Room With a (World) View: SaskTel Innovation Station Sows Seeds Of New Technology Careers
By Andrea Wahbe on Aug 9, 2012 / Categories: CDMN News, Featured
The following post was originally published on the website of CDMN node TRLabs and is re-posted here with permission.
“Whereas knights of old wore armor of plate, the modern knights of the air wear the invisible but magic armor of confidence in technology.” (Mike Spick)
On the face of it, the SaskTel Innovation Station (SIS) at Mount Royal Collegiate (MRC) in Saskatoon is an inviting meeting, presentation and Internet cafe space. It’s a technology feast for the senses – bristling with goodies including Internet access, six HD flatscreens, six laptops, a PA speaker system for ambient music and presentations, a teleconferencing system, gaming consoles, and cell phone chargers. Said in a slightly more funky way: think TV ‘green rooms’ where guests peace out before putting their game face on and getting back into life’s demanding saddle. The SIS is a central location for high school students to R&R in.
“Media (music, video, TV, gaming) will be what attracts the students to the room,” says Andrew Kostiuk, Head Converged Digital Media R&D, TRLabs. “We therefore want to both ensure availability of a lot of media including incorporation of students’ own media, while empowering students to collaboratively interact with the room in ways that they want to.”
Leaving the description there, however, would be an injustice. More deeply, there is a higher order purpose for the SIS…a wolf in sheep’s clothing: to spark student interest in the technology field as a career. Sparking of interest is a multi-story prospect:
1) On the ground floor, the SIS is a productivity tool that helps students both complete and enhance class projects, contributing to development of the fundamental toolset students will need in a 21st century knowledge-based economy.
2) On the first floor, schools too often have to play technological catch-up with the world beyond. The installation of an advanced technology facility that levels the playing field between a school and today’s advanced business office enables a more provocative frame of mind: how can a school enhance its technology program offering within the curriculum with a more robust technological toolset? And how can technology as tool be incorporated into the broad curriculum?
3) On the top floor, the SIS feeds the inquiring mind…engaging the technological imagination of students at a time when they have a flexible mind around their future.
“TRLabs has been a key partner in helping to evolve the SaskTel Innovation Station. Since the beginning, TRLabs has helped us explore creative options for advancing the room and we are very confident in their ability to continue working with SaskTel to provide an inviting space with cutting edge technology that engages students,”
says Lyndsey Pankratz, YOUTHnetwork Coordinator, Human Resources at SaskTel.
The SIS has some interesting innovations to spark the imagination, including: smart film that transforms windows into a projected presentation medium (www.prodisplay.com/switchable-smart-film.html), allowing for interaction between the SIS and a larger school audience; current and future interactive Kinect apps developed out of TRLabs Adjunct Professor Dr. Carl Gutwin’s Human Computer Interface lab at the U of S (http://hci.usask.ca); text to room capability that allows for student cell phones to place and interact with messaging in the SIS; and video conference capability that provides students/staff with a multimedia gateway to the world.
But that’s just a start…a next Phase is envisioned that leverages the room for application development. “The SIS can function as a ‘living lab,’ Andrew says, “…a place where SaskTel and TRLabs and its partners can try out new services, and see how the students react, use, and accept (or reject) these new technologies.” Andrew notes that integration of mobile and social experiences into the space also offers some compelling opportunities.
SaskTel envisions TRLabs as an innovation conduit for the SIS, taking on a prime role in sourcing and recommendation of applications, and addition of applications developed within the nexus of partner project interaction and student exploration of solutions. Application ideas generated to date include a slide show for student artwork/photography/video done in some of the creative classes at the school where students can vote for favorite via their cell phones, and cooperative gaming where a big red wireless button on each table in the lunchroom requires that students figure out how they have to cooperate to make a game/app work on the smart film projection.
Lyndsey Pankratz, YOUTHnetwork Coordinator, Human Resources, SaskTel says that SaskTel has received great feedback from staff who use the room for meetings and presentations, and students who love the room “because it’s a cool, technology based place with a relaxed environment.”
The word ‘cool’ is a good segue to a key top floor challenge – reviving student ICT program enrolment. As a first for SaskTel, and likely a first in Saskatchewan for its technological prowess and centrality to the life and times of a high school, call the SIS a rather urgent need to find a workaround for the ‘nerd factor’ stereotype – the prototypical programmer coding all day in a dark room.
As the Report notes, with 83% of new workforce entrants coming from the education system, attracting more students into ICT programs and making sure those programs are workplace relevant is critical.A 2009 Conference Board of Canada report entitled “Connecting Students to Tomorrow’s ICT Jobs and Careers” that interviewed 1000 Grade 9 and 10 students across the country notes that whether students regard ICT-related careers as appealing or not appears to depend critically on whether they regard ICT jobs as interesting, fun, and cool. While 36% students said IT appealed to them as a job or career option, 31% indicated ICT jobs are not “fun” (20% indicated they are “fun”). An Australian study cited in the Report found that students believe that ICT is about working with computers and that such work is ―mundane, monotonous and repetitive.
The importance of a facility like the SIS is underscored by an ICT sector that faces labour and skills shortages. In 2008, the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) estimated that employers across the economy will be looking to fill between 126,400 and 178,000 ICT positions over the period 2008-2015 (the result of the nexus of retiring ICT workers, low and declining ICT-related educational enrolment, and challenge related to matching of ICT worker skills with employer skills needs). The economic impact to the Canadian economy of not being able to fill these ICT positions that will open up is estimated to be between $15-21 billion.1
“A few years ago SaskTel was given the opportunity to partner with the Saskatoon Public School Board,” Lyndsey says. “We thought that it was important to focus on technology based programs and education, and one of the first things we did was partner up with the existing Electronics program at Mount Royal Collegiate.” Lyndsey notes that four years ago enrollment in the Electronics program was down to 20 students, and the partnership with SaskTel has boosted enrollment to 125 students. “We also decided four years ago that we wanted to develop a technology based space for the students, and that is how the idea of the Innovation Station came about,” Lyndsey says, as she notes that members of CIPS (Canadian Information Technology Professionals) within SaskTel were pushing for a way to address the deficiencies in the IT educational enrolment.
Into a gap stepped SaskTel, with TRLabs as an enabling partner. As Rob Tasker, TRLabs President & CEO noted in last month’s Seccuris success story, TRLabs has an access to talent value proposition. The MRC initiative merely nurtures talent earlier…an investment in prospects for a larger pool of imagination around the corner.
1Connecting Students to Tomorrow’s ICT Jobs and Careers: A Pan Canadian Dialogue with Grade Nine and Ten Students, Parents, and Secondary School Guidance /Career Counsellors Prepared for: Bell Canada Inc. and Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow’s ICT Skills Prepared by: The Conference Board of Canada May 2009
SaskTel Innovation Station website - sis.trlabs.ca
About Mount Royal Collegiate - www.spsd.sk.ca/schoolsPrograms/highschools/mountRoyal/about.html
The SIS: An Important (and Missing) Cog in the Innovation Wheel
- Focused on the need for skilled labour to step into the technology development opportunity.
- A means to nurture passion for technology by raising visibility, encouraging active use, and nurturing of student exploration of early innovation structures.
- Technical college/university ICT-related enrollment rates aren’t enough to feed future labour demand for technology jobs. Passion translates to increased enrollment rates that technology companies tap to feed their labour need….and their competitiveness.
- The SIS is therefore much more than an Internet access space; it bears witness to our competitiveness as a nation in an economy of the future that is increasingly information and knowledge-based.
- The SIS recognizes a need to start young…develop comfort with, and inquisitive minds around, technology use and innovation.