28 May 2014

On education, practicality and permeability

Alex Usher has a good article out today on what he calls permeability, referring to the idea that education, practically focused, is best when it is practiced in concert with (not in opposition to) industry or society at large. Usher refers to an example of this as "the applied-research projects that come from local businesses, and are proliferating in place like Ryerson and Canada’s Polytechnics." This is a timely discussion, coming on the heels of the recent Polytechnics Canada conference and just this week the annual conference of the ACCC (now called Colleges and Institutes Canada), both of which focused on how colleges and polytechnics offer an education that is inextricably linked to the socio-economic productivity of Canada.

14 May 2014

Recognizing Innovation: GBC Research launches the Excellence in Research and Innovation badge

GBC Research was at the OCE Discovery conference these past two days, a great event that every year brings together those who function as innovation intermediaries in Ontario. This includes the OCE as conveners and intermediaries, and the colleges, polytechnics and universities who help firms and student and faculty startups get to market. It's a great event that showcases the bench strength of the Ontario innovation ecosystem. There were many good speakers, and a real highlight was the lunch time keynote interview with Steve Blank, on the agenda as "Godfather of the Lean Startup method, Silicon Valley entrepreneur expert and author of The Startup Owners Manual." Blank had many good things to say - including that startups are in search of a business model that scales, while established companies execute business models. Good advice.

Discovery was also the setting for a real landmark event for GBC Research: the awarding of the very first Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge to GBC Mechanical Engineering Technology graduand John-Allan Ellingson. John-Allan is an exemplary student, having participated in many applied research projects and presentations to industry, government and academic audiences on the value of his experience and the innovation skills gained as a result.

Photo of John-Allan Ellingson, with OCE Director John MacRitchie, GBC Research Director Dawn Davidson, and Robert Luke GBC VP Research
Photo (from L-R) of  OCE Director John MacRitchie, GBC Research Director Dawn Davidson, Innovation Badge recipient John-Allan Ellingson, and GBC VP Research  Robert Luke 

About the George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge:

Badges are a way to recognize informal learning. The GBC Excellence in Research and Innovation badge is how we are now recognizing innovation literacy in those students who have participated in an applied research project.

George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge
George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge
Distributed by the Office of Research & Innovation to commemorate successful student participation in research projects, these badges can be attached to a LinkedIn page, Facebook account, or wherever a prospective employer could see it. These badges go beyond what’s learned in class to acknowledge the skills that don’t appear on a transcript: the ability to problem-solve, communicate with team members and produce innovative solutions to industry problems. This is the essence of innovation literacy.

Congratulations to John-Allan!

Photo of John-Allan Ellingson
John-Allan Ellingson

Learn more about John-Allan's work through these two videos:

The SOS Crane

The Advanced Prototyping Lab 


09 May 2014

Polytechnics Canada promotes entrepreneurship of, in education

The annual Polytechnics Canada policy conference was convened this week at Algonquin College in Ottawa. The theme of this year's conference was "Polytechnic Education: The future we want, the difference we make, the change we need".

The agenda included an opening keynote by Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. It was a great opening to the conference as Crawford focused on the necessary balance between manual and intellectual labour, itself a false dichotomy.  The main idea here is that the kinds of work that colleges and polytechnics prepare people for has been traditionally delegated to second tier status. The time has come to realize we need a complementary approach to education.

The Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development Canada and Minister for Multiculturalism gave a keynote speech at the conference dinner preceding the event, focusing on the kinds of changes we need in ensuring we have better labour market information, credit transfer and mobility, and on the new reforms to apprenticeships. It kicked off very good discussion at the conference on the value of work (as per Mathew Crawford), as well as skills that employers need and how we can instil these in our graduates.

A panel discussion featuring representatives from all three political parties reviewed the role of the federal government in education, and there was a strong focus on innovation and the needed connection between applied education, the labour force, and the larger R&D capacity of the Canadian industrial ecosystem.

An ensuing speech by by Nathan Cullen, Member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C. and Finance Critic for the Official Opposition, New Democratic Party of Canada, was a good review of the consonance that exists across political lines on issues pertaining to education and policy. Cullen also made strong points about the need to reinforce the value of college and polytechnic education - a point picked up by many - where this value has had historically diminishing returns in terms of its perceived value. In simple terms, this means a historical bias favouring universities as the ticket to the future has led to the skills issues we now face (for which we need better data, of course).

It was Cullen who stated that "Polytechnics are the entrepreneurs of post secondary education." This is a very good point - the members of Polytechnics Canada are innovating in our approach to integrating applied research as a core facet of experiential learning while helping firms to innovate. We are advancing the apprenticeship discussion to update and modernize the system for better social and economic productivity. And we are working to connect supply and demand for the innovation economy.

Addressing this topic specifically was a panel on "Connecting Demand and Supply for a 21st Century Talent Agenda". Speaking from the employer perspective was Ross Laver, Vice President, Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and making the link to post-secondary change was Professor Ross Finnie, Director of the Education Policy Research Initiative (EPRI), University of Ottawa. It was an excellent overview of the needs of employers, and how education institutions can work to meet these needs. The crown learned about the nature of skills shortages and the lag of the PSE system to deliver the skills we need now, which runs the risk of ignoring the realities of the skills needs down the road. This is complicated by the fact that the jobs we will need to fill in 10 years may not exist right now. Todd Hirsch, writing in today's Globe, makes a similar point. (warning: paywall in effect).

A closing panel on healthcare shows how polytechnics from across the country are helping entrepreneurs innovate in the health space, while providing needed culture change impetus with the teaching of innovation literacy to a wide variety of students. GBC Research partner Infonaut was featured.

We need better labour market information (LMI): "The plural of anecdote is not data" enjoined Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson. This was echoed by many - starting with Minister Kenney right through to Ross Finnie, the latter who also focused on the relatively new field of behavioural economics. This means understanding the context in which the students (now and in the future) are making decisions about the kinds of education in which they will engage includes some of the prejudices against college mentioned above. This is not to say that university education is not useful, but rather that it is not for everyone, nor preparation for all of the jobs we have and need to fill now and in the future. It is worth repeating: we need a complementary, non-binary view of education - and research for that matter - that starts from what the market needs.

Once again it was an excellent discussion, with participation from many across the education, government and policy spectrum. The focus on the future with a practical attention paid on how we will get there - and what changes we need to work on together - was very fruitful, and significantly advanced the discourse on education, skills and innovation.  Nobina Robinson summed up the day succinctly: "When events like these ask the right questions we can get to the right solutions."

Polytechnics Canada next convenes at BCIT in November for the annual Student Applied Research Showcase. With BCIT celebrating 25 years of applied research, it promises to be a good event.