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Innovation Challenges

Each term, teams of students collaborate with mentors and our staff to address an innovation challenge. The groups explore the challenge’s context, focus on a specific aspect, then prototype and present a potential solution.

How does an innovation challenge work?

Innovation challenges offer students the possibility to develop their innovation skills. We recruit students from various disciplines who work with mentors and partners to propose new solutions to a problem.

Students are guided through the systemic design approach, a variation of design thinking, as they develop into confident innovators. This involves developing a collective vision through the exploration phase and speaking with users who experience the problem, which then leads to a reframing statement. Students then engage in the brainstorming and prototyping phase, where they develop leadership and storytelling skills.

Partners who submit ideas that are ripe, meaning that they have a problem statement, an existing body of work that shows the complexity of the problem, and identified mentors, can propose a full challenge. Ultimately, the goal is to generate practical solutions with real-world impact, spanning technology, business models, and social or environmental issues.

Previous Innovation Lab challenges

The objective of this challenge was to imagine an inclusive language resource for the Concordia community of students, staff and faculty, and the wider community. Students considered which areas must be included and reflected on possibilities for presenting the information (e.g., pamphlet, zine, video). The students were invited to create original and innovative content, each on a specific topic.

About inclusive language

Inclusive language allows people of different experiences to feel welcome, safe and included. Most people are not taught inclusive language when growing up, and it continues to evolve, so ideally, we provide tools and make efforts to continue improving our language use.

Related topics

  • gender
  • race
  • legal status (for example, prison, citizenship, employment, …)
  • (dis)ability
  • neurodiversity
  • ethnicity
  • multilingual dimensions (such as French & English)

The objective of this challenge was to imagine a framework for fostering collaborations or partnerships that remove barriers to participation in an inclusive robotics hackathon. Hackathons are gatherings where small groups tackle a problem, usually around programming or robotics. Hackathons should be welcoming but often fail to include people who feel intimidated by technology and coding.

About the hackathon

The hackathon was expected to run in 2022-2023 and include participants from CEGEP, high school and early-stage undergraduate students around the robotics theme. A particular goal of the hackathon was to welcome participation from underrepresented groups in STEM sciences. During summer 2021, students contributed to designing the hackathon activities (see the presentation here); during winter 2021, students contributed to a mentorship model (see the presentation here).

Related topics

  • Stakeholder mapping of collaborators and community-building
  • Inclusive facilitation
  • Inclusion, diversity and equity in STEM
  • Relationality
  • Multi-disciplinarity

The objective of this challenge was to better understand the experience of people living with disabilities moving through Concordia campus spaces, ultimately, guiding the design of our built environment.

About designing accessible spaces on campus

The challenge focused on creating personas—a tool to help understand the variety of users and their needs, generate empathy in designers working separate from users and widen the perspectives of staff involved in designing campus spaces. This design tool was intended to serve Facilities Management in their efforts to create a genuinely accessible university on both Concordia University campuses and to enable autonomy and equity for all students and staff interacting with the spaces. Previously, there were no tools for Facilities to experience other’s perceptions of moving through space, including going between spaces, wayfinding, accessing areas, circulating, connecting in spaces, and different ways of using spaces.

Related topics and questions

  • A spectrum and variety of disabilities exist. How might they be better understood in their relation to physical space?
  • Spaces are currently designed based on building codes and norms, which are not based on the human experience.
  • How do factors, including cultural, psychological, physical characteristics, identities, and intersectional identities, create barriers to experience?

This challenge aimed to create meaningful and inclusive social innovation events for youth.

In 2022, Kids Code Jeunesse (KCJ) launched a youth-focused social innovation lab, in part informed by the work of the team of students in this challenge. Few innovation labs and incubators across Canada specifically focus on tackling more significant social issues, are dedicated to broad-based inclusion of diverse community members, or are designed for teenage youth.

The need for a programmatic guide

Building on its expertise in creating innovative digital skill learning environments for youth (mostly 7-13 year-olds), KCJ needs a playbook for programming activities to use as a guide when co-developing new labs with partners across Canada.

Topics that might be considered

  • Co-design with youth and partners
  • Sustainable development goals
  • Future skills or soft skills
  • Centring youth voices and agency

The objective of this challenge was to design a mentorship model for CEGEP, high school and early-stage undergraduate students who will participate in an inclusive robotics hackathon. Hackathons are gatherings where small groups tackle a problem, usually around programming or robotics. Hackathons should be welcoming, but they often fail to include people who might be unfamiliar with STEM or new to hackathons.

About the hackathon

A particular goal of the hackathon was to include underrepresented groups in STEM sciences. During the previous summer term, students contributed to designing the hackathon activities (see the presentation). The mentors will support the participants before, during and after the hackathon and might include fellow students, university students, professionals from the private and public sectors, or experienced makers and hackers.

Related topics

  • mentorship
  • collective intelligence
  • robotics education
  • interpersonal dynamics
  • learning by doing
  • diversity and inclusion in robotics and STEM

The objective of this challenge was to empower underrepresented youth through makerspaces activities and projects. Makerspaces are often visited by the youth who are encouraged by their parents to see the value of such activities. They are not always the most welcoming spaces for underrepresented youth who could build their dreams while engaging in maker activities.

About makerspaces for youth empowerment

Through conversations, the group co-constructed resources to empower youth to build their confidence in STEAM education, become confident creators and engage in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Related topics

  • makerspace activities
  • hands-on learning
  • youth empowerment
  • inclusive makerspaces

The second iteration of this challenge proposed to bring together students with a mentor from Makumaku to co-create UNO—a non-money organization that grows the greater good through the accumulation of small actions. The group built on the first prototype to develop the concepts for the app, build the online community through connections, prepare a launch, and work on the gamification aspects of the campaign.

About UNO

The group tackled the challenge of achieving great leaps through small changes in how we live. This included the design of a framework to build a community through connections, preparing a launch, working on gamification aspects of the campaign, participating in the creation of an app and in the design of swag.

Related topics

  • behaviour change (ex. being mindful of what we consume)
  • well-being
  • mobility
  • resource flows
  • gamification and motivation

The objective of the AI Stock Trade System challenge was to allow students to gather knowledge from different areas such as the stock market, mathematical indicators and the application of algorithms for decision-making with AI.

Scope of the challenge

During this challenge, students interacted with analysis models, indicators and mathematical oscillators such as William%R, Move Averages, MACD, Bollinger Bands, and methods of decision making and risk management to use algorithms to optimize operations in the Canadian and American stock market.

Related topics

  • analysis, indicators and mathematical oscillators
  • methods of decision-making
  • risk management
  • algorithms for decision-making

The objective of this challenge was to design activities for CEGEP, high school and early-stage undergraduate students who will be participating in an inclusive robotics hackathon. Hackathons are gatherings where small groups tackle a problem, usually around programming or robotics. Hackathons should be welcoming, but they often fail to include people who might be unfamiliar with STEM or new to hackathons

About the hackathon

A particular goal of the hackathon was to include underrepresented groups in STEM sciences. During the previous summer term, students contributed to designing the hackathon activities (see the presentation here). The mentors will support the participants before, during and after the hackathon and might include fellow students, university students, professionals from the private and public sectors, or experienced makers and hackers.

Related topics

  • mentorship
  • collective intelligence
  • robotics education
  • interpersonal dynamics
  • learning by doing

The objective of this challenge was to bring together students with mentors around the challenge of using artificial intelligence (AI) to make stock market investments by finding correlation points or points of purchase and sales.

About decision-making with AI

To build confidence in setting up new systems of analysis using classic machine learning, students took workshops about machine learning applied to the financial market and mathematics indicators for stock market analysis.

Students attempted to construct automated reports for the stock market to guide investment decisions using machine learning algorithms.

Topics that might be considered

  • stock market
  • mathematical indicators
  • algorithms for decision-making
  • responsible consumption
  • indicators and mathematical oscillators such as William %R, Move Averages, MACD, Bollinger Bands, etc.

The first iteration of this challenge proposed to bring together students with a mentor from Makumaku to create UNO—a non-money organization that grows the greater good through the accumulation of small actions. The underlying idea is that long-term change comes from the accumulation of small actions and that we are in dire need of collective individualism –individual actions can lead to collective action.

About UNO

The group tackled the UNO challenge by thinking of ways of achieving great leaps through small life changes. They sought to design an online community, prepare a launch, consider gamification aspects of the campaign, and participate in developing an app.

Related topics

  • behaviour change (ex. being mindful of what we consume)
  • well-being
  • mobility
  • resource flows
  • gamification and motivation

The face mask challenge aimed to design more efficient face masks to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic through an interdisciplinary learning experience. As the pandemic unfolded, we gradually realized the importance of relying on safe and reliable personal protective equipment for both the re-opening of our economy and the protection of our society, face masks became an essential accessory in our lives. Since the scientific evidence on the filtration performance and breathability of improvised materials used in artisan masks was limited, our students proposed innovative and tested solutions to the design of efficient face masks.

About efficient face mask design and filtration

Efficient face masks provide both a good fit and a high filtration rate. Students engaged in the design of physical face mask prototypes by interacting with filtration, fabrics, engineering and education mentors.

Related topics

  • countering disinformation
  • mask fitting and measuring leakage
  • breathing comfort of various fabrics
  • the physical design of the mask for efficiency and comfort
  • eyeglasses fogging while mask-wearing
  • accessible face masks

This project proposes the development of a working model for a community-led and generated Client Relationship Management system (CRM), which is a database that gathers relevant information on a range of professionals and individuals working in a particular context.

The CRM will allow local organizations to share resources related to: other local organizations, local resources beneficial to residents and community groups, and different outside support that could be accessed (i.e., grants, municipal policies). The CRM would primarily focus on documenting services and resources available at a neighbourhood level. There is active interest in a number of neighbourhood-based initiatives for such a CRM.

Some things to keep in mind

  • What are the data issues related to the use of such a CRM?
  • Who generates the data?
  • Who has access to it?
  • Are there ways to extrapolate from it?
  • Could such a CRM be integrated in a spatially-aware interface that allows for the juxtaposition of local resources to a range of local issues (environmental pollution, rental hikes, population demographic)?

Outcomes

Expected outcomes of the project were the development of a functional platform that addresses the concerns expressed here, which could then be used on a trial basis in a neighborhood; the financial feasibility of implementing such a system, and/or locating partners to cover the costs of actualization. A second level of engagement would be required in order to fine-tune the CRM in relation to its use.

This project proposes the development of a neighbourhood-based free wifi network allowing residents to access the Internet. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents in poor neighbourhoods across the city would have used city wifi at the libraries or community centers. Given that these sites are now closed, wifi use is now only available to those who have fixed connections or data plans. This initiative would thus respond to an expressed need at the moment, and would also contribute to the creation of localized web-access strategies.

Some things to keep in mind

  • What are the infrastructure costs and maintenance requirements?
  • What are the ethical issues related to use and/or data generation?
  • Can these systems be run in relative autonomy?
  • Part of the project could also include the financial feasibility of implementing such a system, and/or locating partners to cover the costs of actualization.

Outcomes

The expected outcomes of this project were the development of a model that could then be applied and implemented in a specific context, and the possibility of a second layer of assistance after the network has been piloted.

This challenge proposes to bring together students with schools and community partners to reflect on the fundamental skills needed to develop one’s creative confidence as a maker.

Through conversations, the group co-constructs resources that will both help teachers build the skills they need to integrate maker education in their classes, and create interdisciplinary projects that target real-world complex problems that motivate, engage and empower students.

Topics

  • robotics;
  • computational thinking;
  • 3D printing;
  • electronic embroidery;
  • embedded wearables;
  • decals; and
  • biohacking.

The group reflects on the notion of commons, open-source resources, communities of practice and the ethos of resourcefulness that is present in the DIY movement and maker sub-cultures.

For more information see: www.educationmakers.ca.

Outcomes

The outcome of this challenge was the design of an event to bring together students and teachers across various makerspaces in order to build maker fundamental skills and interest as a broader community. The final prototypes were presented at the 4TH SPACE.

During the summer of 2020, a group of ten students from the Faculty of Arts and Science, the Faculty of Fine Arts, the John Molson School of Business and the Faculty of Engineering participated in the first iteration of Face Mask Challenge.

It was an opportunity for students to engage in an interdisciplinary experience in which they were confronted to the complex issue of designing face masks to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this eight-week challenge, students worked in teams to tackle one of the issues related to wearing face masks for the broad public. They developed innovation skills ranging from critical thinking, strategic thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration and communication. Through this learning experience, students are offered a variety of workshops and mentoring sessions to develop their prototypes, become resourceful, seek opportunities and expand their network. After the challenge, students had various opportunities to develop leadership skills and were invited to present to the new cohort of students.

You can also read more about the project on the Education Makers website.

Topics

During this iteration of the face mask challenge students worked on debunking myths. They also created various solutions to improve face mask efficiency and comfort including:

  • Mask design
  • Breathing comfort
  • Toggle designs and nose clips
  • Ear-saver designs
  • Sustainable materials exploration

Outcomes

The outcome of this challenge was the design visual or physical prototypes, and the documentation of the creativity and inquiry processes through a critical making approach that relied on a variety of sources including scientific literature, professional literature, scientific data and storytelling. The final prototypes were presented at the 4TH SPACE. The following professors were involved: Ann-Louise Davidson, Barbara Layne, Ali Balhoul. Several mentors offered their time to advise the students.

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