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.