All Posts Tagged With: "innovation"
Prof. Pettigrew on why some courses are better spread out
Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about block courses at Canadian universities. The idea is that instead of taking several courses over a semester or two, students take one course at a time over a matter of weeks. The system is already in place at Quest University and the University of Northern British Columbia is trying them out.
It’s easy to see the appeal of this kind of programming. Students get to focus on one subject at a time. Moreover, the final exam comes not long after the first class, so they have less time to forget material from earlier in the course. I’ve experienced these and other benefits myself while teaching spring and summer classes, so I can see the temptation.
But it seems to me that block courses have as many or more disadvantages, and we should be cautious before jumping on the block bandwagon.
Small school in Squamish, B.C. may make you jealous
Quest University, six-years old and growing, is unique in Canadian education. It offers students courses in 3.5-week blocks allowing them to focus all day on a single subject. The school is also set apart in that students explore a single question in the latter half of their four-year Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degrees. And the serene campus setting in the Coast Mountains near Vancouver would make just about any student jealous. There is a catch: it’s $40,000 when room, board and fees are added. Maclean’s has explored Quest before. Here’s an update from Ivy League astronomer turned Quest president David Helfand.
What’s new at Quest?
We have a new residence building going up so we can accommodate our ever-increasing enrollment. We currently have 425 students and we’ll have over 500 next year so we’ll run out of beds. We’ll build another one next year as we expect to continue the expansion.
We are busy recruiting a number of new faculty for next year. Our student applications are up 65 per cent over last year which suggests we’re going to need a lot more faculty.
We have a few interesting courses this summer that are going to be field courses. The ancient world [course] will be in Greece and Turkey with one of our ancient philosophy faculty. The visual anthropology course will be in the Himalayas in India with William Thompson, a well-known National Geographic photographer who has a PhD in anthropology.
Quest doesn’t have typical majors or minors, but instead has a two-year foundation program followed by two years focused on a single question. Why do it this way?
We really divide the education into two pieces and the first piece is the foundation program. We say these are perspectives on how to ask questions and how to answer them that everyone should have. Everyone should have mathematics and science as well as humanities and arts and social science. That way students have been exposed to all these different ways of looking at the world.
Then it’s time for them to focus on what they’re passionate about and go into something in real depth. It’s not that they’re not taking courses, because they’ve designed a set of courses around that question. They also design an experiential learning course off campus so they can see how the real world works with that question and then they produce quite a large Keystone project.
So it’s really the contrast of the breadth of the first two years with the depth of the last two years.
The experiential learning blocks. What’s the benefit of that?
Our classrooms often have students out in the real world doing things, but they’re still classes by the hour, so the experiential learning is trying to get them where the action is.
I have a student now whose question is framed cutely as “What is the perfect meal?” It sounds like it could be silly, but it’s not because it has four components: a bionutritional component, a neuroscience component, a cultural component and a food production distribution [component].
The student just completed an experiential learning block imbedded with a company that runs all kinds of restaurants in Whistler following the production and distribution system and shadowing people in their restaurants and food distribution. The student is going to compare this to a book which has a single and political point of view [for] a much richer understanding of the question.
What’s an example?
We had a student recently whose question was, “What’s the best way to educate a child?” She’s interested obviously in doing K-12 education so she spent a month in a Montessori School and read Maria Montessori’s theory of education, spent a month in a Waldorf School and read Rudolph Steiner’s theory of education and spent a month in a public school and read John Dewey. She collected her experiences from those three environments and theories into a long paper. She’s now going to graduate school in education.
Tell me more about the block system.
Having taught 35 years in the Ivy League in semesters I can tell you I was skeptical about it. But neither I nor any of the other 32 faculty members who are here right now will ever go back to teaching any other way because it’s vastly more effective and more enjoyable for the faculty member and the student. It’s hard. It’s intense. But having no distractions for a month and focus….
And being able to attract people who have real lives. People can’t get time off teach a four-month university course, but they can teach a one-month long university course. So people from arts, and government can take short breaks off and avail our students of their expertise in the real world.
For the faculty the lack of time limits is liberating because if you want to go on a field trip for six or eight hours it’s not a problem because no one has a chemistry lab that afternoon.
In fact, our volcanology course, after working in the field here with dormant volcanoes, went to the Hawaii Volcano National Observatory for 10 days. Our students can do that because they have no other classes they’re completing with. Being able to focus on one thing at a time is a revelation for people growing up in a world where multitasking is celebrated.
We often hear people defend the liberal arts. Others say university should prepare better for jobs. It seems there are components of each at Quest.
I’m a strong defender of liberal arts for the sake of liberal arts and the education it provides one for life. There’s a distinction in my mind between education and training and both of them are really valuable. I had my hip replaced recently and I wanted that doctor really well trained.
But I think training is distinct from undergraduate education which is all of the communication skills, analytical reasoning skills and collaborative skills necessary to succeed in any sort of occupation.
The point is that university graduates will have five or six different careers in their lifetime. Not just companies but completely different careers. And half of those careers don’t exist today. Half of the careers we had in 1965 when I went to university don’t exist today. That doesn’t mean it needs to be, as it was in the Middle Ages, completely divorced from the real world. That can be unhealthy too. So what we try to do is balance this rigorous training in the liberal arts with some kind of experience in the real world.
Now that it’s a bit more established, what type of student are you seeing apply?
Perhaps the most dramatic change is that through our first five years of existence, unlike most universities, we had almost exactly the same number of men and women whereas in most universities it’s close to 60/40 women to men. In this year’s applicant pool it’s 60/40 [women to men].
The quality of the applicants and range of schools and geographic areas is increasing. We have 36 countries represented now and we’re very happy about that. Since all of our classes have small seminars, having the perspectives of people from outside north America is really important. We’re getting more students from the Eastern U.S. and Canada. The breadth of the pool is expanding.
Quest is quite expensive. How do you react to people who balk at the price or say it’s elitist?
Elitist to me is not a bad word when we’re talking about intellectual matters. It’s not a good word when we’re talking about access, so we have a very large needs-based scholarship program. We assess each family’s need, which takes into account not just family income but we know that if you have three kids in university that’s a lot more expensive than having one kid in university.
We try to make up the difference between the tuition and what the family can afford to pay. I believe as many as seventy per cent of our students are on financial aid. So we’re very conscious of this access issue and we work very hard to make sure all the students who are well-qualified and who will really contribute to the campus community can come independent of their ability to pay.
What makes a student jump out on their application?
A student who has been very active in their school or their community.
We want students who are really excited about the education they’re going to get, not about getting the degree as quickly as possible. So the students who jump out are those who understand we’re a very different environment and not for everybody.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Third place in “reinvent the toilet” contest
A team of University of Toronto engineers are flush with cash as they continue working to build a better toilet.
The team — lead by Prof. Yu-Ling Cheng — has received a $2.2-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue designing a waterless, hygienic toilet for the developing world.
The 15-month grant comes after the team — which also includes researchers from Western University in London, Ont., and the University of Queensland — placed third in the Foundation’s “Reinventing the Toilet Challenge.”
Two new Thiel Fellows are Canadian
The Thiel Foundation announced its second class of 20 Under 20 on Tuesday. The 20 new Thiel Fellows, all 19 or younger on Dec. 31, will each get $100,000 to pursue innovative scientific and technical projects, along with guidance from tech entrepreneurs, investors and scientists.
Billionaire Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, created the fellowships because he believes university and governments aren’t the only routes to innovation.
“Pundits and hand-wringers love to claim that universities are the only path to a successful life. In truth, an inquisitive mind, rigorously applied to a deep-rooted problem can change the world as readily as the plushest academic lab,” Thiel said.
“In 1665 when Cambridge University closed due to the plague, Isaac Newton used his time away to pursue self-directed learning and ended up inventing calculus,” he added.
Pebble smartwatch creator plans to hire co-op students
That won’t be necessary for Eric Migicovsky, a 2008 University of Waterloo systems design engineering graduate and entrepreneur, who has raised more than $4.4 million for his “smartwatch.”
The idea behind the Pebble is simple: it alerts users when a new call, email or message is coming through on their iPhone or Android phones and displays it on the electronic paper screen. It’s especially useful if you don’t have easy access to your phone, which means the Pebble is the perfect solution for cyclists, joggers, or lazy people who want to stay connected while only having to move their wrist.
How Baba Brinkman is teaching M.B.A.s
From the Maclean’s Rethink Issue. Story by Angelina Chapin.
It’s a Sunday night in Manhattan, and the only place in the world where 40 white people have their fists in the air chanting “I’m a African.” Their ringleader is performer Baba Brinkman: a tall, gangly man who is explaining to his audience in the off-Broadway theatre how the theory of evolution is captured in the lyrics of New York City-based hip-hop duo Dead Prez.
Brinkman’s riff on their song, which argues that until 60,000 years ago Homo sapiens all lived in Africa, is a part of his rap guide to evolution—the second in a series of educational rap guides he’s produced. The songs unpack such Darwinian principles as natural and sexual selection using the analogy of the rap industry: just as certain organisms are selected to survive in nature based on favourable qualities, certain rappers are selected by their audience to succeed based on talent.
Canada’s coolest undergraduate research opportunities
From the 21st Maclean’s University Rankings. Get your copy today.
Contrary to popular belief—and what you may see in the movies—academic research isn’t only for master’s students, and undergrads do more than just drink beer: they do research, too. In fact, there are lots of exciting collaborative research projects currently underway at universities across the country, where undergraduate students and professors are working together to help change the learning landscape. See for yourself, below.
University of British Columbia
UBC master’s students Samantha Brennan and Aidan Whiteley—with the guidance of their cartography and society professor, Jon Corbett—are still engaged in the research project they began as undergraduate students in 2009. When the Okanagan campus undergrads realized that forest ﬁre maps were inaccessible to the public, they enlisted Corbett’s help in building a fire-mapping tool that local residents could use to access data on burn areas, as well as review actual human experiences pertaining to the fires—as opposed to only facts and figures. Brennan and Whiteley’s project, which has been dubbed the “Facebook of forest fires,” also included real-time Internet videos and timelines.
STEM students will get $60,000 each
Seymour Schulich, who already has several Canadian schools named for him, has announced he has donated $100-million to fund scholarships in Canada and Israel, reports Shalom Life.
The Schulich Leader Scholarships are meant to increase enrollment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, in order to spur innovation.
All graduating high school and CEGEP students in Canada and Israel who are planning to study STEM subjects may apply. Each winner will receive $60,000 over four years. Five Israeli and 20 Canadian Universities will award one scholar each in the first year of the program. After that it will grow 75 awards per year. United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto will administer the cash.
Schulich, a business leader, has already made donations that have resulted in the following things named for him: a medical and dentistry school at the University of Western Ontario, a library and a school of music at McGill University, a law school at Dalhousie University, an engineering school at the University of Calgary, an education school at Nipissing University and a business school at York University.
Should government funding go to lab coats or white collars?
As defenders of the downtrodden go, Roger Martin deserves points for chutzpah at least. It’s harder to feel sympathy for Martin’s chosen underprivileged group than it would be if he were sticking up for, say, orphans and widows—because Martin has spent much of the year arguing that Canadians, and especially their governments, aren’t giving enough money to the country’s business schools.
At first glance, Canadians might be reluctant to shed a tear. Martin is the dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, not conspicuously a hardship case. The school has raised $130 million on its way to a $200-million fundraising target, timed to coincide with next year’s opening of a new 15,000-sq.-m building in downtown Toronto. But its successes, Martin maintains, come despite the lack of adequate government support, especially from Ottawa.
But deans have a plan. Cornish hen, anyone?
“Canada has gone from brain drain to brain gain,” Stephen Harper told a crowd at McMaster University on Aug. 3. He was speaking at a ceremony to announce the 167 recipients of the 2011 Vanier Scholarships, awards that were launched in 2007 to provide whiz-kid graduate students from around the world with $150,000 in funding over three years. The Prime Minister made the goal of the big cheques clear. Research leads to innovations, which creates Canadian jobs, he said.
But wait a minute. Has the brain drain that sucked south 488 members of the graduating engineering class of 1995 before the ink dried on their degrees really been plugged? Look more closely at the 167 Vanier Scholarships awarded this year. Only eight will fund engineering research. Only five of those went to Canadian citizens or residents.
Will education play a role in the campaign?
According to the Toronto Star, education should be a major feature of an election.
Investing in innovation. The Conservatives did a poor job in their anti-recession stimulus package of building for the future. They could have turned the crisis into an opportunity, but their 2009 budget actually cut funding for scientific research (though they later addressed that mistake by creating more research chairs and luring world-class researchers to Canada). But the steps are still tentative: last year’s federal budget increased Ottawa’s spending on R&D by $200 million — while President Barack Obama was upping U.S. spending by $15 billion.
Canada needs to step up dramatically in this area. Our economy now runs on ideas; more and more of us discover, design and create things. Waterloo’s Research in Motion is the poster child for that kind of innovation, but we need much more. What kind of investment in research and higher education do the parties propose to keep the country competitive for the next generation?
While it is unclear whether education and research will play a central role in a campaign, all three parties have introduced, or hinted, at what their education platforms could look like. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says he plans to focus on access for students and has, in the past, endorsed centralization by creating a dedicated higher education transfer to the provinces, presumably with conditions similar to the Canada Health Act. We could likely expect something similar from the NDP.
And, if the Tory budget, released earlier this week, really is to double as an election platform, their position is to focus on targeted research for the physical, engineering and technological sciences, while mostly limiting support for students through established programs such as the Canada Student Loans and Grants programs. The Tories have, in the past, promoted developing something similar to a dedicated transfer in higher education, largely through working with the provinces to outline priorities and demanding reporting for how transfers are spent, though they have been slow to follow up.
The federal role in post-secondary education has always been a bit murky. Ottawa is involved in student loans, in part, because it holds jurisdiction over the banking sector, but the provinces still retain responsibility for determining a student’s eligibility for loans. Because of the presumed importance of research to economic development, a large federal role in this area could arguably be justified under the trade and commerce power.
In any case, all three parties advocate a visible role for the federal government in this education and research, with the NDP and the Liberals likely to promise a more robust presence for Ottawa, and the Tories likely to take a more incrementalist approach more in line with the constitutional division of powers.
Canada’s inefficiencies might have more to do with the nature of the economy than how the government hands out funding
Innovation is a hot topic these days. When is it not? Apparently, Canadian businesses are falling behind their counterparts in the rest of the world when it comes to research and development and the answer is for business to develop closer links with universities.
Yesterday the government announced awards for “innovative collaboration between businesses and universities.” These awards come just over two weeks after the government announced they would review the way business-focused research and development was funded in Canada.
While this review will mostly be looking at the private sector, it will also look at funding for university research that has been, or has the potential to be, commercialized. The government does seem to be more concerned with the private sector than post-secondary institutions.
“Canadian business spends less per capita on research and development, innovation and commercialization than most other industrialized countries, despite the Government of Canada investing more than $7 billion annually to encourage business R&D” said Minister of Veteran Affairs Jean-Pierre Blackburn in a press release.
Today’s awards also provide a strong incentive to business to support “innovation.” Winning companies get the “opportunity to hire [a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada] Industrial R&D Fellow for two years, with NSERC supporting the industrial portion of the fellow’s salary.”
It’s not just the federal government talking about research and innovation, the Conference Board of Canada released a report saying that Ontario colleges are “stimulating applied research and development (R&D) and accelerating much-needed innovation.”
Business leaders are also talking about innovation.
On Oct. 13, the day before the federal government announced their review, a business group released their own report calling for greater cooperation between universities and business when it comes to research and development. That group, the Coalition for Action on Innovation in Canada, is headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, now president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and Paul Lucas, the president and CEO of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
With Canada’s changing economy, this focus on innovation from both the government and the private sector does make sense but Canada’s innovation inefficiencies may have more to do with the nature of our economy than the way the government hands out funding or private sector willingness. The large role that natural resources play in our economy and the large number of branch — rather than head — offices in Canada have created a situation where innovation isn’t a priority for business. If this is the case, it’s going to take a lot more than financial reviews and awards to really spur innovation in Canada.
How to attract human capital and find a place for science students in industry
Science and technology minister Gary Goodyear was at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto to fulfill a commitment the feds made in their most recent budget: he launched a review of Canada’s policies regarding business R&D. As David Akin points out in his Sun Media column today, the problem is simple enough: Canadian researchers are far better at producing new ideas than Canadian businesses are at implementing them. (Here’s a column I wrote in which John Manley expounds on similar themes.) Far too much effort has gone in recent years into fine-tuning (read “fiddling clumsily with”) the research that goes on in university laboratories. This review attempts to get things right: it looks at the very substantial federal aid on offer to businesses that want to engage in R&D, and asks why so little of that assistance is taken up and why it hasn’t produced a culture of constant innovation.
My very strong hunch is that Canadian industry doesn’t need more help so much as it needs to be made to worry, through a set of policies designed to expose Canada more directly to global competition. So I like this quote from John Manley in David’s column: “Quite frankly, if there is an innovation problem in Canada, that’s the responsibility of the management and boards of directors here in Canada.” I’m really pleased to see that UofT president David Naylor is on Goodyear’s panel; he’s good at the kind of blunt talk that will be needed.
There’s another guy on the panel who will not be familiar to just about anybody, but should be. His name is Arvind Gupta, he runs an organization called MITACS, and I’ve had a story about him ready to run for the past couple of weeks in one of our upcoming university issues. We’ve plucked that story out of our queue so you can read about Gupta now.
Here it is:
Much of the debate over innovation and productivity in Canada focusses on ideas: the search for a new research breakthrough that changes the way we see the world. Governments’ R&D policy concentrates on steering dollars toward types of research that might produce the kind of discovery that can pay off in the marketplace.
But what if the most valuable product from higher education isn’t the ideas but the people who generate them—the superbly educated graduates with advanced math and science degrees?
That question fascinates Arvind Gupta, a professor of computing science at Simon Fraser University. He is also CEO of MITACS, a federally funded Centre of Excellence in information technology.
MITACS (Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems) was one of more than a dozen Centres of Excellence set up by the Mulroney and Chrétien governments to encourage industry and academia to work closely together in specific areas. And it didn’t attract much attention outside computer-science circles until it launched a little internship program in 2003.
That year, 18 doctoral students in maths and science were placed for four-month internships at Canadian companies. The students’ mandate was to tackle a technical problem the company was facing. But science students are problem-solvers born and bred; as often as not, they found other ways to improve the work their host companies were doing. Both sides had to make a real investment: the company paid $7,500 for the extra help, and the students had to report back to their PhD advisors on the work they’d done.
The internship program, dubbed Accelerate, took off. From 18 internships in 2003 it grew to 608 in 2009 and doubled again to more than 1,200 this year. That growth is not artificial. It is demand-driven. As word spreads about how creative these young recruits could be, businesses lined up to get involved. “Our goal is to get this up to 10,000 projects a year,” Gupta says.
British Columbia student founded one of the world’s largest song lyric websites
A British Columbia student who founded one of the world’s largest Internet song lyric websites has taken the top prize at a global entrepreneur contest.
Milun Tesovic, 24, of Burnaby defeated 32 competitors to be named winner of the 2009 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Kansas City.
The Simon Fraser University student founded metroLyrics, the world’s third largest music website that garners 35 million monthly visitors.
Judge Dean Gagnon says Tesovic won the title for founding a company that skyrocketed in only three years to become a leader in the industry.
Gagnon says Tesovic’s maturity and vision left the panel awestruck and shows entrepreneurs can succeed at any age.
The competition is open to students who own and run a business while attending college or university and will hand Tesovic $150,000 in cash and prizes.
- The Canadian Press
Milloy will now be doing double duty
The Canadian Press is reporting that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty will be shuffling his cabinet following the resignation of a key minister who left to lead Toronto’s economic development agency.
Current Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities John Milloy will remain in his portfolio and be promoted to double duty as Minister of Research and Innovation.
This is a positive move by the Premier’s office, especially due to the overlap in infrastructure funding for universities between the two ministries.
I hope Milloy gains some of the staff from the present minister of research and innovation. That Minister’s office has been well-run during the past two years.
Milloy is one of the more talented members of the Executive Council and is more than capable of managing both portfolios.
Ontario will get nearly $1.5 billion to build “long-term capacity for research and innovation”
The federal and Ontario governments will spend nearly $1.5 billion over the next two years on infrastructure projects at Ontario’s universities and colleges.
Industry Minister Tony Clement said Monday the $1.476 billion will give short-term economic stimulus to communities in the province and help strengthen research and innovation.
“Our government’s investment provides significant short-term economic stimulus in local communities throughout Ontario, while at the same time strengthening Canada’s long-term capacity for research and innovation,” Clement said in a statement.
“The renewal of college and university facilities will encourage more world-class researchers to work in Canada and give them the tools they need to make further discoveries that will benefit Canadians and people around the world.”
The spending will include $587 million in federal funding, $641.2 million in provincial funding and $248.1 million from other sources including the private sector and the universities and colleges themselves.
The monies will come from the federal Knowledge Infrastructure Program announced in the 2009 budget, a two-year, $2-billion economic stimulus measure to support infrastructure enhancement at Canadian post-secondary schools. They will be used to support deferred maintenance, repair and expansion projects at the colleges and universities.
A total of 28 projects at post-secondary institutions throughout the province will be beneficiaries of the first round of funding with another round of qualifying projects to be announced Friday.
Funding released to the schools included:
- $137 million for the University of Guelph and Conestoga College
- $31.23 million for Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
- $50 million to the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a centre established by Research in Motion (TSX:RIM) co-CEO Jim Balsillie
- $70 million for the University of Toronto’s campus in the eastern suburb of Scarborough
- $80 million for the University of Ottawa