15 November 2013

Innovation is a behaviour

The eighth annual Polytechnics Canada Student Applied Research Showcase was convened this week at SAIT Polytechnic, and featured some really outstanding presentations from students from each of the 11 members. GBC mechanical engineering design student John-Allan Ellingson took second place in the competition - congratulations John-Allan! John-Allan presented his work with SOS Customer Service on an innovative crane for lifting curtain walls into place. See a video of the project here.

The event was presented by Cisco, and SAIT did a truly outstanding job of hosting, with many innovative features in the program, including an RFID real time location system for the gala dinner seating.

The event was opened with keynote speeches by The Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, and The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. Ministers Rickford and Rempel both spoke about the importance of college and polytechnic applied research as linked to skills, a theme picked up by the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, in his keynote address.

This connection - between focused applied research and innovation skills acquisition and demonstration by our students - is the hallmark of polytechnic applied research. My recent article in the online journal Technology Innovation Management Review - Measuring Innovation Skills Acquired by College and Polytechnic Students through Applied Research - makes these connections, as part of work we are doing to measure outcomes and innovation literacy. Research Money also published a short opinion piece on this topic. Supply and demand in the innovation economy is available on the R$ website.

One of the speakers from the gala - there were five in a series of short speeches on the value of innovation in  variety of contexts - spoke about how innovation is not an end in and of itself, but that innovation is a behaviour. This is a really strong point - the demonstration of innovation literacy - the skills of innovation and entrepreneurship - models the kind of behaviour needed for a strong, resilient and productive economy. Seeing the students from the 11 polytechnics showed all that the future is a more innovative place when these are the kinds of graduates who enter the workforce running.

It is events like these that really showcase the value of innovation skills to our industry partners. Kudos to SAIT for putting on an excellent show, and for raising the bar on the ability of our members to show the world what innovation looks like.

10 November 2013

Polytechnics Canada Convenes Applied Research Showcase this week at SAIT

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) this week is the host for the annual Polytechnics Canada Applied Research Showcase.

The event is presented by CISCO, and the theme of this year is "Innovation: Going the Distance."
Featured speakers at this year's event include The Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, The Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, and The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification.

Other highlights include 11 student competing teams, Janet Walden the President of NSERC, and an outstanding set of college leaders in industry innovation. The focus is on college-university-industry collaboration as a go forward priority, and a demonstration of how complementary innovation intermediaries can work together to create jobs and wealth in the economy, all while equipping students with the innovation skills needed to foster created productivity in the economy.

Polytechnics Canada: Propelling business innovation; Creating jobs for tomorrow.

07 November 2013

Skills, Education and the Innovation Economy

The Conference Board of Canada is convening Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit 2013: Developing the Talent We Need for a Competitive Nation yesterday and today. The agenda yesterday featured some excellent discussions, particularly international examples of education as linked explicitly to the needs of the economy. Finland, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Australia were featured, and some strong themes emerged. These include educational instrumentality - these countries have not been afraid to be explicit in directing the aims of education to the needs of the economy, nor in streaming students at a young age into particular programs. This includes the tactical acquisition of specific skills as well as strategic social skills for citizenship.

The approach by these countries is an approach that contrasts to the Canadian system - or rather systems - in which we have a strong college and polytechnic sector explicitly linked to the needs of the economy, and a university sector that is not so much (other than professional faculties). This is changing, and I am glad to see the universities start to pay attention to the need to define and articulate what skills students emerge with from any program. BUt our somewhat libertarian view in Canada is defined by a bias toward a degree as being the sole ticket to social and economic prosperity, and we seem disinclined to tell anyone that there are other, often better options, commensurate with skill and aptitude.

We err when we focus specifically on a university degree as the main driver of skills, a point made in some of the media at the summit. Of course a university degree is a good thing - as is a college or polytechnic degree, apprenticeship ticket, diploma, or graduate certificate. When we focus only on degrees we ignore the reality that these are not always connected to the economy - nor should they always be. But a focus on degrees, as evident in some of the program material, is at odds with the concomitant focus on the skilled trades, as well as the gamut of credentials that are directly plugged into the needs of the economy. In short, we have a supply side system, when what we need is a demand driven model. If this sounds familiar, it is: this is exactly the issue the Council of Canadian Academies report "Paradox Lost" states we have with our approach to R&D.

What we in Canada need is a more balanced approach to demand driven economy (for both education and research), as well as an explicit recognition (as in Australia among others) that socio-economic balance is lost when a country is weighted too far on supply.  For our part, we would do well to speak about the credentials needed for a given occupation, rather than simply focus on bland statements like a degree being the pathway to success. I've made this point before, and it bears repeating, for we do ourselves a disservice when we pander to simple ideology around the supply of credentials when this is dislocated from demand and the means of production in the economy.

Australia has a demand driven model including a national accreditation and quality framework that shows how credential work together. The Swiss model, like the German and the Finnish models, is highly prescriptive and instrumental, but is also defined by a "high degree of permeability," meaning that even when students are streamed at a young age into particular programs, there is the ability for mobility throughout credentials, occupations and life spans.

Of particular note is Finland, with its "human-centric, equal opportunity" model that is focused on practice-based and open innovation. The Finns seem to have figured out that practice-based innovation accounts for 96% of economic growth, with science and technology innovation the other 4%, according to the EU. They strive for a balance between knowing, acting and being - all of these EU countries focus on a balance between professional skills and citizenship and life skills. Education and research are closely coupled with industry, have well defined occupation specific skills sets, link well with industry sector councils, connect to international contexts, and are oriented toward strong citizenship and civic participation.

Last month the online journal Technology Innovation Management Review published an article I wrote on Measuring Innovation Skills Acquired by College and Polytechnic Students through Applied Research. The piece is based on the work many of us in the applied research sector are engaged in, and articulates a way to measure outcomes related to our support of business innovation through applied research. The focus here is on skills, and linking these explicitly to the activities of applied research, with potential downstream effects in firms that are supported by college and polytechnic applied research, but also those that employ graduates with innovation literacy. Our team is working on this as part of a larger project; watch this space for more in the months to come.

02 November 2013

This is what applied research looks like

On 25 October over 150 staff, faculty, students and industry partners gathered at George Brown College to celebrate applied research. A highlight of the day was a visit from the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). Minister Goodyear was on hand to celebrate the Connected Health and Wellness Project, on which GBC is a partner, and which is funded by FedDev Ontario.

The theme of the day was cross pollination, and it was a day of celebration not only for applied research here at George Brown, but in Canada at large, as we stand at a cross-roads of innovation.

This innovation is not possible without the kind of collaboration that was explored on the day: bringing together students, faculty and industry together to create new ideas and innovations.

Cross pollination means looking at the intersections of disciplines. There was great discussion throughout the day on the ways in which students and faculty from across many departments at GBC work together to help our partners innovate.

Cross pollination means bringing our incredible talent in our faculty, staff and students to bear on the challenges our industry and community partners face.

Cross pollination means the intersection of technical and innovation skills our students gain as a result of working with partners on applied research. These innovation skills (innovation literacy) will help our partners to realize innovation goals, and help our graduates add value to their future work places.

The day featured several panel discussions on Partnerships; Enabling the Innovation Economy; and Preparing Diverse Learners for Job Success:

Moderated by Miriam Tuerk, Co-Founder and COO, Clear Blue Technologies | Panelists: Carlos Paz-Soldan, Tenet Computer Group | Rami Alhamad, PUSH Technologies | Diana Facchini, Business Development, George Brown College  (Health Sciences) | Colin Furness, Infonaut Inc. 

Enabling the Innovation Economy
Moderated by professor Gary Hoyer, Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts | Panelists: Alan Majer, Good Robot | Sam Zhang, Good Robot | Iris Epstein, Professor (George Brown School of Nursing) | Winnie Chiu, Director (FIRSt) | Kimberly Lugsdin, Kimberley’s Own | Fred Hann, CEO (Garden Connections) | Clint Kissoon, George Brown School of Architecture 

Preparing Diverse Learners for Job Success
 Moderated by professor Tyler Krimmel, Centre for Construction & Engineering Technologies | Panelists: Steffanie Adams, GBC ARGILE | Miyoko Oikawa, GBC ARGILE | Jamie McIntyre, CCET Professor | Elliot Carney-Killiam | Robert Sgrignoli 

Ted Hewitt, Executive Vice President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, gave an address on How SSHRC supports college research and talent. and Dr. Uwe Erb , Professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Toronto, gave a keynote talk on transforming science ideas into market realities.

Minister Goodyear's appearance was a highlight of the event, who spoke about the importance of the Connected Health and Wellness Project, and the role that the college is playing in enhancing innovation on the project. Minister Goodyear also presented Student Innovation Awards, presented to students nominated by their professors. More on this, including pictures and videos, will be posted in the days to come. 

The Chef School students who worked on the recipes for the Connected Health and Wellness Project, under the tutelage of GBC professors Chef James Smith and Chef Tim Belanger, really stole the show. They presented three of the many recipe videos produced in GBC's Health eHome, and there were many recipes for the attendees to sample. As Minister Goodyear quipped: this is what applied research tastes like

Thank you to all who attended, and to all who make college and polytechnic applied research the success it is.