SMART-LIFElab is a new project commissioned by the NCRC in 2011. The lab is planned as an educational programme for children and teenagers, a highly practical introduction to understanding their health, and the impact that life choices can have on their future health. Working with researchers from our partner organisations, students can discover, first hand, how diet and lifestyle lay the foundations for a healthier life, and how their own health is linked to the health of the children they may have in the future. SMART-LIFElab partners include SMARTlab (UCD, School of Education), the National Children’s Research Centre, Crumlin Children’s Hospital, Tallaght Children’s Hospital and Temple Street Hospital, along with the HRB (Health Research Board) and the University of Southampton, UK (with NHS Innovations).

The new SMART-LIFElab will have academic and research personnel based at UCD (SMARTlab), at all three children’s hospitals and at schools in and around Dublin. SMART-LIFELab will utilise the latest technologies to support an infrastructure that fosters technology used for positive social change, including unique applications of virtual environments as a means to support learning and collaboration.

SMART-LIFElab aims to provide school students with opportunities to:

  • Experience scientific developments that focus on understanding how our early lives have consequences for our later health;
  • Learn how they can improve their own health and that of their future children, under a framework of ‘Me, my health and my children’s health’;
  • Become enthusiastic about science, so that they consider further study and careers in scientific disciplines.

SMART-LIFElab will involve collaboration with researchers and assist professionals in designing an experiential learning programme for students and young people from diverse backgrounds.  The project’s initial focus will be on educating students on the social and health implications of poor diet and lack of exercise, as one of a suite of key concerns for young people and educators/health professionals. As the project develops further, themes in teaching technology innovation for social change through experiential education programmes will be developed.

The blending of innovative technology solutions and lessons from mainstream and experiential school syllabi to ‘make learning fun’ and to ‘personalise the learning experience’ is essential to this project. The goal is not only to ensure student understanding of the concepts involved, but also to ensure a life-changing attitude shift towards health and wellbeing. The intended impact is a measurable decline in the high level of heart disease and obesity, currently on the rise in Ireland and internationally.

A major focus of the first year of delivery will be on the important issue of combating childhood obesity and diabetes, by reaching beyond the issue of healthy eating to explore the ways in which young people today do and do not focus on their bodies and health differently when exercising in virtual environments.

SMARTlab’s proven success in related projects – such as TRUST (a virtual/haptic game and personalised learning environment for children in hospital and persistent care and in special schools, running in the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, at the KK Children’s Hospital in Singapore, at the CRC in Dublin and at the Stephen Hawking School in East London) and the HOPE Project (operating throughout the USA to support Hospital-based Online Persistent Pediatric Environments), as well as our leadership of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) outreach of the Microsoft Clubtech/SMARTclub project (which has reached nearly 7 million of the most disadvantaged young people in America to date) – will help to ensure a successful outcome.

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