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SDG Labs University of Limerick Lab (ULab)  

What is it? 

A design-led studio-based learning environment that enables the development of self-determined learning (heutagogy) and interventions to real world problems (SDGs). 

The ULab Approach 

The University of Limerick is actively working to co-design, develop and roll out its first SDG labs on campus (ULab). These labs will connect with and provide alternative opportunities for our learners enabling integration with existing programs and curriculum. ULab connects and activates our researchers, learners, faculties and communities and acts as an engine to drive SDG integration, across the UL community. ULab is underpinned by a fundamentally different educational approach, one that is anchored in self-determined learning, where the learner takes ownership of their own journey and actively seeks resources to support their engagement with ULab’s SDG driven challenges. All ULab action and learning is framed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework. It will enable cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary collaboration to address complex real-world problems. Acting as a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) impact platform, enabling local eco-system efforts to be amplified and shared across the UL Community.  

‘In focusing on the SDGs, this offers UL a means to engage researchers and learners to actively intervene to realise sustainable futures’  

Dr. Annmarie Ryan, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick.  

ULab is an innovative response to the challenges expressed in the 17 UNSDGs. Participants in ULab affiliated activities and modules will develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes required for the future of work while actively responding, to the complex challenges of our time.  

Aligning with Goal 4 – Quality Education to Achieve the SDGs 

We live in a time of radical transition. Between accelerating technological advancement and the societal and environmental challenges we face, the next decade will see a transformation in the way we live, learn and work. To successfully navigate this time of uncertainty, we need new strategies that support the development of resilience, imagination and adaptation as key characteristics across society. We acknowledge that this responsibility sits squarely at the feet of our educational institutions across all levels.  

The UNSDG response to this is described in Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. For example, one global indicator for Target 4.7 is: “Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development are mainstreamed in (i) national education policies, (ii) curricula, (iii) teacher education and (iv) student assessment.” This vision of education guides all of UNESCO’s work in support of Target 4.7 and the Education 2030 Agenda as a whole, notably as concerns Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED). Both ESD and GCED empower learners to develop the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes they need to contribute to a more inclusive, just, peaceful and sustainable world. ULab responds to this by designing and enabling rich, active learning experiences that put learners on a pathway of empowerment and transformation.  

The Desired Outcomes: 

  1. Equipping active citizenship toward sustainable futures. 
  2. Development of self-determined learner competencies. 
  3. A EU network of Higher Educational partners to address the SDGs. 
  4. A local network of industry, community and government partners.  
  5. A community of researchers, learners and educators working collectively to address the SDGs.  

Building on Past Experiences at UL 

UL has pioneered an interdisciplinary studio based model since 2013. Beginning with the Designing Policies lab in 2013, funded by Limerick Council and including the 2014 Health Futures Lab, 2015 IU: Culture Lab and the 2016 Health Research Futures Lab. Each lab employed the similar studio practice approach, and worked to respond to real world challenges. More recently, Dr Annmarie Ryan, is academic lead on HCI funded innovative Digital Futures Lab programme (2020-2024) (WP6). This will integrate 5 transdisciplinary masters to advance the hybrid space between digital technologies and traditional professional disciplines (including marketing, law, finance). The suite of programmes will all share a novel two-part digital futures lab incorporating 3x2 week full time multidisciplinary labs with students from across the programme coming together in matrix teams to address complex/wicked problems seeded by our industry partners.   

Partnership Approach 

Relationships are being built with industry and local communities to support the identification of SDG challenges locally. As well as with partner European Higher Education Institutions (e.g., Oulu University, Finland, Universidad de Leon, Spain, and Audencia Business School, France).  


ULab's Vision