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Research and Innovation


INNOVATION - Ryerson University Research & Innovation Newsletter

Issue 13: January/February 2015

Digital Discovery

Ryerson’s leadership in Digital Media and Technology is globally recognized. Our Digital Media Zone (DMZ) is Canada's top university business incubator and fifth in the world. Ryerson researchers create new techniques, products, and online tools to enhance the lives of Canadians and keep us globally competitive. Interdisciplinary projects with industry partners are breaking ground in cloud and context-aware computing, transmedia, big data analytics, social media, 3D printing, assistive technologies, geographic information systems, augmented reality, gamification and more.

For example, Ryerson researchers are developing new technologies and tools. The Laboratory for Systems, Software and Semantics (LS³) develops semantics-driven software that can extract meaning from text. The Ryerson Multimedia Research Lab focuses on media indexing, coding, transmission and retrieval, and human computer interaction.

The Ryerson Centre for Cloud and Context-Aware Computing (RC4) brings together industry partners, researchers, and start-ups to develop technologies and drive their adoption across sectors to promote productivity and global competitiveness. One of its nodes, the Transmedia Centre is a state-of-the-art facility that explores the convergence of media practices in content creation, audience relationships, and emergent business models. Other nodes include the Advanced Manufacturing, Design, and 3D Printing Lab, and the Ryerson Ubiquitous and Pervasive Computing Lab.

Ryerson’s Digital Media and Technology researchers come from virtually every discipline. The Centre for Digital Humanities (CDH) looks at the intersection of material and digital knowledge production, investigating online environments for the preservation, visualization, and analysis of cultural texts and histories. The Social Media Lab examines how social media and other web technologies are changing the ways in which people communicate and disseminate information, and the Infoscape Research Lab (IRL) focuses on the cultural and political impact of digital code, particularly related to social media. The Edge Lab and the Inclusive Media and Design Centre develop assistive digital technology to increase accessibility.

Stories in this newsletter highlight a few of our researchers who are enhancing how we connect and function in an increasingly digitalized world.

We are pleased to launch a new design of our Innovation newsletter for 2015. Our updated format is more compatible with mobile devices and screen readers in compliance with the new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.


Wendy Cukier
Vice-President, Research and Innovation


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Dr. Catherine Middleton Image: Dr. Catherine Middleton investigates the need for public Wi-Fi and how this could improve urban infrastructure. Photo credit: Ryerson University.

Even with mobile communication and digital media expanding dramatically in the past decade, many people in Canada still do not have easy or affordable access to high quality internet services. Although Canada’s mobile broadband networks offer high speeds, Canadians pay high prices for their mobile services and are not offered consumer-friendly options available in many other countries.

Dr. Catherine Middleton, Professor of Information Technology Management at the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) and Canada Research Chair in Communication Technologies in the Information Society, focuses on the implications of wireless internet access for policy and practice. Currently, free Wi-Fi is provided in other jurisdictions and she is interested in assessing the implications of this for social and economic development. For instance, she is currently exploring the impacts of providing free Wi-Fi in public spaces. Working with colleagues at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, she is investigating ways in which provision of reliable, fast, and free wireless can foster innovation and encourage entrepreneurship.

“Until you have an environment where people can see possibility, we can’t realize the innovation,” Dr. Middleton states. “Although you can see a concept, it can’t move beyond the concept stage without broader, underlying infrastructure.” The research explores whether there is a strong business case for local governments to invest in public Wi-Fi as essential urban infrastructure.

The public sector asserts that high-speed internet is essential, but initiatives to improve broadband access in Canada have focused on providing services to homes, not to Canadians’ mobile devices. Policy makers must decide whether mobile access to the internet is essential for participation in today’s society, a point that Dr. Middleton and her colleagues will discuss with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Committee (CRTC) when it holds a consultation later this year to identify the basic telecommunication services needed by Canadians.

The Canadian government’s efforts to improve competitiveness in Canada’s mobile market have centred on enabling the creation of a fourth mobile phone company. But Dr. Middleton questions whether Canadians want more of the same, suggesting that policy could instead foster new approaches to providing mobile broadband and encourage different business models for service provision. Dr. Middleton is investigating whether there could be an expanded role of the public sector in providing mobile services and if Wi-Fi is an essential component of urban infrastructure in the 21st century. Her research into these areas has been widely published and has attracted the attention of policy makers through participation in Industry Canada and CRTC consultations.


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Image: Dr. Art Blake investigates the impact of digital technologies and the urban "maker movement" in cities. Photo credit: Art Blake.

The digital revolution has impacted the evolution of cities, changing urban spaces and city life. Dr. Art Blake, Associate Professor in History, is examining how digital technologies are affecting urban centres. He currently leads the Canadian Cities Initiative (CCI) at Ryerson's Faculty of Arts that brings together faculty and students with city partners, such as the Toronto Public Library (TPL), to fill contemporary urban needs, such as neighbourhood regeneration and educational outreach.

Libraries play an integral role in urban community building, offering access to a public space with learning tools and work stations for collaborations. Dr. Blake, his faculty colleagues, and his students are providing an evaluation of TPL’s two Digital Innovation Hubs, helping the TPL determine how to improve access to new technologies and meet community needs in a digital, vertical, and global city.

“People who have grown up with the internet and social media are rethinking urban life,” Dr. Blake proposes. “Digital innovation has offered new ways of making connections in an urbanized world.”

Libraries are evolving with cities by providing education and entertainment not just through books, but also through digital tools and technology to meet urban needs. The services that TPL provides are particularly important for city building. Its Digital Innovation Hubs provide access to high-tech tools such as coding software, 3D printers and scanners, and audio/visual editing equipment without any cost, helping community members of all ages adapt to our changing world. The CCI research will help TPLs stay relevant and maximize benefit to the communities they serve.

Dr. Blake’s current research also looks at the history and growth of "maker spaces" and the "maker movement" in Canada and the U.S. These spaces — similar to the TPL’s Digital Innovation Hubs — offer cheap access to 21st century "DIY," offering digital technologies as well as traditional tools.

 “People from different physical or cultural communities have found each other online through shared interests but are now meeting in person to work on live collaborations,” says Dr. Blake. “For an urban historian like me, it is a fascinating time to see how people combine technology and creativity to build real-time urban connections.”


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Image: Dr. Anthony Bonato explores the digital world of online social networks to create mathematical models. Photo credit: Clifton Li.

In our digitally connected world, people are increasing online communication, leaving a large data trail of social interactions. Dr. Anthony Bonato, Professor in Mathematics, designs and studies mathematical models to provide insights into these complex social networks.

“In the digital world of online social networks, I am interested in the dots and lines and how they tell us something about the hidden geometry of a network,” says Dr. Bonato. His recent project - Advances in Network Analysis and its Applications - included a multidisciplinary team of mathematicians and computer scientists from across North America to adapt algorithms to analyze data derived from Facebook and LinkedIn. This Mitacs-supported research enabled the team to adapt algorithms to analyze data derived from Facebook and LinkedIn and examine an individual’s attributes and social connections.

Otherwise known as ‘Blau space,’ this multi-dimensional space links individuals by their friendship ties, forming a large, dynamic network. Coordinates correspond to attributes such as age, education, occupation, geographic locations, and other characteristics. In theory, the number of attributes make up the dimension of the social network; in practice, quantifying the overall dimension of the Blau space associated with the social network has remained an open problem.

By working with big data sets from Facebook and LinkedIn, the team successfully modelled social relationships and set out to quantify the dimensions of these social networks. Using a mix of tools from advanced mathematics and artificial intelligence, Dr. Bonato discovered that the list of attributes that define an individual are much shorter than previously expected. The team was able to demonstrate that the dimension of social networks is best approximated by the logarithm of the number of individuals in the network.

As the first study to quantify the dimensions of social networks, Dr. Bonato’s breakthrough research is generating new insights into the use of big data to model social networks. New applications of this research may be able to provide accurate predictions about individuals as well as the types of interactions they pursue.


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Image: Professor Filiz Klassen is pictured with the Wind-quills prototype from her Snow, Rain, Light, Wind: Weathering Architecture project. Photo credit: Filiz Klassen.

Advanced technologies are enabling companies to streamline the invention and testing of material prototypes, drastically reducing the time for bringing a product to market across almost all industries. Filiz Klassen, Associate Professor at the School of Interior Design, is investigating how these material innovations can also improve the sustainability of the built environment.

Professor Klassen’s ongoing research looks at how certain materials respond to variables in the environment, and how to adapt the built environment and construction materials to lessen the negative impact of buildings on the local climate. She has developed a series of building facade prototypes through this research, entitled ‘Snow, Rain, Light, Wind: Weathering Architecture.’ These prototypes integrate innovative textiles, building materials, and technologies to transform rigid architectural surfaces into responsive, energy-generating structures.  

As Co-director of the Design Fabrication Zone (DFZ) at Ryerson University, Professor Klassen is broadening opportunities to explore design and fabrication innovations. The DFZ is a partnership between the School of Interior Design and the Department of Architectural Science that provides access to new and existing fabrication technologies, such as 3D printing and laser cutters, meeting spaces, and workshops to cultivate design and fabrication innovations.

In its pilot year in 2014, the DFZ had 150 student, researcher, and entrepreneur members working to cultivate innovative ideas, experiment with new technologies, and respond to existing or hypothetical design fabrication issues. Professor Klassen mentors students at the DFZ, providing them with experiential learning opportunities through innovative design projects. For example, she is currently working with a group of interior design students to construct a booth for Frame Magazine at the Interior Design Show, which will be fabricated using environmentally friendly cardboard-honeycomb material, rendering the booth 95% recyclable.


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Image: Dr. Ebrahim Bagheri (top left) and his 2014 team of graduate research students from the Laboratory for Systems, Software and Semantics (LS³) are researching and developing new software platforms. Photo credit: Dave Upham.

People need letters to create words, but without the ability to grasp the underlying meaning behind words, also known as ‘semantics,’ we can’t communicate an idea or understand what’s being asked of us. Computers also share this problem: even pre-programmed with all the letters and numbers at our disposal, it is extremely difficult to teach a computer how to extract patterns and meaning from textual content.

At the Laboratory for Systems, Software and Semantics (LS³), Dr. Ebrahim Bagheri and his graduate students have developed software that will help computers learn the relationship between words instead of just analyzing the physical characters and grammatical structures, expanding their ability to understand the meaning embedded in written communication. Dr. Bagheri also recently launched Denote, a software platform that can accurately extract meaning from textual content to enhance the ability of search engines. Denote can identify the intention behind the search rather than just matching key words, producing more accurate results for users.

Dr. Bagheri is also conducting research to analyze user-generated content from social media platforms. By examining patterns in tweets on Twitter and posts on Facebook, his software can be used to identify emerging trends among different communities as well as to predict potential issues of concern. Once finished, Dr. Bagheri’s software will have the capacity to analyze large quantities of communication on social media to determine the inclinations and future needs of a person, which can be used by businesses to vastly improve the quality of customer service. In this effort, Dr. Bagheri is collaborating with industry partner ThinkCX to develop the next generation of customer relations software for large telecommunications companies.

In a smarter digital world, technologies like Denote can do more than just identify a range of keywords. By learning how to read the semantics behind text, computers can understand the meanings behind what people are posting or searching to generate more accurate predictions of what people are looking for. Through his research, Dr. Bagheri is breaking ground with collaborative, industry-driven projects, increasing the value of big data solutions while also training the future leaders who will continue to advance this technology.


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Image: Dr. Jason Nolan is using accessible materials such as cardboard (pictured above) to create customized adaptations for children with special needs. Photo credit: Jason Nolan.

Ryerson researcher Dr. Jason Nolan is breaking down barriers for children with special needs. He has recently been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Stars in Global Health program through Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, to fund his pilot project entitled “Adaptive Design International.” His project focuses on the creation of customized adaptations for children with special needs.

Dr. Nolan is Assistant Professor at the School of Early Childhood Studies and Director of the Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) Lab. The EDGE lab is home to the Adaptive Design Studio, where Dr. Nolan and his colleagues work directly with children with special needs to create custom adaptable designs, working towards a goal of improving their well-being. Dr. Nolan uses accessible materials such as cardboard to create objects such as rockers that encourage self-stimulatory behaviour in autistic children.

The first step of the project is to set up a teaching and learning collaboration with partners to co-develop a training program and establish an adaptive design lab in Bolivia. Then Dr. Nolan will develop an online knowledge mobilization network linked to these international community partners.

Grand Challenge Canada’s Stars in Global Health program supports scientific/technical, social, and business innovation. Successful projects seek to create affordable health solutions that can be assimilated into cultural practices worldwide, with the capacity to affect positive change in low-to-middle-income countries.

“This collaboration will build on our shared strengths to form a solid foundation from which to share our social innovation with our neighbours and all around the world,” says Dr. Nolan. The long term goal of the project is to scale-up through additional industry and public partnerships, eventually becoming a template used in emerging communities worldwide.


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Thursday, February 19, 2015 | 3:00pm-7:00pm
George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre, Room ENG 103, 245 Church Street, Toronto, ON

Join us as we invite educators, entrepreneurs, content and media design experts, publishers, industry leaders and decision-makers to examine digital learning and engage in an insightful exchange of ideas and strategies to address the transformational changes occurring in academia and the workplace.

More info


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