21 December 2007

Innovation around the world

I was reading a recent issue of Seed magazine and came across some really good stories on innovation in various parts of the world. The two articles I was interested in led me to find a couple others when I went searching for the electronic versions to post here. The first one is not apparently available electronically, but was a story on Chinese efforts at fostering an innovation culture. The point of the story is that China, with 2000 years of Confucian history, has lauded a kind of mimicry over innovation. (I'm reminded of the Japanese proverb: "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.") The article goes on to say that the Chinese government is engaged in a wholesale project to foster a new culture of inquiry. If I can source an electronic version of this article I will post it (here is a related article, and another). If you can find a paper version, I highly recommend it (October 2007).

Another article in this same issue illustrates the Arab world's attempt to gain ground in the science and innovation arena. "Science is Golden" details some of the efforts currently under way to expand the science and technology capacity of Arab nations, led by a staggering $10 billion endowment from the UAE. The African Way tells a similar tale of large-scale efforts in Africa to foster science, technology and innovation not just for social gain, but economic as well.

All of these form an interesting backdrop to our own national efforts at fostering innovation, now crystallized in the Federal Science and Technology Strategy. As I have said in this space previously, this is a good attempt at fostering an innovation culture in Canada as we seek to gain ground in the productivity indexes as measured by the likes of the OECD. As I reflect on the past year of applied research and innovation and the wider contexts in which we work, I am reminded of another Seed story on scientific literacy. The author, Steven Saus, reminds us that a "deeper understanding of scientific literacy cannot be the responsibility of any one group, individual, or program. It is created and fostered by all aspects of a society; it rests on a systemic approach that requires change in all sectors."

This is what those of us involved in the research and innovation enterprise are collectively engaged in. The point of posting these stories I picked up from Seed is to reinforce that this effort is global. Notwithstanding the dire prognostications of our slippage in OECD productivity ratings (which will have a meaningful downstream effect on our overall quality of life, to be sure), there exits real potential to engage with the policy instruments put now before us and to work collaboratively towards national goals in the R&I agenda. I for one am looking forward to it.

17 December 2007

Research and Innovation Commercialization @ Precarn

Precarn has recently teamed up with Reid Eddison to launch a commercialization program for intelligent systems. This is another piece in the research and innovation (R&I) puzzle that will help us collectively pull up our productivity index. While reading their blog I noted also that Precarn has launched what they call IntelliFINDER Online Services, which is a matching service for R&I needs. It's similar to Innocentive. These kinds of matching services are like the lava life for the R&I set, a point I made some time ago about CONII. Just over a week ago I attended a session at the Toronto Region Research Alliance where a similar idea emerged for providing matching services for industry to contact academic and government research labs. This form of regional cooperation will aid us all in ensuring that Canadian research, development and innovation reaches markets.

14 December 2007

NSERC's College and Community Innovation (CCI) Program set to launch

NSERC's College and Community Innovation (CCI) Program is set to launch the week of December 17, says the new issue of Contact, NSERC's online magazine.

The $48m program is part of the federal government's Science and Technology Strategy that is leveraging the applied research sector of post-secondary education.

13 December 2007

News items on education and innovation

Recent news items about the role of education and innovation make interesting points on the relationship(s) between education, innovation and prosperity. As Canada slips in its OECD productivity rankings, these stories tell us about ways in which we can fill gaps in our productivity indexes with innovation and, of course, applied research.

The Canadian Council on Learning's recent report on Post-secondary Education in Canada: Strategies for Success "calls for the development of a road map that will provide strategic direction for post-secondary education—by setting goals and measuring progress—and makes specific recommendations on how Canada could achieve this in order to remain a “force to be reckoned with” on the international stage." A national post-secondary education system that is coordinated can better respond to present and future demands on the education, training and research needs of a knowledge-based economy workforce.

The Conference Board of Canada released this week an index on the attractiveness of Canadian cities, with Calgary leading the pack. The Globe and Mail's report on this item highlights the problem that "The credentials of highly educated immigrants are not being recognized, and their failure to achieve earning parity with their Canadian-born colleagues is 'a collective failure of business and all levels of government, not the cities' alone,' the report states." Getting internationally trained immigrants (ITIs) integrated into the workforce is essential if we are to climb the productivity ladder.

These stories together reflect the need for integrated education systems that link industrial needs with applied research capabilities that draw on regional strengths. In a global economy, competing with the school down the street is not the way to build a better national identity that links education, training and research closely with industrial and community needs. As I've said in this space in the past, we need to collaborate together to compete as a region, or even country. Doing so will foster improved Canadian innovation; prosperity will follow.

03 December 2007

Showcase a success

The Second Annual Polytechnics Canada Science and Technology Showcase held last Thursday at George Brown was a success. The event featured speakers from government (Matthew King, Assistant Deputy Minister, Science & Innovation Sector, Industry Canada) funders (Suzanne Corbeil, Vice-President, External Relations and Communications, Canada Foundation for Innovation) and industry (Jeff Timms, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Siemens Energy & Automation). George Brown's President Anne Sado introduced the day, setting the stage for discussion on Canada's Science and Technology Strategy and the role of Polytechnic applied research in enhancing Canada's productivity. Presentations and posters by each of the Polytechnics gave attendees a sense of the kinds of applied research presently being conducted at the seven institutions, as well as to their collective capabilities.

A highlight of the day was a respondent panel composed of Phil Baker, President and CEO of Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network; Walter Stewart, Senior Advisor, Toronto Region Research Alliance; and Dan Donovan, Vice-President Business Affairs, Energy-FX. The panel gave insights on the presentations and the position of the Polytechnics in Canada's R&D scene. A lively discussion as to the need for partnership and collaboration, public funding (as in the US defence R&D spending) and the need to move forward "at warp speed" offered an excellent finish to a compelling look at the role of Polytechnic applied research in Canada's national strategy.

And speaking of events, a week prior I attended the Canadian Association of University Research Administrators annual conference, hosted by York University here in Toronto. Of note was a lunch keynote by Mark Romoff, CEO of Ontario Centres of Excellence. Romoff discussed the OCE's investment strategy (aligned with federal and provincial funding avenues) as enabling "technology transfer through knowledge transfer." Perhaps most significantly, he also outlined the need to get past inter-provincial competitiveness and to start thinking nationally in order to compete globally.

These events, and other meetings I've been attending recently, all feature the need to find ways to measure the effectiveness of research funding - measuring the outputs of research so as to quantify or qualify our success. These metrics are useful for internal and external marketing, as well as for contributing to the national agenda of increasing our productivity.

27 November 2007

GBC applied research in the news

Today's Report on Campus Research, in the Globe and Mail's Report on Business, contains an excellent story on the Compliments Culinary Centre, The George Brown Chef School research kitchen. The print version (page B24) has an excellent photo of Chef James Smith and Food Scientist Winnie Chiu working with students on some culinary magic in the test kitchen. The Compliments Culinary Centre is a partnership with Sobeys, and represents just one of the many applied research capabilities at the GBC research labs.

19 November 2007

George Brown in the news

George Brown's School of Design was in the news this past weekend for work done on a Toronto version for the video game Half Life. Luigi Ferrara Director of the School of Design, is quoted as saying that the game mod could be used for all sorts of purposes, from disaster simulations to planning.

Kudos to the School of Design for their work, and for recently being named one of the world's top design schools by Business Week.

05 November 2007

Report on Colleges

The Globe and Mail today published their Report on Colleges, an overview of Canada's community colleges and what they offer today's post secondary education market. There are good articles on college-university articulation, applied degrees offered by colleges to meet demand, and Polytechnics Canada institutions that are catering to demand for applied degrees and applied research. It's clear there is room in Canada for all forms of education, but we do need more programs that enable students to transfer credits. Our education system needs to be responsive to the demands of the students, but also the workforce, as lifelong (and life-wide) learning increasingly become the norm.

29 October 2007

George Brown Internally Funded Applied Research Projects

A list of the George Brown Internally Funded Applied Research Projects has been posted here. Congratulations to all applicants. There is a wonderful variety of projects spanning all disciplines and divisions in the College.

We will be posting more news and success stories on our site in the coming weeks. Watch this space for more details.

22 October 2007

Hiring: Business Developer, Applied Research and Innovation

The George Brown Office of Applied Research and Innovation is hiring for a Business Developer, Applied Research and Innovation. Please follow this link for the posting: http://www.georgebrown.ca/Admin/hr/jobs/10-19-07/07-164.pdf

We would like to hear from any qualified candidates who might be interested in this job.

E-Learning in Quebec City

The AACE ELearn conference was held in Quebec City last week, and was a very good international overview of the state of things in this area of research. Many sessions were focused on best practices, evaluation results, new tools and the like. Quite a few sessions were on health information online, both in terms of e-learning for clinicians as well as for patients.

I saw an excellent presentation by Holly Witteman of the University of Toronto who, along with Laura O'Grady, is investigating the use of tag clouds on PEPTalk. This is an interesting use of the PEPTalk application that my colleague Lynda Atack and I have been working on for the past couple of years. After seeing Holly's presentation, I am looking forward to starting this new phase in earnest.

09 October 2007

ACCC Conference Call for Papers

The Association of Canadian Community Colleges is holding their annual conference in Prince George, BC, 25-27 May 2008. Their Call for Papers was released some time ago, and the deadline is 15 October.

Session topics will include:
  • Community, economic, social, cultural development
  • Research, innovation and commercialization
  • Workforce development
  • Programs and services for Aboriginal peoples
  • Immigrant settlement and labour market integration
  • Serving disadvantaged communities
  • Environment
  • College and institute governance
  • Student leadership

Proposals can be submitted online.

27 September 2007

Research Clusters and the National Research Council

The National Research Council convened a conference this week on Research Clusters. Connections 2007 was billed as the first NRC conference on technology clustering, as aligned with the Federal Government's Science and Technology Strategy. The event was well attended by a variety of stakeholders, and offered some excellent presentations and discussion about the cluster concept. There was good presentations on how to set up clusters, evaluation of their effectiveness, and the importance of fostering business development and intellectual property protection and "IP hygiene."

Steven Casper of the Keck Graduate Institute gave an interesting presentation on the use of social networking analysis to examine and evaluate clusters. Casper uses social network analysis to show three things: the first is the network effects of those who work in clusters - this is very closely related to the kind of work Putnam has done on the importance of social capital - and how there is a lot of mobility between companies in specific clusters. His second point was that clusters are defined by a heterogeneity of actors - people from various organizations and backgrounds - and that non-market actors need to take a systematic role in cluster development in concert with business management personnel. Casper's third point concerns cluster marketplace orientation, and how alignment of government and business objectives around specific industries influence the relative success of cluster development.

Some time ago I wrote about the idea of virtual research clusters, which I think is an idea gaining in momentum. While clusters may always be regional, we are working on a virtual cluster model (aligned with regional strengths) as a means of leveraging Internet technologies and distributed expertise to cohere around specific applied research problems. I'll post more on this as we develop the concept. Suffice to say, virtual clusters, leveraging regional strengths, can foster the aims of the Science and Technology Strategy by enabling Canadian business and research communities to leverage shared assets (i.e. the national broadband infrastructure) for common productivity goals. The NRC conference was an excellent introduction to the kinds of work being done in this area, sponsored in a large part by our national research labs, as well as work being done internationally on evaluating cluster effectiveness.

19 September 2007

With education, "a rising tide lifts all boats"

A story out today on the OECD Education at a Glance 2007 survey offers interesting context on the ancillary benefits of education even for those who do not obtain post-secondary education. While the report shows that Canada still lags in producing science graduates and women graduates, Canada does have the highest level of college and university degree attainment of all OECD countries.

17 September 2007

Innovation by design

Here are a couple of interesting pieces on innovation and design.

The first is an editorial on making innovation work. David Dunne details the process of "trial and error" that lets innovative design thinkers create, often against the foils of constraint. Those of us who favour participatory design techniques know this, but I get the feeling that, given Dunne's comparison with business, this is not taken as the norm in some circles.

This news story on Flaherty's recent talk on transforming the manufacturing sector is also interesting for its focus on the need for "innovation." This is the purview of applied research - adding value through the innovation chain.

10 September 2007

The Innovation Chain

“If you have a new, innovative technology that helps address climate change
or promotes cleaner water, land and air, we want to hear from you!” This
is the word coming today from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC),
as it announced it is accepting Statements of Interest (SOI) for its twelfth
round of funding. The closing date for submissions is October 24, 2007.
I read with interest their overview of The Innovation Chain, including this more detailed look at the role of basic and applied research. Note the role played by SDTC funding in addressing the pre-commercial gap in the Technology Development and Demonstration phase(s) of research (see image from their website).

While the point here is that this gap is more severe in the development of sustainable technologies, it applies in equal measure to the research value chain.

07 September 2007

Resources for Feminist Research: Call for manuscripts for a Special Issue

The following was sent to me recently by one of our faculty members:

Resources for Feminist Research

Call for manuscripts for a Special Issue Healthy Environments for Women Teachers and Faculty

Deadline for Submission: December 31, 2007

How healthy are Canadian schools and universities? What are the characteristics of a healthy or unhealthy educational setting? How healthy are the women who work in these settings? What initiatives would support a healthy physical and social environment for women teachers and faculty?

Historically, empirical studies of occupational health focused on the incidence of illness, injury, absenteeism, and disability. By contrast, a population health approach examines the social, environmental and biophysical factors that support health. Gender, culture, income and social status, social support networks, working conditions, physical environment and other interrelated factors influence the health of individuals and populations. From this perspective, teacher health is not simply a clinical descriptor or the absence of disease. Rather, the health of individual teachers and teachers as a group is an essential social resource. Safeguarding and promoting teacher and faculty health and wellbeing can be achieved by creating and sustaining healthy educational environments.

This special issue will explore the health of women teachers and faculty and the educational environments where they work. Invited are articles that explore the complex and varied experiences of women teachers and faculty, the factors that nurture and support their safety, and physical and mental health and well-being, and the processes, interventions, and institutional structures that create and strengthen healthy environments for women teachers and faculty.

Diana L. Gustafson and Roberta F. Hammett are the guest editors of this special issue of the Resources for Feminist Research. We invite submissions of original manuscripts that explore broader theoretical questions as well as those that report on innovative research studies and policy-oriented issues on a range of topics such as:
  • Social well-being in rural, northern and isolated community schools
  • Homophobia and chilly classroom climates
  • The healthy communities movement in the educational context
  • Healthy or health-related institutional policies and initiatives
  • Promotion and tenure anxiety among visible minority women
  • Women teachers' mental health issues
  • The production and mediation of women faculty's occupational stress
  • The control and surveillance of women's bodies in schools and universities
  • Safety and risk for women working in unsafe physical spaces
  • Women teachers' perspectives on health hazards
  • Incentive programs for teachers' healthy lifestyle choices

Manuscripts may be submitted by e-mail to RFR. Manuscripts should conform to RFR's editorial policy as described at http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ <http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/%3E Contributions must be original research or scholarly articles approximately 6,500-7,500 words, in English or French with a short abstract (75 words) which will be translated into the other official language. Submissions should be double-spaced. All manuscripts are reviewed anonymously by at least three qualified readers. Please address questions about this special issue to:

Diana L. Gustafson, Associate Professor of Social Sciences and HealthDivision of Community Health and HumanitiesFaculty of Medicine, HSC 2834Memorial UniversitySt. John's, NL A1B 3V6 diana.gustafson@med.mun.ca.

05 September 2007

Seed Funding Available for Applied Research Projects: Request for Proposals, Second Round

George Brown Office of Applied Research and Innovation is please to announce the availability of seed funding for applied research projects. George Brown College is committed to pursuing and conducting applied research projects that support the development of our community, respond to current industry needs and provide learning opportunities for students.

The first round of proposals resulted in five successful projects being awarded seed funding. Details will be available shortly on the Applied Research and Innovation web site.

Preference will be given to projects that involve students, involve an external community or industry partner, are likely to lead to further funding, and/or are multi- or inter-disciplinary.

Applicants can apply for up to $7,500 and will need to show what their total expected costs are, what they are requesting from GBC Applied Research, and what other sources of funding they have, if applicable.

The due date for completed application forms is 19 September 2007.

Please see the following web site for more information:

04 September 2007

Working smarter

Here's an interesting story related to the federal Science and Technology Strategy, and a timely reminder during return-to-school week. The general decline in science graduates in the West - and the concomitant rise in China as one example - is often read as a sign of looming productivity declines. Larry Smith prepared a report for Polytechnics Canada that addressed this issue, which I heard him present at the recent Polytechnics annual conference.

Morgan's article offers a nice synopsis of our collective responsibility to motivate and mobilize an increased focus on science and on graduating professionals in science fields. I especially like his distinction that being scientifically literate is "not about knowing how to use technical products, it's about knowing how to create them. It's also about the satisfaction of going through life with at least a basic understanding of the technologies you use every day." Scientific literacy is one component of the core foundation of education today.

31 August 2007

Three links: Science, Technology and Innovation Council; IP and You; Research Intelligence

The three stories below come from the latest KMDiary. The third, on the research intelligence portal, is very much like the Innocentive community, and is what I wrote about some time ago regarding the need to match researchers with industrial partners, funders and the like.

Canada Creates New Science, Technology and Innovation Council
This new council will provide the government with policy advice on science and technology issues and will produce regular national reports that measure Canada's science and technology performance against international standards of excellence.

Useful Links For Those Wishing To Learn About IP
In an effort to raise awareness and increase knowledge of IP in the education sector, CIPO has compiled a list of links that will be useful for students wishing to learn about IP (1)
(1) http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/sc_mrksv/cipo/learn/learn-e.html

Research Intelligence Portal
The Research Intelligence Portal deployed by Calit2 which promises to "aggregate to inform” offers the latest in Web 2.0-type technologies designed to help the institute's scientists and engineers find new funding opportunities and research partners (1). The site's tools offer information and insight that go well beyond what faculty members traditionally have relied upon to learn about available grants and collaborators for new research initiatives. Check it out.
(1) http://www.calit2.net/newsroom/article.php?id=1093

27 August 2007

George Brown trades program in the news

Trades program offers lesson on repairing lives gives us a look at aninnovative program for women survivors of violence that trains themfor work in trades. Anna Willats, mentioned in the article, is workingwith George Brown faculty members Mandy Bonisteel and Jaswant Kaur onan applied research project for this program. A funding applicationhas been submitted; watch this space or contact us for moreinformation as things progress.

21 August 2007

George Brown professor featured on The Nature of Things

George Brown College professor Gerry De Iuliis is featured on an upcoming episode of The Nature of Things. Gerry, a biologist, is part of an international scientific expedition team of experts "who belong to the most important giant Sloths specialists on the planet." They uncover previously unknown facts gleaned from the discovery of fossils from the bottom of a flooded cave.

This is an excellent example of the variety of research conducted by College faculty. The Mystery of the Giant Sloths Cave airs Saturday August 25, 2007 at 10pm ET/PT on CBC Newsworld.

09 August 2007

Integrity, collaboration, ideas

The idea of collaborative knowledge building has come up a lot recently with colleagues with whom we are composing a CONII NCE Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research application. The goal is to facilitate knowledge creation around innovation clusters and applied research. This happens already, but recent publications like Wikinomics are bringing to the fore the notion of using web n+1 technologies to further open source learning and knowledge generation in a collaborative effort to take ideas from innovation to market.

There is a central tension here around balancing the open sharing of ideas and the need to protect intellectual property. Ideas in this sense are currency that have value only insofar as they are taken up and situated within social contexts. Social contracts around who "owns" an idea are precarious. Ideas emerge in discussion and within a context, just as innovation and invention evolve incrementally and involve many people building on others' ideas. Knowledge building works well within an innovation framework where there is a free flow of ideas, though ownership of these ideas can fast become an issue in the absence of trust and integrity.

The protection of IP is a topic of concern for the music industry, as we all know. Copyright in academic and research circles also has a long history. As the link to the article on the ecology of innovation makes clear, we need to incorporate IP and tax law within the social contexts of learning and idea formation as part of the function of research commercialization.

Legitimate peripheral participation, part of the theory developed by Lave and Wenger in their discourse around communities of practice, allows for a process of collaborative learning in which mentorship plays a key role. The business of innovation requires some basic protection of copyright, as well as a general collegial responsibility to acknowledge others' contributions. Are these two aspects of innovation commensurate with each other?

All research institutions subscribe to a policy of integrity in scholarly research. The fast scrum of innovation and ideas, establishing ownership of these ideas, and collaborating with integrity all require a careful balance between invention and disclosure in the complex matrix of collaboration. Learning from and with one another, and working towards common goals require us to foster open dialogue. There is great potential to "open source" the rapid development of ideas. But collaborating to compete together can prove difficult, requiring a high degree of trust and integrity, or else up front non-disclosure agreements that set some ground rules for the sharing of ideas in the first place. If nothing else, a clear understanding among all parties of expectations and roles is essential.

01 August 2007

More on college+university transfer

Here's another article on the impending post-secondary enrolment crunch facing the GTA, and the suggested solution of articulating college+university programs to increase capacity throughout the system. The article suggests looking west for models - specifically Alberta and British Columbia - that show how an articulated system can work to students' advantage. As I've noted twice before, this is how I completed my undergraduate education.

As today's article says, smaller class sizes is among one of the reasons students opt for this choice, which may aid in the transition from high school to advanced education. Colleges Ontario President Linda Franklin advocates for increased articulation of post-secondary programs such as that in the west. Alberta's and BC's approach is to create provincial blocs of post secondary education providers that competes together. In fact, Alberta and BC earlier this year signed a Credit Transfer Protocol (part of the Alberta-BC Protocol of Cooperation) that is signed by individual institutions and "improves opportunities for students to receive appropriate transfer credit when moving between the two provinces' post-secondary institutions." While some have said that this would never work in Ontario's larger system, there is much to be learned from the collaborate to compete model that is open sourcing education.

31 July 2007

Special SSHRC Call for Proposals

The following was sent by SSHRC:

Research in Management, Business and Finance

In March 2007, the Government of Canada announced it would provide the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) $11 million annually to support additional research in management, business and finance. This new funding provides a significant opportunity for the research community, its partners and other stakeholders to contribute towards innovative management, entrepreneurship and sustainable economic development practices in Canada through internationally recognized research and training.

The Council has developed special funding opportunities for 2007 as an initial step in the support of research excellence leading to greater impact in management, business and finance. Over the next year, SSHRC will engage in discussions with the social sciences and humanities community and others to develop a longer-term strategy for investments in these areas.

Researchers active in the social sciences and humanities are invited to apply to five special initiatives in management, business and finance, being offered in 2007 only, with deadlines in November 2007 (program descriptions and application forms will be available shortly):

  • Knowledge Impact in Society Grants (institutional grants of up to $300,000 for up to 3 years), deadline: November 15, 2007
  • Research Grants (up to $250,000 for up to 3 years), deadline: November 8, 2007
  • Public Outreach Grants (up to $80,000 for up to 1 year), deadline: November 15, 2007
  • International Opportunities Fund (up to $75,000 for up to 1 year), deadline: November 8,2007
  • Research Development Initiatives (up to $40,000 for up to 1 year), deadline: November 8, 2007

Additional funding specifically for management, business and finance projects will also be made available through a number of existing SSHRC programs, according to regular application deadlines:

  • Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (up to $2.5 million for up to 7 years), deadline: January 31, 2008 (letter of intent)
  • Strategic Knowledge Clusters (up to $2.1 million for up to 7 years), deadline: November 20, 2007
  • Community-University Research Alliances (up to $2 million for up to 5 years), deadline: November 21, 2007
  • Aid to Workshops and Conferences (up to $50,000 for up to 1 year), deadline: November 1, 2007

Note: Regular funding will continue for all disciplines within the Standard Research Grants program, with a deadline of October 15, 2007. Researchers may apply for both Standard Research Grants and Research Grants in management, business and finance, but must ensure that their applications deal with different research objectives.

Please forward this e-mail to those parties whom you feel would be interested in these programs. For more details, please go to SSHRC's Web site: http://www.sshrc.ca/web/apply/program_descriptions/mbf_e.asp

The web application forms and the program descriptions will be available by the end of September.

If you have any additional questions, please contact: Laurent Messier, tel: (613) 943-1148; E-mail: laurent.messier@sshrc.ca.

Research in the solar space

Last week's OCE session on solar energy was a very good discussion/brainstorming session that brought together industry and academic researchers on how to structure an upcoming $15m OCE call for proposals on solar energy. The session was structured as a "future workshop," a staple of participatory design, which is a good way of involving stakeholders in design processes.

Many good ideas and gaps were discussed at the session, including the need to train highly qualified people in the trades that will support the installation, maintenance and retirement of solar equipment. This is one area where our applied research can excel.

As we are in the process or working out some R&D in the solar space, I've been paying attention to news items on solar energy, of which there have been a few of late. Yesterday, for example, there was an opinion piece on what government can do to better enable investment in solar technology. Overall this piece provides some interesting ideas, but does sidestep the issue that Canada does not spend as much on R&D as our OECD counterparts (a point made by a speaker at the Polytechnics Canada conference a while back). Solar can be viable even in rainy climes, though the power buy-back scheme in Germany (as in Ontario) are supporting the initial investment.

The OCE is working to address the R&D issue in Ontario with a targeted call for research, starting with an expressions of interest call, expected in early August, with two page EOIs due on 31 August.

And while we're on the topic of alternative energy, here's a fascinating take on harnessing the kinetic energy of crowds that brings new meaning to the term "crowdsourcing."

30 July 2007

Education in formation

An article today discusses the issue of college+university transfer in order to solve a looming post-secondary education enrollment boom. The idea of "a system-wide change that would allow students to more easily transfer credits between colleges and universities" would be good for Ontario and certainly the GTA. As I noted earlier, the education system where I did my undergraduate studies was fully articulated. I recall being very surprised when I came to Ontario for grad school and found out that it wasn't the same here. Of course, I've since learned of the many challenges faced by the Ontario system. But, in keeping with the collaborate to compete model, York's president (Mamdouh Shoukri) reminds us that "'There are incredible opportunities hidden in big challenges.'"

27 July 2007

OCE Discovery Session on Solar Energy

The Ontario Centres of Excellence is holding a Discovery Session on Solar Energy today in anticipation of an OCE call for proposals on solar energy. The location is:

Room 7180 - Bahen Centre for Information Technology (BA) 40 St. George Street M5S 2E4
http://oracle.osm.utoronto.ca/map/index2.html (Bahen Centre code: BA)
(Co-incidentally the home of KMDI).

The focus on solar energy is a strategic alignment with the federal government's S&T Strategy. The OCE's goal is to "launch significant research to commercialization projects which will be transformative for the energy sector in the province and position Ontario on the world stage." We've been discussing applied research options with a CarbonFree Technology, a solar energy company based in Toronto, so the OCE session is timely. We'll keep you posted as things develop.

And speaking of things solar, here's an interesting bit of news on the latest in solar research: Paint-On Solar Panels.

23 July 2007

Open access publishing

A story from Saturday on open access publishing takes a look at the high cost of academic journal subscriptions and the open access publishing movement that has risen in recent years. Ironically, the story is not freely available from the online Globe and Mail unless you Google the title ("Turning the ivory tower into an open book").

The article quotes John Willinsky, who leads the Public Knowledge Project, as saying that academics have a responsibility to ensure their work is published and made accessible: "We have to change that thinking so that it is not enough to publish, you also are responsible for the degree of access to your work."

The Public Knowledge Project produces Open Journal Systems software that makes it simple for journal editors to set up and manage an online, open access journal. Open Conference Systems is a similar technology for conferences. Software systems such as these are important components of making information and knowledge media available to those who fund us: the public.

Another open source software that I like is D-Space. A colleague at the University of New Mexico's Health Sciences Library and Informatics Center gave me the great idea of using D-Space to archive conference posters and presentations, ephemeral media that are otherwise not accessible after the event. (How many of us have old conference posters rolled up in our offices?). Putting them online with D-Space gives them a permanent URI and makes them accessible in a useful and useable format. I started experimenting with this while at the UofT. We plan on installing a D-Space application in the near future as a means of archiving our knowledge media products and research outputs.

For those interested in open source software, Seneca's School of Computer Studies is hosting their annual Free Software and Open Source Symposium from 25-26 October this year. Check out also KMDI's Project Open Source Open Access.

20 July 2007

Just clean your hands!

The Just clean your hands campaign is well underway, with the development of a microsite being posited in order to better leverage web n+1 technologies to reach healthcare workers with this important message. The Just clean your hands program is a research project aimed at increasing hand hygiene compliance among health workers. The Hand Hygiene Education Module is part of the MOHLTC's Infection Control Core Competency Education Program.

My colleague Lynda Atack (Centennial College) and I have recently conducted research into effective learning programs for infection control. The learning modules that we studied are the first three of a planned large suite of learning products being produced by the product. These modules have recently been released to healthcare workers in Ontario. Read the Ontario Hospital Association's report here, and the MOHLTC report here.

12 July 2007

The ecology of innovation

A while back I wrote about the memetics of innovation as part of the process of discovery, open source learning and collaboration as the cornerstones of fostering a culture of inquiry and innovation in applied research.

Here's a good article on the "ecology of innovation," a useful term coined by William Wulf, that adds to this conversation. What I like about this piece is Wulf's assertion that "learning and investment are not enough," as he expands the recipe for innovation to include IP and tax law and the apparatus that collectively governs the ways in which we understand, conduct, and commercialize applied research.

Of particular relevance is the point that "His argument for diversity is not based on fairness, but rather on the value of bringing diverse social and cultural perspectives to the design of products and procedures that will be used by diverse people around the world."

10 July 2007

News, funding from NSERC

NSERC's new e-bulletin was released yesterday, containing information on the review and consultations currently underway at the federal funder. Of special note is the supplemental Strategic Project Grants competition, which is offering new and expanded funding "for projects that fall within three of NSERC’s seven target areas: Healthy Environment and Ecosystems, Sustainable Energy Systems, and Advanced Communications and Management of Information."

The new funding has a fast turn around time - applications are due 1 October, with adjudication set for January and decisions announced in February. Also in the bulletin is information about the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program. These initiatives are part of the government's new science and technology strategy.

09 July 2007

Applied research in environmental technologies: OCETA Precarn OCE Alliance Program

For those conducting research on environmental technologies, Precarn last week sent the following reminder about the OCETA Precarn OCE Alliance Program:

July 5, 2007 - OCETA Precarn OCE Alliance Program

Precarn, the Ontario Centre for Environmental Technologies (OCETA), and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) wish to remind you of their collaborative Proof of Principle Research (PoP) Program. The program supports projects led by Ontario-based small and medium-sized companies that deliver environmental solutions to customers in Canada and around the world. Each project will involve collaborations between the company leading the development of the technology, an end user, and a university or college. To satisfy the objectives of the program, projects will incorporate intelligent systems in environmental technologies. To qualify for the funding, applicants will develop a research project that demonstrates the “proof-of-principle” of their technology, a key step in the progress of the technology toward full commercialization.

Under this important initiative – which is administered by OCETA – Precarn will provide up to $300,000 over three years, which will be matched by OCETA and OCE, together. Contributions by participating companies will augment the total investment to approximately $1 million. Individual companies will be able to participate by providing about one third of the total for a project valued up to $100,000.

For more information please contact:
Steve Guerin
General Manager ETV Canada
PoP Research Program Co-ordinator
2070 Hadwen Road, Unit 201A
Mississauga, Ontario L5K 2C9
Phone: 905-822-4133 x228
Fax: 905-822-3558
E-mail: sguerin@oceta.on.ca
Websites: www.etvcanada.ca and www.oceta.on.ca

28 June 2007

Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) funding announcement

This week sees the announcement for Letters of Intent for the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program. Part of the government's Science and Technology Strategy, the CECR program has $165m for the four priority areas of
  • Environmental science and technologies;
  • Natural resources and energy;
  • Health and related life sciences and technologies; and
  • Information and communications technologies.

Watch this space for updates, as we'll be putting together a proposal that will leverage the strengths of our academic and industrial applied research partnerships.

Hiatus alert: And speaking of updates, I'm going to be away from the office for the next week, back on 9 July.

25 June 2007

Open Educational Resources OECD report released

Some time ago I participated in an OECD survey on Open Educational Resources. The final report has recently been released. "Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources" offers those interested in open courseware-type resource sharing a current and comprehensive review of the educational/knowledge sharing space. Definitions, sustainability, intellectual property policies - all of these and more are covered in an interesting look at the content connections to the open source and open access movements. The report concludes with recommendations for making OER more useful and usable.

A colleague today, in discussing e-learning, talked about "learnability" - a word he used to describe the inherent ability of a given information artifact to enable learning. While learnability is used in usability to discuss how well a system enhances a user's potential ability to learn to use it, the use of this term as applied to content conjures interesting connections to the open source/access/learning movements. It relates well to the web n+1 environment where user-generated content overlays existing, freely available content. How well we can learn from this content depends on human-human interaction, one among many complex variables that define how education transmutes base informational elements into knowledge.

The value-add here is in the communities that develop around the use of applications to build knowledge on top of information. Where content was once king, it is now primus inter pares with the AJAX-inspired applications that let us do stuff with it.

21 June 2007

On collaboration

Recently I wrote about the collaborate to compete model of conspicuous contribution. I've been thinking a lot more about this lately as I've been working on building new partnerships around an existing project. I support the principles of open source learning and sharing information, methodologies, study designs etc. Often it's a balancing act between the desire to take credit for original work and the inclination to share freely the "academic source code" of our research designs. We can extend this thought to the development of technology and other intellectual property that arises from research. Having participated in the creation of many technologies over the past 10 years that have been taken to market to varying levels, I realize this is an issue that requires much forethought.

PEPTalk is one such technology. My colleague from Centennial College, Lynda Atack, and I have been awarded several grants to research and develop this technology that are enabling us to situate the use of PEPTalk within clinical environments over the next several years. This project is top of mind as we are now launching the second clinical deployment in a Family Health Team at the Toronto Western Hospital, after a successful usability trial there and in other clinics over the past year.

This past March I received a Standard Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for the Advanced Patient Education for Cancer Survivors (APECS) project. Lynda and I have designed a study building on our earlier work that will integrate PEPTalk within the Cancer Survivorship program at Princess Margaret Hospital. We will work with colleagues at the University of Toronto to move the technology to the next level. We are engaged in a research design project for health informatics that combines our earlier work on usability with attempts to measure changes in self-efficacy.

We are using a quasi-experimental, pre-test post-test, mixed methods design that will measure the impact of the designated websites on five primary outcomes: 1) patient and clinician website usage, 2) patient and clinician satisfaction, 3) patient self-efficacy regarding disease management, empowerment and health behaviour activities, 4) site maintainability and 5) organizational support and uptake.

Our data collection instruments include a series of surveys we designed in combination with other surveys and evaluation metrics. I am looking forward to this study, which is being initiated and administered from George Brown College. I am particularly interested in testing our study design, which is also being used by colleagues in Princess Margaret Hospital to test other health informatics products.

Sharing our academic source code in this way helps us advance the science of health informatics. It also helps us learn from others.

18 June 2007

Translation: The Value of Research

An article today's Globe and Mail notes that SSHRC's new director is "eager to update the image of the humanities and prove that educating Canadians in philosophy or film studies is just as vital to the country's success as investment in science, technology and medicine."

The article calls for a balanced understanding of the value of various kinds of research. But there is also some dissent. CAUT's James Turk argues that the current focus on applied research is just pandering to political pressure to show direct links between research and some kind of pay off. Chad Gaffield, SSHRC's new director, "says no one is suggesting that all research should be applied, but he also says scholars in the humanities and social sciences were wrong in the past to resist efforts to measure the impact and quality of their work and to connect it to society."

It is this connection that lets us build on all knowledge, however contingent, in order to ensure that research results are applied, to the immediate context in which we work but also to others we may not otherwise think of. The article says research clusters, communities of practice "which bring together academics from many backgrounds and locations to focus on a single problem, are a favoured research model and increasingly reaching out to members of the community who could use or be influenced by their work." The value of any science should be in how it can build our collective body of knowledge.

My own research has benefited from SSHRC funding. I held a SSHRC fellowship as a doctoral student and worked as a research assistant on SSHRC-funded projects. Recently I received a SSHRC standard research grant for a study called "Advanced Patient Education for Cancer Survivorship (APECS): Using the Internet to Build and Maintain a Community of Survivors." This work is at the intersection of technology, education, health care and systems design, and as such benefits from perspectives from all four areas.

Research that translates to multiple contexts offers great benefit. This could be technology transfer, but it could just as well be transfer to other academic disciplines in fields I might not otherwise think about linking to.

Translation and transfer (knowledge, technologic) are ways we, as publicly paid researchers, can show how our work benefits those who fund us.

15 June 2007


CANARIE has recently received $120 m. in new funding from the federal government (announced officially on 31 May). This is good news for those working in the Internet research space, as well as anyone interested in the Science and Technology (S&T) strategy recently announced by the federal government.

CANARIE is holding a workshop to discuss possible funding approaches and projects, which will set the tone and direction for the next few years of research on advanced networks. The focus on the development of middleware will be of interest to any Canadian researcher who is investigating how to leverage Internet technologies to enable remote and real time interaction with disparate databases.

Adding value to these transactional information flows is a key area of expansion for Canada. We need to move from a resource extraction economy to one that adds value at the point of production (think Ikea). Promoting the development of middleware is akin to building things with the trees we pull out of the ground and exporting these value added projects. Sure we can export the raw materials (i.e. data, databases), but giving value added access to data through innovative middleware applications will spur further innovation in web n+1 technologies that are already changing the way we interact, with each other, and with our data infrastructures.

13 June 2007

D for Innovation?

A story today says the Conference Board of Canada gives Canada a D grade for innovation.

Among other things, the article says that "The country doesn't take advantage of high technology, or keep up in the commercialization of knowledge."

The full report is being launched today via webcast. Follow this link to tune in at 13.30ET.

George Brown Applied Research and Innovation Seed Funding

Request for Proposals

George Brown Office of Applied Research and Innovation is please to announce the availability of seed funding for applied research projects. George Brown College is committed to pursuing and conducting applied research projects that support the development of our community, respond to current industry needs and provide learning opportunities for students.

Preference will be given to projects that involve students, involve an external community or industry partner, are likely to lead to further funding, and/or are multi- or inter-disciplinary.

Please see the complete call and application form.

11 June 2007

Seed funding for applied research

A Request for Proposals (RFP) for internal applied research seed funding will be issued this week. Watch this space for more details.

George Brown College is committed to pursuing and conducting applied research projects that support the development of our community, respond to current industry needs and provide learning opportunities for students.

06 June 2007

"Learning a new language of collaboration"

The ORION R&E Summit took place at Toronto's MARS Discovery District these past two days, featuring many interesting speakers and ideas on how high bandwidth technologies are leading to innovation in Ontario.

Alex Jadad from the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation gave the closing keynote, in which he reminded us that we are "learning a new language of collaboration." While speaking specifically about healthcare, these words are applicable across any context in which innovation can be applied. I attended the workshop on collaborative technologies, among others, and heard about business innovation as a model for orchestrating development. Collaborations function within information ecologies and what Larry Hargrove of IBM called an "environment of innovation" that embeds innovation within corporate cultures by using web n+1 technologies to facilitate connection and ideation. This same workshop saw Charles Clarke speak of "collateral collaboration in which we interact with the past, present and future by data mining. Making this data relevant, useful and useable is the challenge facing us today.

The Tuesday lunch keynote address was given by futurist Jim Carroll. He reminded us to prepare for (constant) generational change, saying the current generation is change averse. This is a good reminder for applied research to work with industries to anticipate new skills and demands on our workforce and technologies. If we live in what Carroll calls a "global idea loop" in which we need "foundations of knowledge with constant knowledge refreshment" we need to ensure that our graduates are adaptable and adaptive.

We already produce content experts capable of working in today's and tomorrow's workforce. We need also to create expert, agile learners, capable of shaping and shifting our future state.

04 June 2007

"Research is not compulsory; it is a possibility."

This statement was made by a presenter at the ACCC conference who was discussing applied research at Quebec Cegeps. I thought it was interesting as it nicely outlines the status of applied research at Canadian community colleges.

As Colleges are relatively new to research in general, getting applied research activities recognized as part of the workload of college faculty is an issue those of us involved are attending to.

But "research as possibility" also aptly describes the idea of applied research as being about exploring, uncovering, or otherwise furthering our understanding. This is the cornerstone of contingent knowledge.

30 May 2007

Report from the ACCC conference

The annual ACCC conference convened this week in Montreal and featured many interesting presentations and keynote Talks. The Canadian College community pulled together to discuss key postsecondary education issues and the particular niche that colleges fill in the education landscape. There were a few sessions on applied research that offered a variety of perspectives on how to fashion applied research within our colleges.

A media panel featured a few prominent speakers, including the Globe and Mail's Edward Greenspon, who told the crowd that “Colleges are raising standards, and therefore standards of living.” He added that Colleges are the midwives of the next middle class, have a key role to play in Canada's social cohesion, and are stewards of good citizens and global citizenship.

Greta Chambers, speaking of the Cegep system in Quebec, noted that colleges offer a vital transitional link between high school and the working world. A little later, David Stewart-Patterson talked specifically about applied research and the role colleges have in ensuring that Canada's productivity can continue to grow. "Innovation is more than just coming up with new ideas," he said. "It is putting those ideas to work." Applied research links colleges directly to industry, and colleges "excel in making knowledge relevant."

This is not to say that a liberal arts education is not also relevant. But as we meet the workforce demands of the future, it is incumbent upon us as educators to ensure that when our students leave our classrooms, they are ready to assume their place both as citizens, and as participants in the global economy.

25 May 2007

small r, Big D: Polytechnics Canada and Applied Research

Polytechnics Canada convened its annual conference yesterday and today which featured discussion of the goals and rationales of polytechnics, as well as applied research. There were some excellent speakers presenting various perspectives on the polytechnic advantage, and useful discussion of "the commercialization of innovation."

What is an innovation professional? How can we prepare our graduates for work in tomorrow's work force? How do we forecast what skills we will need for the future? These questions were posed by the various speakers and participants. What is clear is that polytechnical education produces graduates who respond to workforce needs. Canada's productivity depends on education: there is a strong correlation between economic prosperity and higher education. The polytechnics have a close articulation with industry for applied education and research.

Our focus on applied research is the Development in R&D. We don't focus as much on research as we do Development, taking basic research developing it further, and participating in producing productivity gains over and above other education sectors. This is the polytechnic advantage.

23 May 2007

"Top tech designs" from Technology in the City

Jay Ingram from Discovery Channel was on site at George Brown's recent Technology in the City - here's the video of his report: http://broadband.discoverychannel.ca/?vid=7813.

Third call for submissions to the Journal of Applied Research on Learning

The following message is from the Canadian Council on Learning:

The Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) is pleased to invite submissions to its online peer-reviewed publication, the Journal of Applied Research on Learning (JARL). Authors of original applied research interested in submitting manuscripts to be considered for publication in JARL should review the Aims of the Journal of Applied Research on Learning, the Call for Submissions, as well the Guidelines for Authors for detailed information on submission requirements.

JARL is intended to address topics that, while focused on examples of applied research on learning, offer readers relevant theoretical discussions and act as a catalyst for expanding existing knowledge in specific areas of practice and/or research on learning relevant to the Canadian context. The journal is available through CCL's website as a free publication containing material written in both French and English. JARL is published twice annually as a summer/fall issue and a winter/spring issue.

We invite you to circulate this announcement to colleagues, graduate students, researchers and/or organizations who may be interested in submitting a manuscript to JARL for consideration. The deadline for submissions of manuscripts for the next issue of JARL is AUGUST 24, 2007. You can view our inaugural issue by clicking here. Questions can be addressed to the editorial staff of JARL by contacting https://webmail.utoronto.ca/imp/message.php?index=94539#.

22 May 2007

George Brown building applied research capacity

The following appeared in this month's George Brown News. It contains information written by Joy McKinnon, Vice President International and Applied Research.

Ontario colleges, including George Brown, are opening applied research offices in direct response to faculty interest and a demand for research support. The applied research offices represent a recognition that the unique and close ties colleges have with industry offer excellent incubators for building and testing prototypes, demonstrating proof-of-principle projects, expanding market opportunities for companies, and carrying out laboratory testing or field studies that have application potential. This is an exciting opportunity to help build research capacity at George Brown.

In May 2006 the Association of Canadian Community Colleges published the “Applied Research at Canadian Colleges and Institutes” report, which concludes that colleges need to “develop education and training programs to meet employer needs with direct input from business, industry and community partner organizations. Colleges’ and institutes’ role in applied research, development and commercialization is reflective of this mandate and is an extension of institutions’ collaboration and partnerships with business, industry and community partners.”

Applied research is about solving problems and generating ideas for immediate and real-world applications, whether for the marketplace, or teaching and learning. The college setting, with our close connections to industry partners, offers a nimble environment for applied research. This means that the pace of innovation can swiftly move projects from mind to market.

GBC’s strategic plan for applied research focuses on encouraging research projects that develop new and enhanced products and processes, industrial research partnerships, and links into teaching and learning. This last point is a key facet of our work. We want to encourage and engage students in sponsored, applied research projects.

George Brown’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation was established to answer the call for a more focused strategy, as the College moves toward supporting applied research in general.

Our faculty are already engaged in many exciting applied research projects. My team’s role is to work with interested faculty in devising and conducting applied research projects. Faculty will be given the support and services needed to find and secure funding opportunities, work with industrial partners, involve students in research activities, and build our applied research community and capacity.

The Internet will be a key feature of our communication plan. We are using so-called web 2.0 technology to communicate, collaborate and share information. One example of this is a blog and a del.icio.us bookmarks page. Such social networking offers us key advantages, as we map and match expertise, for peer support and mentorship, and for industrial research partnerships.

George Brown is also part of Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII) a consortium of eight Ontario Colleges offering a research cluster partnership model that is designed to strengthen point-of-access for industry. CONII is busy establishing a database of researchers and their expertise.

On 15 May, we’re hosting “Applied Research 101,” an event to introduce the services of the Office of Applied Research and Innovation to faculty. We’ll also showcase some of the innovative projects already underway at the College, such as our unique industrial and academic partnerships in engineering technology, the work investigating emotional intelligence, digital literacy learning modules for breast cancer survivors, the Compliments Culinary Centre, and the Institute without Boundaries.

University Transfer

University Transfer, or UT Arts, was the name of the college program in which I completed the first two years of my undergraduate degree.

Two articles in today's Globe offer some interesting insights on the college/university bifurcation. The first, by Humber College president Robert Gordon, calls for an end to "academic snobbery" and the enabling of college/university program articulation in order to maximize postsecondary education options. Gordon says "there would have to be some changes to the faculty, to the standards, to the curriculum, to the admissions" on the part of colleges in order to facilitate this, commensurate with a sea change in how universities view the college system.

I attended college in British Columbia, where the college/university system is fully articulated. It was a good option to accommodate the many students that crowd the postsecondary space in BC. The second article reports the view that colleges should "return to their vocational role," and not compete with universities. Despite some limitations in this report's view, it does acknowledge the value of the articulated educational system.

Of particular note is the push for the creation of a research cluster model (following the Alberta lead), though it is short sighted to advocate for streamlining research funding into universities. If the postsecondary education system is to leverage all aspects of the college and university articulation, then research clusters should be formed along institutional strengths, and include both colleges and universities in their mix. And while we're at it, why not high school students as well? Senior grades should be learning about applied science research as it is conducted in the research institutions around them. Exposing them to curricular links within the research and development sectors will reinforce educational options and direction.

18 May 2007

New funding for the Science and Technology Strategy

The federal government yesterday announced new funding for science research and innovation. Of this, "$475-million will go to universities and colleges for the purchase of infrastructure and high-tech equipment." Reader comments indicate that this is not necessarily new money (as the report itself says), and there is no indication of where the money is coming from, other than the tri-council.

I disagree with the reader who comments that private industry has no part in research and development. Industrial partnerships work well within the realm of applied research. Not all research must be focused on technology and commercialization, to be sure. But we are a (post) industrial economy and society, and our scientific community is an important part of our overall prosperity. Continued investment in research and innovation should be welcomed.

The government's Science and Technology Strategy acknowledges the important role of academic and industry partnership in applied research. The four core areas (Environmental science and technologies, Natural resources and energy, Health and related life sciences and technologies,
Information and communications technologies) represent key areas of strategic importance, as well as areas of strength in Canada's R&D sectors. We measure our success against benchmarks such as from the OECD and the G8. The Science and Technology Framework (see image from the Executive Summary) acknowledges the long standing push from the government (from both sides of the political spectrum) to push the transfer of research into application.

Read the ACCC media release on this funding and its impact on Colleges.

17 May 2007

Technology in the City

Today's Technology in the City symposium offered a fascinating glimpse into some of the projects being done by our Technology students. Projects included a remote controlled lawn mower, a robot climber, a biodiesel project that was part of the World House project, an assistive mobility device, a drain water heat exchanger, and the dual-stage rain water purifier, among many others. This last project purifies rain water without any electricity, instead using solar power and UV radiation and pasteurization to achieve purification. Amazing.

Some of these projects will likely be pursued further, as they offer innovative solutions to industrial problems, and have definite market potential. The event, and these projects, all showcase the talent of our faculty and students in applied research and excellene in teaching and learning. What's really great about these projects is that they were done by students as part of course work. This is what College applied research is all about.

Keynote presenters included Mark Wilson, Chair of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation and Anthony Williams, co-author of Wikinomics. Their addresses reinforced the fact that the skills and innovation being produced by our faculty, staff and students will have a significant impact on the economic prosperity of Ontario, and the world of technology.

16 May 2007

Community of practice, scholars

Yesterday's Applied Research 101 workshop was a success, as about 70 faculty and staff members came to discuss applied research at George Brown. We had five poster presentations from active research projects currently underway at the College; these are just a few of the many projects underway.

Roger Fisher's talk gave us a good overview of faculty attitudes towards applied research in Canada, Ontario and at GBC. We also had a good discussion about the relative merits of applied research, the challenges and the opportunities.

Above all, we have the start of a community of practice around scholarly activity across the many faculties at George Brown. There was a lot of interest in sharing ideas and resources, and I was buoyed by the response to the suggestion that we convene groups to help build capacity.

Watch this space for more updates. The faculty posters and the presentations are available on our website.

11 May 2007

Open source learning

Are open source and open access commensurate with the protection of intellectual property?

The previous post on the memetics of innovation alludes to the cross-pollination of ideas that can come with the conflation of ideas that cross boundaries. Collaborating to compete picks up on recent press on transparency and access to corporate trade secrets. The current running through both these issues is this: the creative tension arising from making ideas freely available and protecting intellectual property is useful for understanding and promoting applied research.

Open source learning, which I have elsewhere described as “the theory of knowledge sharing and production in both formal and informal settings . . . typifies how the free availability of information and the sharing of knowledge can benefit communities that cooperate towards common goals.” Innovation and invention do not occur in a vacuum, but rather happen in fits and starts, with each idea building on the one preceding. The principles of open source and open access offer us a way to release information (products, services) into public discussion in order to advance our collective understanding, and so development (be this technical or social). Memes and viral advertising are examples of how things get picked up; mashups using the Google maps API are one example of how the release of proprietary systems (with “some rights reserved”) can spur innovation while retaining some rights to intellectual property.

The lone inventor working in his basement, waiting to reveal his precious invention to the world, will emerge to find that this world has passed him by. Putting ideas into circulation gives them currency. We can retain rights to our intellectual property and build systems (in this sense technical) that offer alternative business models for the commercialization of applied research. And releasing our ideas lets us ensure that others don’t take credit for them; we’ve all heard of cases where ideas are stolen or grafted onto someone else’s project. This form of extreme plagiarism is rampant (perhaps nowhere more so than in academe).

In the headlong rush to the next big idea, the propensity to wall off ideas to protect their proprietary value stifles innovation. This is not to say that there should be no intellectual property protection; far from it. We publish results of our studies and protect trade secrets in order to ensure that our intellectual property accrues to us. This is as it should be. The trick is in finding a balance between the advance of knowledge and our right to protect our intellectual property from misuse and misappropriation.

08 May 2007

The memetics of innovation

A book review published today under the byline “Innovation” offers some good insights on collaboration. The review cites Richard Dawkins’s theory of memes – ideas that propagate themselves like genes – as a metaphor for understanding the intersection of professional boundaries as the nexus of innovation. Interdisciplinary, interprofessional, multidisciplinary – all of these words are used to describe the collision of ideas and professional boundaries.

Invention is accidental; putting disparate elements together fosters instances of understanding and connection. This is the goal of innovation.

07 May 2007

Collaborate to Compete

Also the title of a recent book, the phrase Collaborate to Compete aptly describes the philosophy of CONII, and the move of Ontario Colleges to work together to provide a virtual research cluster or network model to facilitate application of applied research into industrial contexts. I heard about this book from a former colleague, and the core idea is a good one. The basic idea is that we can be stronger if we work together.

I thought of this book and the concept this morning while at the CONII Industry Strategy Board. This was my first attendance at this meeting, and I was impressed by the commitment of representatives from industry to the College applied research agenda. The discussion about collaboration was predicated on the application of the CONII model into industrial contexts. That is, CONII is a consortium of colleges that are collaborating on applied research. Each college either leads or is a part of a particular node on the network. If a potential industrial research partner contacts a college, and that college does not have the expertise in that area, the idea is that this college would forward the potential partner to one of the CONII member colleges that specialize in the area of concern. This is an ideal application of the virtual research cluster: an emergent phenomenon that is gaining traction with the spread of ubiquitous broadband and the ancillary network effects.

This model of collaboration and conspicuous contribution is counter to the historical competitive model that all colleges have grown in to (indeed, it is the hallmark of business in general). The idea that we can collaborate to compete has its roots in the strengths of network thinking and the kind of transparency encouraged by open source, and perhaps even the credo of hiding in plain site.

It was pointed out at the meeting that to make CONII work will require a lot of trust. The first steps have already been taken.

03 May 2007

Journal of Applied Research on Learning

Recently launched (April 2007) publication sponsored by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL), the Journal of Applied Research on Learning offers an avenue for public discussion and dissemination of applied research focusing on learning. The CCL funds applied research projects in various sectors, and has an open Request for Proposals under the Theme of Work and Learning.

I've had two of my projects funded by CCL, one of which had GBC as a research partner prior to my coming here. The Survivorship Transition to Employment Project (STEP) is investigating how best to provide educational supports for breast cancer survivors who are reintegrating into the workforce during and after their cancer journey. This is a training program that will guide the development of patient competencies and necessary skills to refocus energies for returning to work after long treatment regimens. George Brown's Learning Innovations and Academic Development department is providing digital literacy modules for the project.

01 May 2007

ROI2: Return on Investment; Return on Innovation

The Ontario Centres of Excellence Discovery 07 conference today presented the results of research and innovation conducted in the Ontario R&D sectors. CONII had a presence with the Colleges Ontario booth, promoting Ontario Colleges as open for applied research business.

Ray Kurzweil gave the morning keynote speech, appearing via 3D holographic representation, and even signing copies of his book remotely using a haptic robotic arm developed in Canada.

Speaking about the exponential expansion of computational capability, Kurzweil said “Explosive growth is seductive,” as doubling small numbers leads to doubling large numbers which takes us from the trivial to the profound very quickly. Kurzweil’s prognostications provide fodder for our creative future mediated by technology. While some may take issue with Kurzweil’s idea that we will by 2029 upload our consciousness into a computer (healthy skepticism), there can be no denying that there are many social and technologic consequences to innovation.

Innovation was the theme of the day, as was going from mind to market. The commercialization of science and its outputs is a key driver of Ontario’s economy, a point made during the lunch address by Sandra Pupatello, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade. Our knowledge based society is predicated on our ability to imagine the future and to apply this to design and development, while concurrently studying the implications of the pace of innovation.

Applied research taps innovation, and promotes industrial research partnerships that give us a return on our investment (time, money). We would do well to remember that there is also a return on innovation. This is perhaps more difficult to measure. But in the realm of ideas and innovation we create a gravitational pull with predictions projected on the blank slate of a future state. This gravitational pull shows us the realm of the possible, and draws ideas in its general direction as a path of discovery. “Software is always on the edge of what’s capable” said Kurzweil today. This edge is the purview of applied research: taking ideas to innovation and beyond.

30 April 2007

Fail Fast, Learn Quickly

An interesting article by Daniel Muzyka <How you deal with failure is the secret to success> from today's Globe discusses the culture of research and innovation, and provides some useful context to our work in College applied research. At first glance it is perhaps more applicable to industrial applied research, but there are distinct parallels with academic research that focuses on teaching and learning as well.

Encouraging innovation and experimentation is inherently risky, but potentially profitable, in the sense that these can lead to the application of new knowledge in new ways. Contingent knowledge, the cornerstone of science, requires that we find ways to apply our knowledge, be this in industrial settings or the classroom. And here is the linkage that we can draw from Muzyka's piece: where he speaks of designing for the future generations of products and services (itself a worthy goal of applied research), we should also seek new ways of involving our students in the research endeavour, and of encouraging and experimenting with new ways of teaching and fostering inquiry in the classroom.

The last decade has seen of lot of this emerge with theories of distributed learning. We now hear a lot about M-Learning, used to discuss the application of ubiquitous technology within teaching and learning contexts. These forms of learning have in common with applied research "a very delicate balance between the operating imperative to maintain output and efficiency (favouring that which exists) and the innovation imperative to be more open, creative and willing to renew (favouring the new and disruptive)."