchers and growth of this important area of research and practice.  This symposium will consist of invited talks and contributed talks, the latter of which will be solicited via an open call for abstracts that will be announced to both educational research and complex systems science communities.

The proposed satellite symposium will enrich CCS participants’ conference experience by providing a high-level discussion of specific applications of complexity theory and its pedagogy.  The symposium targets those who have a substantial knowledge base or a keen interest in becoming more deeply involved in complexity research and education, and it seeks to further stimulate the interdisciplinary discourse that is an enduring benefit to the dynamical scholarly community. Moreover, the symposium welcomes new researchers, postgraduate students and PhD candidates who wish to get acquainted with the new methodological and epistemological issues underpinning the application of complexity science to educational research and practice.


Tentative Program  

Format: Full day with 10~15 invited and contributed talks, plus overarching introductory and concluding remarks

The symposium will start with a brief historical overview up to the most recent developments in complexity theory, followed by a brief discussion of the applicability of the theory to educational processes as well as the pedagogical effort about the complexity theory itself. We will also appreciate its potential to address some of the major issues facing our educational system (e.g., achievement gap, the sequelae of poverty and inequality, school reform, teacher effectiveness, impact of educational interventions). Our aim is to assemble a string of presentations falling into the following four categories:

  1. Conceptual presentations focusing on the utility of the complexity framework in education and its ability to provide an alternative perspective on some of the crucial questions and research hypotheses in the field;
  2. Empirical papers showcasing specific methodological approaches to illustrate how we can successfully capture dynamical processes in education through the use of these techniques;
  3. Pedagogical discussions about the development of effective pedagogical strategies for teaching and learning complexity theory; and
  4. Case studies of practice in complex systems education. 
  5. Poster session with corresponding presentations.

An introductory section will discuss the relevance of complexity theory to education. A concluding section will tie the results of the presentations together, reflect on their significance, and contemplate the next steps for research and its interface with educational practice.  Participation of the audience in these latter activities will be greatly encouraged.


Tentative List of Speakers and their Expertise

  • Martin Gardiner (Brown University, USA) – Complexity in mathematics and music education.
  • Carlos Gershenson (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico) – Self-organizing systems, complexity and artificial life
  • Matthijs Koopmans (Mercy College, USA) – Cause and effect relationships, stability and change in educational systems, time series and network analysis.
  • Diane Rosen (State University of New York, USA – Complexity in the arts & arts education)
  • Stephanos Michiotis (University of Greenwich, United Kingdom) -- Organization, culture and change
  • Hiroki Sayama (Binghamton University, USA) – Complex systems education, dynamical networks, social/organizational dynamics
  • Eugenia Tsouplis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece -- Educational assessment and leadership)
  • Dimitrios Stamovlasis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece- Research methodology and applied statistics).



Dimitrios Stamovlasis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,

Matthijs Koopmans (Mercy College, USA;

Hiroki Sayama (Binghamton University, USA;


Individual Presenters: To be considered for inclusion in this program, please send an abstract to Matthijs Koopmans (, Hiroki Sayama (, or to Dimitrios Stamovlasis ( Maximum 300 words. Deadline: June 1, 2018.


Information about the Conference:



The official Hotel of the Conference is
Makedonia Palace.

Conference Organiser: NBEvents

The official travel agency of the Conference is: Air Maritime

Photo of Thessaloniki seafront courtesy of Juli Bellou
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