Jefferson’s Global Footprint Helps University Join World-Renowned Social Impact Lab
The University’s global centers each boast a unique mission in their respective international locations, a notion that we will explore in an ongoing “Around the World in 80 Days” Nexus series.
Through the Jefferson All-Island Ireland Center, the University has become the first and only North American institution to join the innovative SMARTlab academic collective. SMARTlab was “created to ignite change” through promoting user-driven, transdisciplinary practice-based research and leveraging creative technology innovation at scale. The effort is being spearheaded here by Dean Barbara Klinkhammer, of the College of Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), and Dr. Edgar Stach, director of the Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities.
Through the collaborative program helmed by professor Dr. Lizbeth Goodman, of University College Dublin (UCD), CABE will launch an exclusive, practice-based PhD track offering a concentration in inclusive design and creative technology innovation.
The SMARTlab, which works closely with partners as a social impact lab dedicated to creative technology innovation in service of real social change, is now a standalone organization collaborating with scholars and researchers from around the world.
Established in February 2020, the Jefferson All-Island Ireland Center is the University’s most recent global center, but great opportunities like this are already underway, says Dr. Richard Derman, the University’s associate provost for global affairs.
Dr. Derman notes that this is “but the first example of major projects being generated by our All-Island Ireland collaboration” between the University, UCD, Technological University Dublin and Ulster University in Northern Ireland.
“During President Biden’s recent visit to Northern Ireland, we were reminded of the importance of the longstanding Good Friday agreement for supporting research among universities in the United States, Ireland and Northern Ireland,” Dr. Derman says. “Additionally, Ireland is a full partner in the European Union and, thus, provides additional access for involvement in Horizon-funded research.”
Launched in 1992, SMARTlab has blazed an impressive and far-reaching path. Its “radical roots” are in a distance learning program conceived when Dr. Goodman researched and presented a Shakespeare in Performance course at the Open University – then the largest U.K. university.
Technologically speaking, the times were markedly different, and Dr. Goodman’s course was aired on BBC2 television, one of four channels available in the U.K., with what she termed high-level participating actors and directors from the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
“There was no cable TV, no internet and no distance-learning model yet,” Dr. Goodman recalls. “I was lecturing for 6,000 registered students but learned that there were 6 million drop-in viewers. That led us to ask ourselves how best we could engage with those different audiences and how we could gather feedback and understand what students and wider audiences were understanding and what further supports they might need, especially those with disabilities or other learning challenges.”
Dr. Goodman notes that the team decided it needed to invent an interactive teaching medium and did just that.
“The BBC assigned one of their top technologists – Huw Williams, the head of interactive media at the OUBBC at the time – and his tech team worked with me as we iterated ideas over time until we created our first fully interactive course with high production value professional performances that were replayable in multiple media,” she explains. “Huw is still the chief technology officer and co-director of SMARTlab.”
Dr. Goodman notes additional collaborators include the Inclusive Design Research Centre of Ireland, which linked with the SMARTlab institute this fall. Existing relationships between UCD and both Ulster University and OCAD University in Toronto will enable further expansion of the Jefferson program.
Dean Klinkhammer says that, as part of SMARTlab’s collaborative global network, the college will offer the new practice-based track in the PhD in Architecture and Design Research focusing on inclusive design this coming fall.
“This year, Lizbeth was one of Dr. Mark Tykocinski’s visiting scholars,” says Dean Klinkhammer. “She is world famous, with countless high-ranking awards for the work she’s done. Our relationship was built over time, and we saw an opportunity to leverage what we were doing in collaborations with the health and design disciplines. This is a truly transformative outcome with the new PhD in architecture.”
The focus is inclusive design and using creative technological innovations as part of the drive to ignite social change. –Barbara Klinkhammer
In April, Dr. Goodman visited Jefferson where she, Dean Klinkhammer and Dr. Kihong Ku – program director of the PhD program and associate professor of design technology and architectural innovation – interviewed potential candidates for the PhD program. They estimate that anywhere from three to 10 students are expected to be accepted into the four-year program. The partnerships will ensure that participants will learn from top international scholars from the SMARTlab global network.
“The focus is inclusive design and using creative technological innovations as part of the drive to ignite social change,” Dean Klinkhammer says. “We met an incredible group of individuals. They are thinkers and independent experts already advanced in their careers, academia and at high-ranking tech firms. They’re vice presidents and senior vice presidents of leading firms or academics working with inclusive designs already.
“The group here will intersect with the cohort from UCD both remotely and in person. They will spend one week per semester together and participate in research seminars and writers’ retreats while pursuing their regular studies remotely from wherever they live and work. I was part of a 15-member PhD cohort in Ireland in February, and it was an incredible experience.”
Dr. Goodman notes that Dr. Derman sought her expertise while planning for the All-Island Ireland Center’s opening. She said Jefferson’s standing made it a logical choice as the first institution to join from North America.
The aim of it all is to transform academia from within, to respond to the massive changes in the world and in the requirements of the workforce. –Dr. Lizbeth Goodman
Specifically, she cited work being done here with key areas of global concern, including research into autism support, assistive technologies, the Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities, rehabilitative technologies, rare diseases and connected health, as well as a focus throughout on equality, diversity and inclusion, mirrored SMARTlab’s focus.
“The program was needed in America as a whole, and it was fantastic for Barbara to be so open to working together on this,” Dr. Goodman says. “Jefferson has creative, very smart people who were willing to say, ‘Hey, let’s just do this. What’s stopping us?’ I am really impressed by the way Jefferson has just stood up and embraced it. Barbara is the one who said, ‘Well, why don’t we do this here?’ and she just made it happen.”
Dr. Goodman notes that they continue to grow an established model, which leads to successful PhDs who are top global scholars, and are enacting their findings in social and sustainable actions across sectors, all around the world.
“The aim of it all is to transform academia from within, to respond to the massive changes in the world and in the requirements of the workforce. These are the questions that we’ve been addressing since the start of SMARTlab 30 years ago, and we are addressing them in new ways today,” Dr. Goodman says.
“We have been trying from within to foster a collaborative spirit of reinventing education with each new generation for each new generation,” she continues. “That’s what we stand for, so for us, to have a new partner to engage in that collaboration is fantastic. That’s exciting for us, and it makes Jefferson the leading institute on the land mass of North America to be able to partner in these programs and, thereby, also to partner on European research grants.”
Dean Klinkhammer will serve as the inaugural director of SMARTlab at Jefferson. She concurs that the SMARTlab collaboration will bring great things to Jefferson.
“This is a wonderful, exciting and significant partnership with an internationally renowned group,” she says. “This contributes greatly to Jefferson’s international visibility, footprint and reputation.”