Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On science and diversity

There are many things to celebrate about Canada's commitment to both science and diversity of late. Canada recently appointed a scientist and astronaut, her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, as Governor General of Canada. And Dr Mona Nemer is Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor. Having women in these high profile roles sends an important and positive signal to Canada and the world regarding the value of gender diversity and science-based inquiry.

The importance of gender diversity is highlighted in the Statement by the Prime Minister on Global Entrepreneurship Week. And two articles in yesterday's Globe and Mail support the need to ensure more women are engaged in the technology industries, and that panels at conferences are inclusive.

The Governor General has received a lot of press for her recent remarks on the importance of science and policy, and has been unfairly subject to criticism for talking about the importance of science. One wonders if the editorial comments would have been different had a male delivered these remarks.

And this is an important point to underscore. Prime Minister Trudeau's famous remark "Because it is 2015" stands as a watershed marker in gender parity and diversity for the federal government cabinet. The Canada Research Chair program has specific diversity targets under the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. It is worth noting that OCAD University is a leader in this area given our focus on diversity and equity as core to our Academic Plan; decolonization and diversity & equity are the first two principles of this plan.

We all have a responsibility to support and promote diversity and inclusion. Advancing this in accordance with a shift toward science-informed policy will help us foster inclusive social and economic development.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Learning a living in the pivot economy

Two articles of note in today's news should be required reading for anyone interested in education and its relationship to the economy. The first is an overview of experiential and work-integrated learning (WIL) programs, New co-op programs blur the lines between academics and industry, exposes a rift between what industry expects from graduates and what educational institutions provide. It is good to see the Siemens model active here in Canada portrayed as an exemplar. But the fears raised by academics about industry encroachment on curricula are not very credible and sound rather like libertarianism gone awry. Education has always been both transactional and transformational, and we do a disservice if we do not adequately prepare students for meaningful careers and participation in society. The rise of WIL programs offer the best of both worlds, and do in fact encourage industry to invest in skills training and education, something Canadian industry does not do to the rate of international comparators.

The second is a wake up call about The missing middle and what happens when low to mid-skilled people don't just lose jobs but these jobs disappear altogether. Reskilling is important, and the article outlines what is essentially a significant public issue as it pertains to education and what I'll call the pivot economy. We are in the midst of an economic pivot as we move into more automation, coupled with the results of years of off-shoring manufacturing and global integration of supply chains. It can be argued of course that economies pivot all the time. The difference now is the rate of change. But also integral here is an economic push in Canada to become more than simple drawers of water and hewers of wood, to move past simple resource extraction and to become "price setters, not price takers."

"The future of work consists of learning a living" said Marshall McLuhan. As we collectively grapple with the pivot economy we have the opportunity to build meaningful bridges from the present to the future via education. My sense is that it has always been thus; in North America we simply stopped thinking of continual skills and competency development over the lifespan sometime around the middle of the last century. That's a topic for further discussion.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Business Skills and the Aims of Education

With the start of the new school year comes more rumination on the importance of education and the concomitant discussion on the transactional versus the transformative aspects of educational investment.

On the transactional side we have discussions like this about the sheer mechanics of postsecondary educational investment. What interests me most about this piece - besides the very obvious statement that investment in postsecondary education will result in downstream return on investment - is the discussion about aptitude. The author talks about how STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) "programs are job factories, but not everyone has the aptitude. I don't agree. Inclination is one thing; aptitude another. Anyone can learn the skills from these programs.

Equally important is the broader array of skills and competencies within the STEAM+D alary - adding Arts and Design to the mix results in the capacity for what I have called a "full spectrum innovation." And this points to the transformative capacity of education. Others have called this "learning to learn" or soft skills (though there is really nothing soft about them, other than the attempt to define them so that they can be easily digested by the public).

The Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity has a recent blog post discussing the diversity of skills needed for inclusive innovation, referencing the Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel and the value of experiential learning. OCAD University has the development of business skills as a key component of our new Academic Plan, with several initiatives underway to ensure these skills and competencies are taught, learned and practiced through experiential learning. These are the components of innovation literacy.  Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Budget critics miss the point: The Future of Education is the Foundation for Innovation

This article is published in Re$earch Money and is reposted here with permission.

The most recent federal budget has garnered headlines more for what people say it did not do than for what it does. It has been branded as anodyne—a do-nothing budget, a place holder while we wait to see what our neighbours to the south will do. A recent Nanos poll reported in the 17 April 2017 Globe and Mail shows that “Canadians dislike [the] Liberal budget,” more for not tackling the deficit than for anything it does.

But these pundits have missed a crucial point: this budget is one of the more politically astute policy budgets in recent memory. This is because the budget puts in place some transformational changes that support a crucial platform for innovation: education.

The federal government provides funding for education through provincial transfer payments, but officially has no say in how education is managed. The federal government does provide research funding and this has a link to education. A key facet of providing research funding to universities and colleges is the training of what are called “Highly Qualified Personnel”; these are the students that work with professors on research. Students gain key skills and competencies via research participation, but this is not considered part of the education mandate—it’s an outcome of research activity. But students (and graduates more specifically) are important inputs to our national capacity to innovate.  Students participating in research gain key innovation literacy skills that make them valuable assets to any industry.

The Budget did have funding (carried forward from the 2016 Budget) in support of “super clusters” in key industrial sectors, including artificial intelligence. Despite these measures many have decried the lack of focus on innovation, which is seen as the key way to boost Canadian productivity and international competitiveness.

What the budget did do however was change some key instruments related to education, which will have direct and downstream impacts on our capacity to innovate as a country.  With a focus on Skills, Innovation and Middle Class Jobs the government has in fact enacted significant efforts to underpin the very platform for innovation. It is no accident that this is the first chapter in the Budget.

A focus on lifelong learning and retraining for new and emergent jobs and careers is a significant component of the Budget’s focus on skills. Changes to Employment Insurance and student loan eligibility marks a shift in thinking about the role of education and training in people’s lives. Where once education was seen as a stop prior to launching a career, it is now an ongoing episodic component of continual learning and adjustment as people pivot into new roles, jobs and careers over their lifetime. Expanding financial assistance to a wider demographic, including part-time and mature learners, coupled with enhancing Canadians’ access to educational supports for retraining and skills upgrading while still working, significantly modernizes these programs to bring them in line with the reality that career transitions happen while people are still working.

Another significant component of Budget 2017 is the allocation of $90 million over two years to support over 4,600 Indigenous students to access higher education. This, in addition to supports for Canadians with disabilities, will help many more people participate meaningfully in the economy.  New supports for work-integrated learning have the potential to help bridge the worlds of education and work.

The launch of a new organization to support skills development and measurement in Canada reflects the importance of preparing Canadians to meet future labour force needs. This is long overdue; many have decried the lack of good labour market information for career planning. A national approach to understanding the regional realities of the labour market—recognizing that the demand for skills and people can be met with educational supply—will help companies compete and people plan education and career paths.

With these elements the federal government has indicated its willingness to provoke some necessary changes in post secondary education. The result, one hopes, will be a stronger and more resilient society and economy.

Education is the platform for an innovative society. Innovation is the foundation for a robust economy. Education, like health, is provincially controlled, but of national importance. Canada has a federal minister for health. It is time for Canada to have a federal minister for education; we are the only OECD country without one. Having one will help stitch together the patchwork of programs that support citizen participation in the economy.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

GradEx 102 and the importance of art, design and creativity

OCAD University's 102nd annual Graduate Exhibition - #GradEx102 - concluded on this past Sunday, having seen over 45000 visitors to our campus to take in over 900 graduating students' exhibitions. It was impressive. Graduates from across our programs - from Drawing and Painting, Environmental and Industrial Design and Digital Futures to name a few - presented their final projects in a variety of media, from tangible to digital. I had the opportunity to tour through GradEx many times, and I was consistently impressed with not only the quality of the projects on display, but also the ability of the students to articulate the purpose of their work, and what skills and competencies they learned throughout their education at OCAD U. From gorgeous works of art through to industrial designs that address healthcare and wearable computing, and video games that help people cope with mental health issues, GradEx offered an intensely personal insight into the people that fuel innovation and the creative economy.

Here is my take-away on what I learned from GradEx102:

Art, design and creativity are everywhere. All around us we see the benefit of the arts, and the importance of design and creativity to social and economic inclusion and productivity. 
OCAD U is art, design and creativity. Particularly at events like GradEx it is abundantly clear that our graduates exemplify how art, design and creativity help us to imagine not just a beautiful world, but one that seeks to change the world around us for the better. 
OCAD U is everywhere. Our graduates work in every sector of the economy. This is because the power of the imagination benefits all.

The students at GradEx102 - all OCAD U students - are the highly qualified and creative makers of the world. If the goal of education is to make one privately happy and publicly useful, then it is the goal of art and design education to make the public happy.


Design is Everywhere; OCADU is Design; OCADU is Everywhere

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Canada is missing an important trend: Design Research and the Science Review

Much has been written of late on the Review of Fundamental Science report recently released publicly.  The Naylor Report as it has become known, has put forward a list of recommendations to update Canada's approach to fundamental science, or basic research in OECD terms.

OCAD U provided input to the Panel with a vision for fundamental science that encourages multidisciplinary research teams that include design researchers as the country prepares to address grand challenges.  

We called on the Panel to address the need to:
  • Adapt federal research funding to meet the needs of researchers working in design disciplines;
  • Improve coordination among the granting councils to support multidisciplinary research;
  • Ensure that small universities are able to access research funding;
  • Ensure Highly Qualified and Skilled Personnel (HQ&SP) in small institutions are not disadvantaged.
Some excerpts from our submission:
***
Design research in Canada currently falls between the cracks in Canada's fundamental research funding ecosystem. As a result, Canada is not supporting these important areas of research, nor are we gaining the benefits that design disciplines add to fundamental science. This impairs our ability to participate in area of research importance internationally, and prevents us from fully establishing interdisciplinary research that can effectively tackle grand challenges.

Other countries offer models to consider as the federal government examines the country’s approach to fundamental science. Design research has an important role in fundamental science and knowledge creation. It comprises a set of disciplines that have inherent value as distinct areas of inquiry (research and knowledge creation), as well as being important inputs to downstream innovation capacity. Design disciplines are key areas of research activity internationally. 

Around the world, design-centred research has been seen as critical to future innovation and growth. The Australian Research Council has long instituted the 1203 Field of Research code to enable design organizations to apply for its Discovery and Linkage grants [See note below]. The United States’ National Endowment for the Arts explicitly supports design research as an area for funding. The European Commission’s Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation (2013) calls for “research in which designers and design methods play a central role” and the recognition that, “co-design and other design methods can help to reinforce partnerships between multidisciplinary research teams and assist us in understanding the crosscutting issues and architecture of complex problems.” The UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has reiterated design as a strategic priority area in its 2013-2018 AHRC Strategy. Canada is more than ten years behind the funding of design research by Asian governments, such as South Korea, which funded the Korean Design Research Institute at Seoul National University from 2002-2012, and Hong Kong, which funded the DesignSmart Initiative to support design research as one of its initiatives from 2004 until 2011.
***

The good news is that the Panel Report has acknowledged the importance of design disciplines: the panel "notes that certain areas of research (e.g., health law, medical anthropology, design) are distinct disciplines that have not found consistent support from any of the granting councils" (p123). They call on the granting councils to provide "a welcoming home for these orphan disciplines, and to ensure that appropriate peer review mechanisms are structured for them." This also includes the need to expand the capacity of the granting councils to engage multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary researchers in enabling this transformation. 

These are among many recommendations that will certainly take time to sort out and sift through. But the Panel has done a great service to Canada's research community by putting forward important issues of research productivity, funding normalized to GDP (where we are lagging internationally),  and the relationship of science to international competitiveness and national  innovation and productivity.



Note: Sub-codes in the 1203 Design category include 120301 Design History and Theory, 120302 Design Innovation, 120303 Design Management and Studio and Professional Practice, 120304 Digital and Interaction Design, 120305 Industrial Design, 120306 Textile and Fashion Design, 120307 Visual Communication Design (incl. Graphic Design), and 120399 Design Practice and Management not elsewhere classified.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

From research to skills: On Canada's innovation carrying capacity

Yesterday's budget was notable for its singular focus on addressing innovation in Canada. Pundits are postulating the pros and cons and winners and losers, but we should see this budget as a positive step forward on many fronts: indigenous education, gender inclusivity, and a broad reimagining of educational supports from Employment Insurance through to more flexible student loans that more ably reflect the realities in which we work and live.

The Federal Government has a fine line to walk when it comes to education, given this is a provincial purview, but the measures outlined in the budget will go a long way to ensuring Canada can be competitive in the international market for social and economic prosperity. I will repeat that Canada needs a national minister of education - we are the only OECD country without one. This would go a long way to ensuring that a national skills strategy is a viable input to a national innovation strategy.

In these tumultuous and kinetic times (to borrow an apt phrase from Angela Carter) it behooves us to foster ways to structure education and research in ways that meet both the transactional and transformational needs of society. From long bets in artificial intelligence (the results of which are emerging from decades-long investment in basic science research) though to application of knowledge into new products and services, resilient regional economies require us to think through the issues and challenges of the day and to imagine futures and bring these to life.

OCAD University's new Academic Plan has this pivot at its core, building on the 141 years of excellence in art and design. We are fostering innovation literacy in our graduates through experiential learning and research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. Working through our industry and community partners our students gain valuable insights while creating new knowledge and applications. Disciplinary Porosity; Language, Digital and Business Competencies; Criticality; Creativity - all of these are hallmarks of what makes OCAD U education unique, and how it makes possible the imagined futures the country needs for success.

Ensuring regions and individuals can pivot through retraining through such design thinking helps build the innovation carrying capacity of the country. This is dependent on ensuring we articulate our roles in promoting science, research and education into meaningful participation for all. This is inclusive innovation.