21 November 2014

SSHRC launches the College Community Social Innovation Fund

Today the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) has announced the anticipated launch of the College Community Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF). This program will fund applied research conducted with partners in an array of social innovation. This is a significant opportunity for colleges and polytechnics to engage in demand-driven social innovation with our industry, community, and not for profit partners. 

“The Community and College Social Innovation Fund represents important, new and very 
welcome funding that will connect the talent, facilities and capabilities of Canada’s colleges 
and polytechnics with the research needs of local community organizations,” said Nobina 
Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of Polytechnics Canada in their press release. See also the Government's press release here, in which CICan president Denise Amyot states:

"Colleges, institutes and polytechnics are mandated to contribute to the social and economic development of the communities they serve. The scale and scope of college applied research in social innovation is significant, and makes a difference for community and social service organizations across the country, whether improving the lives of disadvantaged Canadians, addressing environmental challenges, enhancing teaching and learning, or improving health and wellness in communities. We are pleased that the Government of Canada is investing in college social innovation research-this is key to increase opportunities for community organizations to tap into the talent, facilities and capabilities of Canada's colleges and institutes."

16 November 2014

Polytechnics Canada Student Applied Research Showcase and the "How To" economy

The 11 members of Polytechnics Canada assembled at BCIT this past week to celebrate the Student Applied Research Showcase. The event is always a highlight, and this year was impressive as 11 leading students from across the country pitched their projects to a panel of judges. Each did an excellent job of articulating their research experience, but I think what was most impressive was when they were all called to the stage as a group to answer questions from the audience. When asked what they had gained from their experience on applied research, several spoke up about the application of skills and knowledge gained, the benefit of working for a real client, and how the experience prepared them well for the world of work and helped them get a job.

Earlier this year Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson wrote about the "how to" economy in a Globe and Mail op-ed, in which she articulates the value of applied research as a unique way in which the knowledge economy is aided by the ability to translate knowledge directly to the needs of society. She writes: "In an economy with a growing demand for innovation talent in all sectors, we need to train people to know not just the “why” of knowledge, but the “how-to” of technical talent." Resilient economies are those that have the capacity to innovate and to add value to products and services. When students learn through our academic programs and work with industry partners on applied research projects – developing real products and services – they gain innovation literacy, key skills that amplify the technical skills they acquire in our programs. The multiplier effect of innovation skills was evident in all of the student presentations.

The Polytechnics Canada Student Applied Research Showcase is an excellent window into the world of applied research and the value it brings - to our partners, our education programs, and especially our students. Our economy is in good hands with people like those 11 who presented to the audience at BCIT, who is celebrating 50 years as an institution and 25 years of applied research. It was a fitting celebration, of BCIT, Polytechnics Canada, and the students, who very ably represented not just their home institutions, but our future ability to innovate.

10 November 2014

The GBC Green Building Centre: Open For Business Innovation

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development agency of Southern Ontario (FEDDEV) and Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore Bernard Trottier were at our Casa Loma campus today to officially open the Green Building Centre. Many of our industry partners were on hand to celebrate the opening. The Green Building Centre is GBC's newest applied research facility that is supporting the growing Canadian green and smart building market. Prior to the ribbon cutting, The Minister, MP Trottier and industry guests toured the various labs developed with funding from FEDDEV:
  • Building Information Modeling
  • Advanced Prototyping
  • Building Materials
  • Building Sciences
  • Building Automation
The Green Building Centre also features a Building Accelerator and Entrepreneurship Space for industry partners to work with our students and faculty on applied research projects.

Minister Goodyear, who in a former post was the Minister of State for Science and Technology, has presided over the development of the college applied research capacity in Canada. In his speech Minister Goodyear talked about the strengths of Canada's excellent basic science R&D capacity (as recently outlined by the Council of Canadian Academies), but the need to also focus on developing our business R&D capacity. Facilities like the Green Building Centre are helping companies to invest in R&D and to develop new products and services. This applied research helps to translate the results of basic science into innovation, which means jobs and wealth in the economy. Already the Green Building Centre  has resulted in 59 new jobs, and helped our partner firms commercialize new products in the green building industry.

When companies work with colleges and polytechnics on applied research, not only are new products taken to market, but the next generation of skilled, innovation-literate graduates gain valuable industry experience. This experience complements the technical skills gained through our programs. The multiplier effect of funding such as that from FEDDEV is helping George Brown College to help industry to innovate in important areas of the economy. (In addition to Green Building, we are very active through our Food Innovation Research Studio and in health technology). Today's opening marks the official launch of the Green Building Centre, where we are open for business innovation.

07 November 2014

Education, information

This was a busy week for those interested in education. The Conference Board convened its annual PSE Summit, HEQCO held a conference on apprenticeships, and the Society of College and University Planning convened to discuss PSE planning, including physical infrastructure and programs. Of these I was unable to attend the HEQCO, though I have been told it was very good and featured excellent in depth discussion on important issues regarding skills, the skilled trades and the apprenticeship systems in Canada and elsewhere. Also related is a recent conference I attended at Simon Fraser University on Innovations in Undergraduate Learning.

The PSE Summit was presaged by a workshop on Monday held at Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone on "Rethinking the PSE Institution." It was a good discussion on how PSE can and should adjust to the changing world around us. The DMZ was held as an example of this, and rightly so. My read on the DMZ is that it is taking innovation and entrepreneurship and explicitly teaching this in a more competency based learning framework. It works because it is what the world needs, and what student (for the most part) are seeking - relevance of their education.

Relevance is a defining feature of much of the discussion on education, and as well it should be. I've quoted John Godfrey here before: "The goal of education is to make people privately happy and publicly useful." Yet while most people will agree with this, there is still a sharp demarcation between education as a way to better oneself versus education for gaining skills to get a job. I don't think these are mutually exclusive. Education is always both transactional and transformative. We should be focused on outcomes-based education wherein students are told up front what skills and knowledge they will gain from a course or program. This enables students to see themselves on a career trajectory while we instil values congruent with our society. While there are those in the university and college sectors who eschew anything that remotely sounds like practicality, we ignore this at our peril. To these I say: Show me the student who does not want a job. That student does not exist.

That said, we should of course always encourage learning within or learning programs. This means recognizing, as one PSE Summit presenter said (quoting Alvin Toffler), "The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." Learning how to learn is an essential component of what we need to teach in order to future proof our economy. This creates resilience. It is a defining feature of those innovation skills I've termed innovation literacy. If the pace of technological change ushers in new forms of learning (about and with new technologies, for example), then the pace of credentialing similarly needs to be accelerated and adapted (IBM's M Mindel). In short, not only are there new competencies and skills associated with innovation as J. Salmi put it, these lead to the development of learning models such as what Ryerson's president Sheldon Levy has called zone learning, which is just "an updated form of co-op."

University of Toronto president Emeritus Robert Birgeneau gave one of the better keynotes at the PSE Summit with an overview of the California system. He described, among other things, the excellent articulation that defines credential laddering in the California PSE system (a real "system" I would point out, unlike Canada's many and competing systems). Most tellingly, he also went into detail about the new master education plan California is creating, in which there are community colleges, state universities and large, research universities, which are logically placed in a per capita allocation. To put this another way, Birgeneau pointed out that, if Canada were to structure PSE this way, Ontario would have 5 doctoral granting research-intensive schools, Quebec 3, BC and Alberta 2, etc. and create pathways among these. It reminded me of the U15 proposal for research funding, which is a good way to ensure that we can fund appropriately our best chances for global research excellence. This recognizes that we cannot continue to support everything and anything and everyone to be global research leaders. We have to pick winners. And we need an education system that serves the needs of the research pipeline an the development of human capital (read: potential): colleges, polytechnics and universities, both those that are undergraduate focused and those that are research intensive. Sooner or later this will come to pass for sheer economics. We cannot afford duplication in either credentialing or research intensity.

And so we end where we begin, in the need to focus on the development of a system (education and research) that works together, and provides students with outcomes and pathways throughout lives and careers. These issues arose at the SCUP conference and the SFU symposium. At SCUP there was a focus on planning and building physical spaces to reflect new learning, but also on program prioritization. Engaging in these sorts of exercises forces us to confront the cold reality of relative value of certain programs and types of education. This is as it should be. At SFU, there was a lot of discussion about outcomes amidst some fear that outcomes will restrict the ends of pedagogy, which to some is simply "crating good citizens." A noble goal, to be sure, but the majority of these citizens (95% according to one speaker) are entering universities to get a job and a career.

Those who eschew outcomes based learning I would liken to those who believe in magic. The students enter the educational institution, take some courses, and are magically transformed into a good citizen. To state what skills someone will learn from a given program or course disrupts this magical thinking, pulling back the curtain to lay bare the mechanisms of learning. The course or program is a black box in which magical things happen that are ineffable. This is alchemy, a transmutation that cannot be rendered explicit for fear of disrupting the professorial power to conjure this transformation.

To be fair it is difficult to render everything explicit. But we must be honest with ourselves and our students about what they will gain for their investments, and for those investments of public money we put into education. For if Canada tops the OECD in the percent of population with a tertiary education, yet there is still a mismatch in skills and gaps in career readiness, then there is a disconnect in the publicly-funded system and the needs of the private sector, where the majority of jobs are, in addition to the private needs of the individual to lead a fulfilling life as a participating citizen. This may simply be a communication gap (which is the rationale behind our innovation literacy badging program). And there are good models of public+private partnerships for education and research.

The private and public goals of education are complementary. The discussions held this week at these various venues has shown that there is great potential for the PSE system in Canada. There are good models at home and abroad that can shine a light on how we might reimagine our PSE systems, and make of them a true system.