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.