The knowledge economy is blurring the lines we have traditionally drawn between the private and public sectors. We see this blurring in the many interactions between the sectors, in the recent focus on performance and accountability in education, and in the growing sensitivity of private firms to the social impacts of their enterprises. This transformation of roles and institutions is bringing management skills, entrepreneurship, science and social science to the public sector – including education. Innovation is building capacity that crosses sectoral boundaries; school districts are creating business plans and businesses are creating environmental policies.

SMART Technologies Inc., a Calgary based entrepreneurial high tech company, is one of a growing number of Canadian firms that is helping to blur the lines. The corporate world rewarded SMART with many awards for business and product acumen, education associations have recognized its outstanding educational tools and products. In keeping with its commitment to corporate social responsibility, SMART makes those tools available to classrooms through its SMARTer Kids Foundation and to researchers through its Research Assistance Program. SMART is also committed to an environmental policy of sustainable practices in manufacturing and product distribution.

This blending of roles depends on collaboration – and ultimately contributes to greater collaboration. But collaborative relationships between organizations and across sectors can be messy.

They challenge accepted ways of doing things, require changes in the ways resources are allocated, and demand power sharing in decision-making.

Because of the enormous demands that collaboration makes on institutional leaders and managers, many joint undertakings begin by isolating the new activity from the demands of the parent organizations. York University, the Town of Markham and the National Research Council have taken this approach in establishing the Innovation and Synergy Centre. York Region, one of the fastest growing municipalities in Canada, has adopted an economic development strategy of attracting and retaining small and medium enterprises (SMEs), especially those focused on new technologies. The Centre will pull expertise from a number of university disciplines to support technology transfer and organizational management.

Innovation requires both imagining new options and finding the resources to put them into practice. Increasing, this combination calls for collaboration.

Curriculum development is largely the responsibility of governments and educational institutions, whose access to resources often leaves innovative ideas stuck at the conceptual stage.

A corporate investment of over $250 million – well beyond the reach of the public sector – resulted in the CISCO Networking Academy Program.

This sophisticated, rigorous Web based Information Communications Technology (ICT) curriculum, instructor training and learning assessment tool is used in over 150 countries in public high schools, colleges and universities. By engaging educators as well as ICT professional and engineers in its development, CISCO was able to meet both business and social goals – an increasing pool of ICT specialists and networking professionals for a growing labour market and meaningful credentials for students pursuing education paths – and contribute to a further blurring of the sectoral lines.

Public sector educators are becoming collaborative innovators, themselves, taking a page from the private sector's book. Alberta's Athabasca University, through its Centre for Innovative Management, offers the world's first fully on-line executive MBA program. At a current enrollment of 1100, it is the largest MBA program in Canada. Students from across the globe become virtual learning communities, tackling the issues of the corporate and business world and acquiring the skills of innovation and collaboration required in the rapidly transforming economy.

Education is no longer an isolated island of classrooms, books, teachers and students. The corporate world is no longer focused solely on the bottom line. Collaboration and a shift in both cultures have resulted in a new openness to the shared role they play in meeting the demands of the new economy.

Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

How do we educate people for a Knowledge Society – a society that depends on the continual creation of new knowledge? Education systems everywhere are trying to answer this question. In most of North America, the answer involves boosting standards and content requirements. In Japan and Singapore, by contrast, it has meant reducing content requirements in order to free up time for inquiry. The truth is, no one really knows how to educate people to be knowledge producers, but one approach is showing promise. It's called "knowledge building". It originated in Canada, but is now being pursued by innovative educators in more than a dozen countries.

Knowledge building is simply producing knowledge of value to others and working continually to improve it. It already goes on in knowledge-based businesses, in research laboratories, and in the more progressive professions. It is a novelty in education before graduate school level, but we have seen impressive examples of knowledge building in children as early as grade 1. If continued across the elementary school grades, it becomes what Peter Drucker said innovation should be in the Knowledge Age –"part and parcel of the ordinary..."

Students enter school with naive ideas about how the world works, and many leave school – even university – with those naive ideas intact. In knowledge building the name of the game is idea improvement. Students collaborate to produce new understandings, analyze and criticize, experiment and consult authoritative sources. They build coherent scientific explanations, historical accounts, literary interpretations, and so on. In the process they learn subject matter and they improve their reading and quantitative skills; but above all they learn to be active contributors to a Knowledge Society by actually living the lives of creative knowledge workers.

Knowledge building requires a distinctive technology that keeps ideas at the centre and helps improve them without micromanaging the process. Knowledge Forum®, developed at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, does just that. It is used successfully in knowledge building at every level, from kindergarten to graduate school and professional knowledge work, as a knowledge management tool, as a distance education forum, and as an e-learning environment. This is no accident. Knowledge Forum grows out of research on learning and expertise spanning that whole range.

"Learning to learn" and "learning to think" are much in the wind these days, but efforts to teach them directly have had limited success and produce skills that fail to transfer to new situations. Knowledge building offers a new perspective on learning to learn and think. Grade 5 students in one knowledge building classroom were asked how they would know when they have learned.

One girl responded:

"I think that I can tell if I've learned something when I'm able to form substantial theories that seem to fit in with the information that I've already got; so it's not necessarily that I have everything, that I have all the information, but that I'm able to piece things in that make sense and then to form theories on the questions that would all fit together."

That's what we would call a Knowledge Age answer. We have shown that quotation to university instructors whose reaction is that they wish their students could think at that level!

Over 5000 companies worldwide are engaged in eLearning, according to Industry Canada. In 2002, Canadian students could access 66,107 courses from 36 countries and 1,952 institutions. In the same year, in the US, the eTraining industry generated US$10.3 billion; it is expected to grow as much as 700% to US$83.1 billion by 2006. Canada's fine reputation for high quality education, combined with established leadership in learning technologies and distance education, make us a key player in this hot sector. But are all eLearning products and services equally good?

eLearning is constantly changing and improving – from the first correspondence courses scanned into a computer to just-in-time, individualized learning modules and communities of practice. Global competition is stiff, and the familiar Canadian "brand" is no guarantee of quality. Neither can learners rely on the general reputation of schools, companies or colleges; even the best known may offer poor quality courses or programs simply because a set of standards against which to measure quality hasn't existed. It's been "Buyer beware!" Until now.

A set of globally recognized standards for e-learning – CanREGs – is now available. And it's Canadian! The CanREGs provide quality standards for producers and evaluation criteria for users, thereby offering both consumer protection and a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Sponsored by a number of national organizations, including Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), the Canadian Association for Distance Education, and SchoolNet of Industry Canada, the CanREGs are the only existing comprehensive measure of eLearning quality for courses, programs, products or services. Focusing on outcomes, processes, and inputs, they begin with measures of content relevance and portability of credits and credentials. They then examine the service delivery processes, including teaching, assessment, and learner support practices. Finally, they evaluate the organizational support behind the eLearning service: the quality of staff, budgets and plans. A quality certification service based on CanREGs – eQcheck, available from QualitE-Learning Assurance Inc., – is becoming the sign of quality in eLearning worldwide. By obtaining the eQcheck, schools, universities and eLearning companies can demonstrate their program quality and increase business. eLearners can rest assured that if they see the eQcheck, their time and money has been well spent.

If consumers cannot count on the quality they need from eLearning, they will turn away from this innovation as they have from other education innovations in the past. If, on the other hand, program quality can be assured, eLearning systems will move toward the promise of genuine lifelong and lifewide learning and radically transform education and training.

A user-friendly Consumer's Guide to eLearning is available at
Dr. Kathryn Barker is a Director of CEA and President of FuturEd, a research consulting firm in British Columbia.

For more information, visit, or phone 250-539-2139

About one quarter of the Canadian population lives in communities without highspeed telephone or cable access to the Internet. In early 2002, the National Broadband Task Force, established by Industry Canada, set out a vision of closing the gaps in economic opportunity, health services and education for remote and rural communities by building a publicly supported infrastructure to connect 'the last mile' – those areas where presently there is no business case for the deployment of broadband networks by the telecommunications industry. Satellite communications technologies may offer an alternative to landlines for some communities.

For two years, Telesat Canada, a pioneer in satellite communications, joined with the Communications Research Centre and SchoolNet of Industry Canada together with Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Quebec, to run the Multimedia Satellite Trials Project (MSTP). This project established learning environments supported by satellite delivered broadband technologies in 12 remote and rural schools. The Canadian Education Association conducted an evaluation of the trials to assess the technical and pedagogical impacts of this solution to the problem of providing broadband to remote elementary and secondary schools. These schools carried out activities at the local, provincial, national and international levels that tested the relevance and feasibility of making use of these technical capabilities. Individual and collaborative projects were emphasized.

Satellite connection to the World Wide Web allowed schools to search the Internet, conduct video-conferencing, and download video files, capabilities that highly-networked schools in more populous regions may take for granted.

We found that the most isolated schools without high-speed landlines relied on the satellite. Schools' capacity to network was enhanced: students had opportunities to know other students, and teachers to plan, coordinate and conduct learning activities. That collaboration most often took the form of working together to generate ideas for using the satellite connection with their classes, to plan and coordinate activities such as videoconferences, and to find solutions to technical problems they were experiencing. The potential for such collaboration was easier to see at the district or provincial level precisely because the isolation of the schools themselves gave them little or no access to technical or educational support within their classrooms.

Equal educational opportunity has long been a foundational principle in the provision of public education. We are right to be concerned that new inequities are arising – sometimes called the 'digital divide' – because families and communities do not have equal access to information and communications technologies. These trials showed the availability of a satellite link for remote rural schools is of primary importance for achieving equality of opportunity in the 21st Century. Unfortunately, the satellite is now gone and the schools are again left with inadequate access to technologies that many of us now regard as essential to modern life and learning. It is unlikely that Canada will achieve the stated goal of highspeed broadband connectivity for all communities by 2004, but at least we know of one promising approach – two-way satellite communication.

Dr. Thérèse Laferrière is a professor at Laval University and Past President of CEA.

Canada's public education systems can greatly improve the ability of individuals to innovate by giving them the full range of skills that innovation requires. Innovation depends on skills and education builds skills. This skill building is crucial to Canada's economic and social wellbeing in the age of the "new economy" – in fact, our future prosperity and quality of life depend on how well we innovate.

The Conference Board defines innovation as "a process through which value is extracted from skills and knowledge by generating, developing, and implementing ideas to produce new or improved products, processes, and services." Improved innovation capacity is essential to increase Canadian productivity and value creation so that we can compete successfully in tough world markets.

One's capacity to innovate is greatly affected by educational experience. These skills are summarized in the Conference Board's recently released Innovation Skills Profile. Moreover, innovative capacity in students is not easily measured, and existing grading processes for students and instructors discourage risk-taking, adding to the challenge.

Yet, Canada's education systems do not yet focus on building the skills that students will need to contribute effectively to innovation in the workplace.

These skills are summarized in the Conference Board's recently released Innovation Skills Profile. Moreover, innovative capacity in students is not easily measured, and existing grading processes for students and instructors discourage risk-taking, adding to the challenge.

Taking action requires cooperation among a wide spectrum of stakeholders to:

  • develop a Pan-Canadian framework for promoting innovation skills development;

  • recognize and credential innovation skills in diplomas and degrees;

  • strengthen education's links with businesses and communities, to connect innovation skills development with practical applications; and

  • increase innovation training and professional development for educators to help them teach innovation skills.
Three factors determine whether innovation is encouraged and taught – institutional leadership, the learning culture and environment, and the instructional style of educators. Most students learn best from inspired and innovative teaching and learning practices.

The goal is to develop educational institutions that:

  • are entrepreneurial;

  • are open to new ideas and methods;

  • encourage collaborative approaches to learning and teaching;

  • provide appropriate resources for new innovation efforts; and

  • reward students and teachers who take initiatives.
Collaboration with a broader learning community is also crucial. Technological advances and new ways of learning and teaching – such as collaborative and creative problem-solving techniques – require educational institutions to draw on larger circles of talent, insights, and expertise, to ensure that their students gain the innovation skills they need to succeed. Schools, colleges, and universities can do this best by working with educators, parents, businesses and others in their communities.

There are already encouraging signs–the growth of mentoring and apprenticeship activities, businesscommunity – education partnerships, and some innovation–friendly course material developed with the help of others. This foundation offers an opportunity to greatly extend innovative capacity.

Today, cooperation at all levels of Canada's education system is inadequate to promote innovation skills development on the scale we need. Public policy initiatives that could have a positive effect include new institutional governance models, inter-provincial agreements for cooperation, articulation agreements among colleges and universities, credential recognition, and teacher pre-service and in-service development to enhance pedagogy and curriculum.

The challenge is to move from isolated champions of innovation to widespread action throughout Canadian society. Public education can be a leader.

Contact Michael Bloom at ext. 229, or e-mail:;
or Douglas Watt at ext. 426, or e-mail:

Dr. Michael Bloom, Director, Education and Learning, The Conference Board of Canada
Douglas Watt, Senior Research Associate, Education and Learning, The Conference Board of Canada

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