Innovation Salon/ Salon de l'innovation

Monday, March 18, 2002
Mama Theresa’s Ristorante, 300 Somerset West, Ottawa 236-3023
5:30 to 9:00 pm

Doug Hull

Inventor of SchoolNet, now with Canarie, Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education/ Reseau Canadien pour l'Avancement de la Recherche, de l'Industrie et de l'Enseignement

Reflections on Being an Innovator

Doug Hull is a true, blue Ottawa inventor. His invention, SchoolNet, has made government surplus computers available to school classrooms, and has created an Internet-based network for schools. Doug brought computers Canadian classrooms more than anyone else.

Cost: $10 to cover expenses. Persons cancelling less than 24 hours before the meeting will be charged the registration fee.

Registration: For more information and RSVP by Thursday, March 14th to:

Eleanor Glor, ph. 1-613-954-8575

This information is also available in The Innovation Salon Schedule, published on Internet in The Innovation Journal under Salon

Next meeting: Monday, March 18, 2002.

The National Research Council and the Innovation Salon are attempting to organize a joint, half-day session in April on Can Government "Incent" Economic Innovation? (tentative)

SchoolNet and Innovation

SchoolNet is an initiative to link school classrooms throughout Canada to the Internet, and to create networks of information creation.

Hello Eleanor,

Here are some rough thoughts re: SchoolNet and Innovation.

I consider myself to be a catalyst for SchoolNet, rather than the "architect" or "inventor", as it was a mix of vision, being in the right place (in contact with Doug Hull and Industry Canada), and the right time (just before the Internet really became popular). All three conditions were crucial to the initiation of SchoolNet.

Keep in mind that at the time, there was no graphical or web interface to the Internet _ there was e-mail, listservers, FTP, Telnet and Gophers. (how many people remember what Gophers were?) But these were enough to spark the idea that it could be an incredible learning resource for young kids and teachers, if they were able to access it from their schools and homes. At the time, I was actively involved in promoting science and engineering to young kids, especially girls, and was convinced that the mentoring process would be greatly facilitated with e-mail exchanges.

About the same time, there was a project being planned within Industry Canada, whereby teachers could dial into a national 1-800 databank to access learning resources. While on a summer internship with IC, I found out about this project, and suggested the idea of using the Internet rather than a bank of dial in lines.

The first challenge was to provide Internet access to the classroom. Not an easy feat, considering there were no commercial ISPs at the time. There were also very few computers in the classroom. So, the genesis of the first SchoolNet pilot project involved going deep into the basement at Industry Canada, and pulling together 12 working computers from a pile of old equipment that had been destined for the scrapheap. We worked with 12 schools in the Ottawa-Carleton (Ontario, Canada) area to install the systems, and to show the teachers how to use it. The pilot project was crucial to how SchoolNet later evolved, as it uncovered a whole host of other challenges that had not been considered. Issues such as:

  • relevant Canadian learning content
  • bilingual content
  • training
  • user manuals
  • cost of access
  • access from areas where there was no local dial up
  • concerns of teachers
  • safety and controls for children

I sometimes think that it was a good thing that we didn't know what we didn't know when the pilot project ran - if we had, it might have prevented the project from ever getting underway!

As the SchoolNet initiative got underway at a national level, it was imperative to create a user base, or community of advocates, to help get the issues resolved and to promote the program at a local level.

This was accomplished both on-line and in the traditional sense, with a steering committee.

Ownership of the program needed to be handed to educators, users and other key stakeholders. The speed at which this occurred was a critical factor in the overall success of SchoolNet.

The ability of the program to "morph", or to adapt to the changing needs of the users and the environment (popularization of the Internet, growth of commercial ISPs, advent of the World Wide Web etc), is also a hallmark of SchoolNet's success. Various spin-off programs ensured that different needs were met - programs to help teachers and learners create content (Digital Collections), organizing access for first nations communities, developing and encouraging communities to establish local networking facilities in rural, remote and urban areas (Community Access) etc.

My role in getting SchoolNet started was to help organize the pilot project, and to get a team

together to do the technical programming and support for the launch of SchoolNet on-line. The team of dedicated people all shared in the belief and vision that having access to the Internet would greatly enhance the learning experience and opportunities for elementary and high school students. We would convene weekly brain storming sessions to come up with new ideas or ways to help make the vision a reality. We always had a ready and willing ear for the ideas in Doug Hull at Industry Canada. He could guide us with respect to what was achievable or realistic, and what was not.

On innovation in general: from my experience, the innovative process requires a vision, willingness to accept risk in the form of trying a pilot to determine if the idea is sound, dedicated teams of people who share the vision, willingness to change or evolve the idea based on feedback, and some luck. Two heads are better than one for brainstorming, and three or more are even better!

-Karen Dubeau


Updated 11/05/03

Last updated: November 2009