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Innovation at OCAD: 3 Qs with Sara Diamond

In September, the 10K crew went on location to the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair, to interview a dozen higher ed leaders about trends in innovation.

Sara Diamond has worked in higher education for 3 decades, at BC’s Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Alberta’s Banff Centre, and Ontario’s OCAD University, where she has been President since 2005. In this special bonus episode, edited to 10 minutes, Ken asks Sara 3 key questions about higher ed innovation.

Innovations at OCAD?

Sara proudly points to OCADU’s new Academic Plan, which brings together STEAM+D – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (or Medicine) with Art and Design in a powerful interdisciplinary combination. All OCAD students will be provided with basic programming skills so they can be “digital citizens.” OCADU also has a strong focus on Indigenous knowledge, culture and creativity, and “decolonization” is OCAD’s first guiding principle. OCAD has diversified its curriculum and built a cosmopolitan campus, with international students from around the world. And OCAD is opening several new buildings, including the waterfront Campus for the Connected World, and the Centre for Emerging Artists & Designers, both of which will focus on new experiential and work-integrated learning opportunities for students. OCAD’s business incubator for recent graduates, the Imagination Catalyst, has a very high success rate launching new ventures. And OCAD is partnering with UOIT to bring together design and hard science for STEAM+D.

The Decade Ahead?

Over the next decade, Sara predicts a world of continuous learning in which universities offer increasingly flexible degrees, badges and stackable microcredentials, as well as flexible timetables for working and entrepreneurial students. Digital delivery will intensify, but the “sociality” of learning will continue to bring students together in one place to learn. She also anticipates some really dynamic “international aggregates of institutions” offering students trans-national learning experiences and credentials. And Sara projects ongoing and increasing investment in “blue-sky” investigator-driven research, and the increasing importance of artificial intelligence in the “expressive economy.”

Culture of Innovation?

Sara emphasizes that university leaders must support the integration of research and teaching, and maintain curricular openness to new learning. They must be “militant proponents of diversity”, be highly collaborative across campus, and also reinforce the “porosity” of the university, building partnerships with industry and external organizations to help build their communities. Ultimately, Sara observes, university research can help solve the world’s big problems, so long as we stay “at the coal face” of the real world.


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