Monday, September 26, 2016

Education and skills for full spectrum innovation

The connections between education and the labour market (or careers, from a student perspective) are often seen in light of the need for specific skills sets. Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) get a lot of play here. The thinking goes that as the future is digital, digital (i.e. coding) skills are increasingly in demand. All true. But we need a balanced approach to skills, matching STEM with the arts and design. We call this STEAM+D.

The OCAD University submission to the Federal Innovation Agenda outlines the STEAM+D approach: "Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math + Design – representing the full spectrum of expertise required to enable social and economic innovation."

Others have written about similar concepts in terms of needing a society with a variety of complementary skills, expertise and interests. I have used Technology Readiness Levels as a way to unpack the route from idea to innovation, helping us understand what "full spectrum innovation" means: leveraging complementary (individual, institutional) strengths in the service of innovation. Increasingly this includes the arts, humanities and design. See this piece for an example of the 10 skills you need to thrive tomorrow – and the universities that will help you get them.

Innovation literacy in this context includes the ability to work productivity with others, from different cultures, disciplines, and skills levels. These are essential elements for realizing full spectrum innovation.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Is education an input or outcome of innovation, or innovation an outcome of education?

Today’s Globe has a piece by Ken Coates and Douglas Auld that outlines the theory that a focus on access has led to a natural decline in retention at Canada's post-secondary schools - this is in conjunction with a  stated need to better measure educational outcomes. Besides measuring the effectiveness of education across the country, there is a need to better understand how our publicly funded inputs lead to outputs and outcomes: "The government of Canada and its provincial and territorial partners should identify a small number of crucial elements: graduation rates, career outcomes, personal learning activities, and the commercial and social impact of Canadian research funding and scholarly output."
A Star story on how students want a mix of university and college adds further to this mix. These can be read in conjunction with the hand wringing that accompanies the discourse on skills gaps, real or imagined. And let's not forget this item that came up recently: "Overqualified workers often lacking in basic reading, writing skills: study". 

These are interesting to read at the start of a new academic year, as they collectively raise the issue of the utility of education. Is education transactional (simply for skills acquisition) or is it transformative (fostering citizenship, contribution to society)? I contend it is both

The antimetabole of this post's title should cause us to pause and think about what it is we want out of our education system. If "the goal of education is to make people privately happy and publicly useful," then there is no reason why we cannot state some desired outcomes (productive and innovative society, excellent research output; superior learning experience; engaged citizens) of post-secondary systems. This is about understanding the audience(s) we have - the students and graduates, but also employers and parents. There is a need to articulate the links we want made, rather than leaving these to chance. 

Really this points to the need for Canada to have a national minister of education. Yes, I know this is provincially regulated and run, but so is health, and we have a national minister of health. We are the only OECD country without a national minister of education. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The STEAM+D approach to innovation

Last Friday I had the opportunity to visit Brooklyn's New Lab, "an interdisciplinary space designed to support entrepreneurs working in emerging technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and connected devices." The New Lab is an incubator focusing on growth stage companies, offering prototyping and fabrication facilities along with venture and entrepreneurial support support. There are 29 companies located there spanning the range of fields outlined above. Located in a repurposed industrial space - the Navy Yard - New Lab offers companies a community commons approach to incubation and acceleration. According to New Lab, no other place in the US has prototyping supports, business support, VC funding, and shared work space under one roof that are not part of an educational institution or corporation. It is funded by the civic government, and is a pathfinder for the reshoring of manufacturing and industry 4.0.

One of the member organizations of New Lab is Terreform ONE (Open Networked Ecology), "a non-profit architecture group that promotes smart design in cities." Check out their projects - this is a bold and creative group that shows the value of the STEAM+D approach to innovation: integrating science, technology, engineering, arts, math and design. Students from undergraduate to graduate come to Terreform to engage in a sort of “career discovery” process – a developmental process whereby they discover what they want to do, often building on their thesis projects. Fail and learn is a significant component of the latent pedagogy of the place.

When arts and culture mixes with engineering and technology and design there is a multiplier effect on the innovation. This mix underscores the importance of facilitating interaction among disparate disciplines – this is where innovation takes root.

It is this “amniotic/primordial” zone that encourages experimentation and idea generation. This ideation is a necessary precondition to the design of products and services and their execution through entrepreneurial ventures.

Inside of New Lab: Looking out at the building sign

Inside of New Lab: Shared space with colourful chairs