30 October 2012

Toronto Next: Return on Innovation

George Brown College President Anne Sado yesterday spoke at the Empire Club, detailing the results of our study of Toronto Next: Return on Innovation. The report shines a light on our well documented poor innovation record, and reinforces that we are not seeing enough private sector investment in innovation.
This is a serious and significant problem for the short and long-term competitiveness of our local economy. Based on the report, business is not seeing the value of investments in new technologies and equipment, skills training and R&D partnership in sparking their innovation: Half of GTA businesses and organizations perceive little to no return on investment in new technologies, innovative skills training, product development or fostering R&D partnerships with academic institutions.

Businesses are saying that it’s not their responsibility to innovate. Surprisingly, 50% of respondents think it is the role of government to drive innovation and productivity. While it is certainly true that government investments in polytechnic and college applied research are helping businesses to innovate, we need more firms to step up and take the lead. George Brown College is doing our part - the study itself is a key way that we understand the employment landscape our graduates are entering. 

Tellingly, over half of employers surveyed feel that a dependence on ‘old economy’ industries or a lack of private sector funding are causing Canada’s low levels of innovation. I've written before how ideas are just another raw resource Canada extracts without adding value. We need to do a better job of connecting students and graduates to the world of work, a topic raised in the Globe and Mail's recent Our Time o Lead feature on education. My contributions to this effort included encouraging a focus on outcomes based education. In particular  I don't understand why in universities career centres are an afterthought. We need to do a better job of encouraging all levels of education to focus on outcomes. Colleges celebrate their connection to employment - it is George Brown College's strategic direction to understand employment. 

To this end, our survey shows that a shortage of innovative employees to hire is the largest barrier to employers investing in innovation, along with concerns about long-term ROI. Thus our focus on applied learning and research, through which we instill innovation literacy, helps us close the gap between what we teach, what students learn, and what employers need. 

As Anne Sado said yesterday, George Brown College has a bias for action and we are open for business innovation. The results of this survey notwithstanding, the GTA does not have an innovation problem. It has an innovation opportunity.

29 October 2012

Input innovation; Output productivity

George Brown College President Anne Sado speaks today at the Empire Club to release the results of our study on GTA firms' capacity to innovate. As the Globe and Mail's James Bradshaw reports this morning, in summary "GTA firms don’t highly rate the need to innovate." The College approach to applied education and research integrated in teaching and learning outcomes equips our graduates with innovation literacy: essential skills for the innovation economy. Join us today at the Empire Club to learn more. More commentary to follow in this space over the coming days and weeks.

25 October 2012

The brain that teaches itself

It's reading week at the college this week, and yesterday the George Brown College Staff Development convened a day of professional development for our faculty and staff. It was a great day that was kicked off by an excellent keynote speech by Dr Sylvain Moreno of the Rotman Research Institute. His presentation covered some of the basics of the brain, and focused on the ways in which brain plasticity is reinforced by activity. The good news in this of course is the very idea of brain plasticity - my title is an oblique reference to Norma Doidge's book the Brain that Changes Itself, a good read.

An expert in brain plasticity, Sylvain showed us how we can use brain science as a way to reinforce learning. I was struck by the connections between the college's focus on applied learning and applied research as ways in which we exercise experiential learning as a way to reinforce skills acquisition. This is a positive link to our focus on innovation literacy.

Sylvain also leads the Brain Power Initiative. I attended their last two events, and found them highly worthwhile. It is great to see science applied to learning. It is equally great to take the time to see the science of learning and to think of ways in which we can leverage the latest in brain research in our teaching and learning.

22 October 2012

Why we need colleges, polytechnics and universities

Charles Pascal has an excellent article in the Globe's Our Time to Lead feature on Re:Education, called Students lose in Ontario’s postsecondary patchwork, in which he aptly describes the need for a range of education options that work as a system. He refers primarily to Ontario, but it could easily apply to Canada as a whole, as I pointed out in my recent op-ed on open source learning. This is further reinforced by the weekend's article What Canada needs: A national strategy for students. The exemplary thinking here on important issues facing Canada come as we stare down the need to up our game in the innovation economy. It is time for Canada to get on par with our OECD counterparts and take seriously the connections between social and economic prosperity and instrumentality in education  It is time to rethink how teaching and research function to instill innovation skills in our graduates  And it is time to embrace what Pascal calls the "galloping elitism" that makes us eschew the necessary technical and vocational skills and undergraduate teaching as we privilege the a priori in a global race for talent and R&D impact. The  Globe series - and Pascal's read of the Ontario education system - should be required reading for all involved in education, teaching and research. 

17 October 2012

Conference on Crowdsourcing for Health Innovation

I had the benefit of attending St Elizabeth Healthcare's conference on Crowdsourcing for Health Innovation yesterday. It was an excellent event that featured some good speakers discussing how social media, for example, can disrupt the status quo for improving healthcare. These are important topics for the future of healthcare. St Elizabeth Healthcare is a real leader in this space, having been an innovator in healthcare for a long time, and continuing to do so. Their work resonates strongly with the people centred healthcare model that NexJ is working on through the Connected Wellness Project. It is innovators like these companies that make the future of healthcare brighter.

12 October 2012

Celebrating National Science and Technology Week

Today marks the start of National Science & Technology Week, which runs from 12-21 October. There is much to be proud about Canada's science and technology capacity. As detailed in the Council of Canadian Academies The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report, Canada's S&T is healthy in outcomes and impact, and growing.

It is timely that the Federal Conservative Postsecondary Education Caucus will meet at George Brown College today to see and learn about college applied research and how it relates to education. The federal government investments in polytechnic and college applied research are enabling George Brown College to play a vital role in our region’s capacity for innovation.

The GBC Research Labs for health and health promotion, the Food Innovation Research Studio, and the Green Homes and the Green Building Center have all received funding from the College and Community Innovation Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and FEDDEV Ontario. This is in addition to matching funding from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, which supports the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII).

The CCIP suite of funding programs has, since 2007, led to a sea change in how colleges and polytechnics across Canada can contribute to innovation, productivity and prosperity. By linking applied research with our industry and community partners with our approach to applied education, we help promote business innovation while ensuring that the next generation is ready and able to play an active role in the innovation economy.

11 October 2012

Credit transfer and open source learning

The Globe and Mail published today an op-ed I wrote on what I call open source learning and its relationship to an educational passport. It is part of the Re: Education Our Time to Lead series, which is generating interesting discussion about the future of education in Canada. The website contains a good interactive section on Transforming the ivory tower: The case for a new postsecondary education system, including my own video where I make the case for more outcomes-based learning.

09 October 2012

The Globe and Mail on Education and Research: Time for Change

The Globe and Mail has launched a new series on education in their Our Time to Lead feature. I am a member of the Globe's Advisory Panel for this feature, and I have been enjoying the opportunity to be part of the conversation with colleagues from across the country. The online interactive site features videos from Advisory Panel members, as well as commentary on aspects of education and research. Also of note is the Editorial from Saturday, in which the Globe outlines the need for universities and polytechnics to play to their strengths as we encourage differentiation and partnerships. The Editorial also refers to the Council of Canadian Academies' Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology in Canada report, which  indicates the need for more commercialization of research. It is a good time to be engaging in this discussion; my hope is that we can leverage this for a collaborative push forward as Canada realizes the advantage of working together across universities, polytechnics and colleges, and industry, for both outcomes-based education and research.

05 October 2012

Envisioning the Future for Humanities and Social Science Research

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Imagining Canada's Future workshop. As a member of SSHRC's Programs and Quality Committee, I joined  60 or so academic leaders from across the country and from a variety of disciplines to engage in strategic planning for SSHRC to 2030. The event was an excellent exercise in seeking understanding of the present and how SSHRC can best respond to – and shape - future challenges. Over the course of two days the group went through a variety of discussion exercises designed to identify future challenges, articulate plausible scenarios (both positive and negative) congruent with these challenges, and then posit possible responses the SSHRC community can enable.

Discussion over the course of the event was representative of the multiple disciplines present, and was a very positive articulation of future scenarios and how the SSHRC community can play an active role in helping to shape the future of Canada in a global context.

The event was as much a validation of the recent changes to the overall program architecture mix SSHRC enacted over the past year or so, showing that there is strong consonance in the streamlined program architecture with future directions and needs, and that this new approach is an effective architecture of the future. That is, the course SSHRC is on represents an enabling strategy that will let the SSHRC community provide leadership on areas of concern for all Canadians. Some of these issues will be topical - the environment, for example - in the sense that we are currently grappling with them and will continue to need to do so for some time to come. Other topics, such as the role and impact of technology, gender, race, aboriginal issues, the role of research – all resonate strongly with what is important in the world, and how Canada relates to the world. Above all, what struck me as most interesting was the balance the conversation had around what our society needs in terms of social and economic productivity and innovation, but also what we want: a well balanced approach to the integration of arts, culture, and ideas to underpin our social infrastructure.

And this is precisely what the SSHRC community offers Canada. Understanding the human condition is the hallmark of the Humanities and Social Science (HASS) disciplines. Ensuring that our understanding is strong and vibrant, and can contribute to a strong and vibrant culture, is essential to our long term social and economic well being. This ethos pervaded the discussion and conclusions, though these conclusions are a prelude to the work that lies ahead. This includes the further engagement with the SSHRC community around the implications for these scenarios, and a discussion about how the HASS disciplines can continue to enable Canada to lead and to further develop the human capital potential latent in our future. We have an excellent foundation to work on, and an even better blueprint, or compass, for building and charting the future.

This foundational discussion was rendered even more relevant with the release last week of the CCA Expert Panel Report on the State of Science and Technology in Canada. Of the six disciplines in which Canada leads the world, the majority are HASS disciplines. This is excellent news for the SSHRC community, and represents a key step forward in recognizing the excellence that SSHRC is known for. Of particular importance is the fact that the 2006 report was not able to squarely cover the HASS disciplines. Now, however, with a very rigorous and robust methodology, we can clearly see evidence for what many of us have known for some time, that SSHRC research in Canada is world leading in many fields, and represents some of the country's greatest strengths.

There is work to be done, however. The CCA report outlines some gaps in covering the HASS disciplines. While effort was made to work around these gaps, there are limitations that can be addressed by the SSHRC community. This includes harmonizing definitions and language and coming to a common understanding of how to measure excellence in HASS disciplines. SSHRC should lead this effort, working with the Federation of Social Sciences to set the standards for how we want to be measured for excellence. There is an excellent foundation for this in the report. Now is the time for us to seize the opportunity to lead the HASS community in defining our standards of excellence.

On the role of colleges and polytechnics, there is work to be done both in terms of ensuring that the applied research in this sector is quantifiable (we have a start in the report) in terms of outputs. There is also work to connect the fact that the colleges represent key HASS disciplines in their work with Canadian industry. This is a key driver of business innovation.

There are many high points in the report: SSHRC is highly valued as an organization contributing to Canada’s research infrastructure according to S&T experts in the country. The single most important thing industry needs to innovate is access to innovative talent, and in this area the HASS disciplines are very strong. HASS disciplines make up a significant percentage of the country’s production of graduates – both undergraduates (as inputs to robust S&T) and graduate students (as outputs, or contributors). Digital media and ICT are fast emerging clusters of importance.

A really strong success story for us at SSHRC is the emerging disciplines area of the report. Health and personalized medicine was top of the list, which includes digital media. Digital media is an interesting discipline as it is a combination in of arts and engineering. This interdisciplinary approach is indicative of a future trend in many areas, and exemplifies the boundary crossing capacity of HASS disciplines. That is, the integration of divergent thinking is a key strength of arts based education, for example, and this emergent area in particular shows the value that HASS disciplines bring to emergent areas of science and technology. To put this another way, gaming, to use the example cited in the CCA S&T Report, requires programming, but importantly also storytelling, art direction, and design skills. It is these HASS disciplines that arguably create the greatest advantage in this mix. To that end, personalized medicine, while certainly refers to genetics, also refers to technology to enable this. This infers design skills, meaning there are interdisciplinary strengths the HASS disciplines bring to many other S&T areas.

Another world leading area of excellence is in business and management, another SSHRC area. Given the country’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, this is another significant good news item and opportunity for us to show the core value of HASS disciplines to the well being - social and economic - of the country. While STEM skills are certainly important, they are clearly one component of a robust S&T infrastructure. What is clear from the report is that the HASS disciplines, and SSHRC, are an essential strand in the double helix of our science and technology capacity and innovation potential.

02 October 2012

Toronto Vital Signs 2012 released

George Brown College is proud to support the Toronto Community Foundation's annual Vital Signs report, released this morning. Vital Signs provides an essential snapshot of how Toronto is doing for overall livability. Toronto: “Not Too Bad” :-) has many good news elements - Toronto is a vibrant community with booming construction, strong financials, culture industries and an educated population. There is a darker side to the story, one in which there is greater income disparity in the city, poorer health outcomes for immigrants, and a dismal rating on child health.

Download the full report here, and learn more about how we can work together to make Toronto an even better place to live.

01 October 2012

FEDDEV Ontario supports the George Brown College Green Building Centre

On Friday, the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, on behalf of the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology and Minister of the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Donation (FEDDEV), announced a $6.6M contribution to the George Brown College Green Building Centre. The College is matching the Federal Government contribution with $6.8M to build the Green Building Centre, which is located at the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies (CCET) on the Casa Loma campus. This Centre will be used to conduct applied research in partnership with local businesses while training students in advanced construction systems, green energy and computer-enabled, efficient buildings. In particular, this centre will focus on construction practices that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

The Green Building Centre will offer the following services to industry partners:
  • The Advanced Prototyping Lab, which will be used to rapidly develop new products for advanced building technology and energy management; 
  • The Building Science Lab, which will provide a test site and demonstration lab for technology companies who want to refine prototypes and test innovative green building systems, materials and technologies in a realistic setting; 
  • The Business Accelerator and Entrepreneurship Centre, which will pair industry partners with applied research experts, including faculty and students from the College, to work on project in the appropriate lab environments. The Centre will help these companies perform activities ranging from information gathering and analysis, product prototype development and testing to market development and commercialization, all with a view to bring products to market efficiently; and 
  • The International Business Office, which will work to find new international markets for green technologies and to keep track of emerging trends around the world.
At the announcement on Friday, Rick Huijbregts, VP, Industry and Business Transformation for Cisco Canada and Executive-in-Residence at George Brown College for the Center for Construction and Engineering Technologies, spoke about the intersection of building an information technology as the new frontier in smart, connected buildings. Nancy Sherman, Dean of the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies, welcomed the news as being part of our ongoing ability to work with our industry partners in linking applied research to education in this important area of the economy.